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Wheelchair race, other new events, happening on Aug. 8 at Sunburst Races in Granger

Splash pads. Community pools. Public parks and playgrounds. Many of these spaces created for children are limited in their ability to accommodate children with physical handicaps. Teeter-totters, slides and most swings are not tailored for children like 4-year-old Royce Purser, who lives with a permanent birth defect.

“We have worked very hard to try and make different situations work so that he can enjoy them. Sometimes we are successful, and other times not so much,” says his mom Sarah Purser of Jimtown. “He doesn’t have the ability to stop himself with his legs at the bottom of a slide, and he doesn’t have the ability to balance when sitting on a teeter-totter to avoid falling off.”

Earlier this summer, Sarah’s mom, Jan Thomas, sent her a Facebook message. That message let her know about three new, family-friendly Sunburst Races events in Granger. A one-mile competitive run, family walk and wheelchair race. Wheelchair race? She couldn’t believe it.

Since Royce hasn’t been able to physically learn how to walk yet, he received a wheelchair just before he turned 3. “It was amazing to see him take off with it right away, as if a whole new world had opened up for him,” Sarah describes. “All of a sudden being mobile was no longer hard; it was loads of fun. He had an independence he never had before.”

With that independence, Sarah says, have been two parents – she and husband, Travis – who have had to figure out how to chase after a toddler in a wheelchair who only wants to zoom around.

Needless to say, Sarah jumped at the chance and signed Royce up. To have something that is clearly laid out and designed for someone like her son, will make their lives that much easier on race day and allow them to just enjoy the fun.

“Being given the opportunity not only for Royce to see others in wheelchairs, but to also let him race with others who look like him,” Sarah says, “gives us hope that more people and organizations will continue to see people like my son and think of creative ways to include all people when planning events like the Sunburst.”

Kids like Royce are the reason Dr. Christopher Ketcham wanted to have a race like this.

Dr. Ketcham, a Beacon Health System physiatrist who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, says community reintegration and accessibility can be the last piece of the puzzle for his patients.

“As a physician, I can provide assistance with obtaining ankle braces, a wheelchair or even a prosthetic leg to help someone with mobility, which is great,” he says. “But it is with this race that we can give that person a sense of community, a sense of accomplishment. This race can serve as an avenue to further help someone obtain the goal of returning to a sport and allow them to say, ‘I can do this and I am not alone.’”

Much of the time, the largest barrier for someone to return to what he or she loved to do prior to their injury, is the means and the courage to do it. “While knowledge is power, at the end of the day, you not only have to have the desire, but also the venue to accomplish that goal,” Dr. Ketcham says. “I hope this race offers those within our community that opportunity.”

Sunburst Races – Granger is happening Saturday, Aug. 8.

The events will take place on the paved outdoor path at Beacon Health & Fitness, 3221 Beacon Parkway, Granger. The timed 1-mile run starts at 8 a.m., the 1-mile timed wheelchair race starts at 10:30 a.m. and the 1-mile untimed family walk starts at 12:30 p.m.

The timed wheelchair race is for anyone in any type of wheelchair who wants to participate either competitively or casually. Participants who are registered for this race or any of the Granger events by 11:59 p.m.  Saturday, July 31, will receive a T-shirt and bib. You can register here:

Packet pickup is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6 and from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Aug. 7 inside Beacon Health & Fitness in Granger. Packets will also be available outside at the Information Tent on race day. Proceeds will benefit the rehabilitation programs at Memorial Hospital of South Bend and Beacon Children’s Hospital.

Here’s your chance to “race” with Royce. Or just come out and cheer him and the others on.

About Heidi Prescott-Wieneke