Wheelchair relay raises $25,000

The fifth annual Kitchener-Waterloo wheelchair relay race took place Saturday Sept. 24 at the Waterloo Town Square. Teams of five, each presented with a wheelchair, banded together to collect pledges and help raise money for the Canadian Paraplegic Association.

Teams competed in several different types of races including slalom and speed, with prizes going to the fastest teams. Prizes were also awarded to the top fundraisers, corporate teams and community teams as well as the teams with the most spirit and determination.

“This event,” said Sheila O’Neill, regional event co-ordinator for the Canadian Paraplegic Association, “is a way to bring awareness to our organization and to the issues that people in wheelchairs face on a daily basis.”

Organizers started the day with a warm—up stretch led by volunteers in order to make sure that none of the competitors injured themselves- as using a wheelchair can be hard on the muscles of the upper body.

“The most general comment we get,” O’Neill laughed, “is that it’s much harder than it looks. Everyone does the race in a wheelchair, and if you don’t have a spinal cord injury, you can find it’s really challenging.”

Participants said they were floored by how taxing manoeuvring a wheelchair is, but they all agreed that the experience was a lot of fun and that they were happy to participate and help raise awareness about spinal cord injuries.

“We’re trying to bring awareness in a fun way,” O’Neill said. “People like stepping up to the challenge, or trying to do better than they have before.”

The races were not the only attraction of the day either. Balloon animals and face painting were offered for the younger spectators, as well as raffle draws and a free lunch provided by local restaurant Angie’s Kitchen.

People of all ages showed up to cheer on family members, friends and colleagues who sported team outfits and showed off their competitive side.

Doug O’Toole, a member of the Legal Wheelies relay team said he believed this year’s turnout was the best the event has have ever had. Media coverage by Rogers Access helped to spread the word before the event, which is usually hyped only through word of mouth.

“We had 11 teams, each with five participants,” O’Neill recounted. “We were also in a very public area, so people were stopping to watch and enjoy as well. But if it’s just participants, we had 55 in total.”

The new location in Waterloo Town Square also helped attract foot traffic and local spectators. O’Neill also mentioned that this relay has been trying out a variety of locations, and Uptown Waterloo has proved to be the most successful. “We will definitely be holding it again in this same location, next year on Sept. 22,” she said.

Notably absent was the presence of university students as spectators or team members.

O’Toole mentioned this may be because most organizations understand that university students already have a lot of financial pressures, and do not want to add to that burden. He also added that it would be great to see more student faces in the coming years.

All proceeds from the day will be going to the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Kitchener-Waterloo, which uses its funds to help people with spinal cord injuries and their families through the recovery process, and also helps them reintegrate into the community.

“We raised $25,000 that day,” O’Neill said proudly. “That was $10 000 more than last year, and we look forward to a beautiful, sunny day again next year.”

-With files from Amanda Steiner

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