Rancho's Spinal Injury Games give patients a day to remember

DOWNEY - Larry Purfoy sat tall in his wheelchair as his team broke the huddle and he settled into shotgun formation during the first few minutes of wheelchair football action at Rancho's Spinal Injury Games last Saturday. He's only 5-foot-3, but Larry looked much taller as he surveyed the defense of the opponents, a team consisting mainly of Downey firefighters. His eyes moved quickly as he surveyed the field, looking left, then right, then back left again. Then the ball was snapped and he deftly faked right and moved slightly to his left. As he noticed Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco breaking free 25 yards downfield, he fired a beautiful spiral toward Jorge's streaking wheelchair. As Jorge looked back, the ball nestled perfectly into his arms, then he crossed the goal line to complete a spectacular play. Tom Brady couldn't have thrown it better.

Life wasn't always that smooth for Larry. After suffering a devastating spinal cord injury and completing his rehabilitation, Larry began giving back to Rancho as a volunteer in 1996 at age 21. Since then, he's rolled up more than 2,600 hours of volunteer service in several areas of the world-renowned hospital, including his current assignment assisting Rancho's Occupational Therapy Department. He's an instantly recognizable figure as he rolls his wheelchair around the Rancho campus. Larry greets everyone with a smile and is always dressed to the nines, often sporting a hat cocked at a jaunty angle that spotlights his personal sense of style.

"I've been looking forward to the Spinal Injury Games for months, because it's the one day every year when I can really show my stuff," Larry said. On Saturday, he had an all-pro day. Not only did he throw touchdown passes, he caught them as well. He also returned kickoffs and even intercepted three passes.

He was beaming when he came off the field. "I was able to do it all!" he exclaimed.

Larry wasn't alone. He was one of more than 100 Rancho patients who played football, quad rugby, basketball, hockey, bowling and tennis during the hot Indian Summer day. The patients were joined by more than 100 volunteers, a sea of vendors and members of the community in a fun-filled day of sports, food and vital lifestyle information.

"It was an incredible day for our patients, thanks to our amazing Spinal Injury Games committee," said Rancho Recreation Therapist Tiffany Yoshida, who served as one of the team leaders for the Games "It was especially meaningful to see all the families who enjoyed the day with the participants."

"We impact the lives of the participants by showing, through our vendors and community groups, that there is life after having a spinal injury and that opportunities are there for everyone and anyone," said Physical Therapy Assistant Randy Joe, another Games team leader.

The games had previously been held on Fridays, so the change to Saturday allowed more family involvement. "More kids were able to attend this and their families were able to come to watch them participate because it wasn't during the work or school week," said Rancho Physical Therapist Jan Furumasu, who served as event MC as well as working with event sponsors.

"We have always had great support from our vendors and community groups, who are more involved with spinal cord care now than ever before," she said. "Our Platinum Sponsors really came through this year. Quickie donated a power wheelchair worth thousands of dollars and the Marketplace Grill and Café provided more than 300 lunches to provide a tasty meal for everyone who participated."

Other major sponsors included Gold Sponsors Quantum, Colours, Permobil and the Mobility Project; and Silver Sponsors ATG Rehab, The ROHO Group, Coloplast, Stratus, TiLite and A-Med Health Care.

Spinal Injury Games participants received a limited edition Spinal Injury Games T-shirt designed by Rancho patient Braulio Gutierrez, a member of Rancho's Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program. "It was the best T-shirt ever!" Tiffany said.

"Braulio's design was absolutely amazing," said Rancho Occupational Therapist Jennifer Bashar, who is a leader of the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program. "He is a very talented young artist, and he created a brilliant and beautiful design."

"Everything about this year's Games was noteworthy," Jorge said. "I was honored to be playing football with such dedicated and talented patients, staff and sponsors, who made this year's Spinal Injury Games such a special experience for everyone who participated."

Although many of the patients had memorable days, nobody had a more inspiring time than Larry, whose constant smile seemed almost as bright as the sun above. "Rancho has meant so much in my life, and I have always enjoyed competing in the Spinal Injury Games," he said. "I want to thank all the people who worked so hard to make this a special day for all of us who took part in today's activities.

"This is my Super Bowl, my World Series, my NBA Finals," he said. "Today, I saw how all my hard work has helped me become the very best I can be. I'm going to enjoy this feeling for a long, long time."

********** Published: October 18, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 27