Wheelchair athletes finish 125-mile challenge

DOWNEY - Ten-year-old Lourdes Mack rolled onto the course for last week's inaugural Rancho Quad Marathon Relay Challenge hoping to complete a one-mile trip around the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center campus and help the Rancho Wheelchair Sports teams meet their goal of completing 125 miles to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the world-renowned hospital. Lourdes was one of 35 members of Rancho's Wheelchair Sports teams to compete in the event, which was co-sponsored by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation and Coloplast. The reigning Little Miss California Wheelchair, Lourdes took to the track with hope that her teams would be able to roll 125 miles with wheelchairs and hand cycles. A total of 20 members of Rancho's Futures team (ages 12 and under), 10 members of the Junior team (ages 13-18) and five members of the Senior Team (over age 18) took the Quad Marathon Relay Challenge.

The Futures and Juniors teams are sponsored by Las Floristas, and the Senior team is sponsored by Coloplast.

"We came up with the Quad Marathon because four marathons are almost exactly 125 miles," said Susan Ross of Coloplast, who organized and coordinated the challenge, despite the fact that she had a baby less than a month before the event.

"It's such a privilege to work with the outstanding Rancho athletes as well as the Warren Humanitarian Society, which had nearly 40 volunteers around the course to help make this event a success," Susan said.

Warren Humanitarian Society President Paul Lim said, "We were interested to see how this first challenge would develop. It turned out to be a very inspiring day for everyone involved, because the athletes were so dedicated and determined that it was fun cheering them on to victory."

The challenge wasn't easy. Each team member would have to complete nearly four miles to meet the goal. But Lourdes and her teammates were ready. "I work out on Saturdays with the Futures team here at Rancho where I learn push and keep going," she said. "I have become much faster, and now during P.E. at school and I can push and push and never stop. I get stronger every time I come to Rancho.

The tiny 10-year-old needed every bit of strength to make it around the one-mile track, but when she finished the lap, she decided to go the extra mile. She was cheered on by Humanitarian Society volunteers and Coloplast team members shouting their encouragement while raucously shaking cowbells.

"It was fun, but very tiring," Lourdes said. As she approached the finish line for her second lap, Lourdes was out of energy. She was not going to stop, however. "I knew I could do two miles, and I was not going to quit," she said. "I have learned that if I want to be successful in life, I need to keep going."

Lourdes felt her arms getting heavy, but the cowbells and the cheers and the sight of her mom at the finish line spurred her on. "My mom was cheering me on, and I could hear so many people cheering for me. It made it easier for me to keep pushing.:"

As she crossed the finish line her mom rushed to her and gave her a hug. And suddenly Lourdes got her second wind and joined the Humanitarian Society members that were passing out water to the athletes that were still on the course.

"I was happy to able to help the older team members because they are always helping me," she said. "I am so proud to be an athlete and to be part of Rancho's wheelchair sports teams." "Our whole program has been about mentoring," said Rancho Wheelchair Sports Director Rob Welty. "whether it's the younger kids, the older kids or the adults. Our program helps our kids better understand the importance of school and how to be productive members of society."

"The adult program is a very important part of Rancho's Wheelchair Sports experience, because it's all about giving back and showing what you can be when you grow older," he said.

While Lourdes has finished two miles, some members of the Junior and Adult teams completed as many as six, seven or even eight miles. As each wheelchair athlete passed the start/finish line, the Humanitarian Society members would shout out the total cumulative miles for the team. As the laps went from 10 to 20 to 50, it seemed impossible that the athletes would meet the challenge. Cheer upon cheer was heard from the enthusiastic Humanitarian Society volunteers, and the competitors were actually smiling as they rolled around the Ranch.

"It is amazing to see the smiles on the athletes' faces when they accomplish a goal such as completing 125 miles together," Rob said. "It was tough, but our teams weren't going to quit until they accomplished the goal. In a sense, this challenge was a metaphor for the lives we live every day, and we have learned to never give up."

As the number of laps reached 100, the cheers became louder still, and although they were tired, the Rancho athletes seemed to push even harder. "When the 120th mile was completed, you could really feel the excitement from everyone on the course," Susan said. "It was awesome."

Soon the noise reached a crescendo as the goal of 125 miles was reached, with 13 athletes still on the course. They all completed their laps, and so the Rancho Wheelchair Sports team rolled a total of 138 miles, or the equivalent of four and a half marathons.

Melissa Paris, Director of Marketing for Coloplast's Continence Care division, who came all the way from Minneapolis to witness the Quad Marathon Relay Challenge, said, "It was a pleasure to attend this event, which is part of Coloplast's ongoing commitment to connecting to the community and those who use our products."

"The collaboration between Rancho, community volunteers, and industry partners resulted in a great experience for the participants. All were there to support Rancho, and all left with a great experience and sense of community. We are looking forward to making this event even better next year."

"We're so pleased that there was so much support for our Rancho Wheelchair Sports teams from everyone involved," Rob said. "We're excited for the future."

And the future is Lourdes, who despite being born with spina bifida, has a smile as wide as her wheelchair that makes everyone around her smile, too. Lourdes and her teammates will forever remember that they didn't give up and that each one pushed and pushed and pushed until they met the challenge. And perhaps they also learned a bit more about how to turn trial into triumph not just in Wheelchair Sports, but in life as well.

********** Published: March 21, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 49