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Cali Owings, Published June 22 2013

Hope track meet gives opportunities to disabled kids

MOORHEAD – Xavier Cornell crossed the finish line at the Moorhead High School track Saturday to a huge round of applause.

The 12-year-old from Mandan, N.D., had just completed a 400-meter lap using his walker at Hope Inc.’s annual track and field meet for children who are differently abled.

The meet is organized by Hope Inc., a Moorhead-based group that creates sports and recreation opportunities for children with mobility challenges.

Now in the meet’s fifth year, Hope Inc. organizers added a new division for kids who wanted to compete using a walker.

“Just get out there and run,” Xavier’s mother Karen Cornell told him before the race.

Xavier, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t have many opportunities to play sports, Cornell said. In Mandan, they participate in Dreams in Motion, a group similar to Hope Inc., for athletic activities.

It’s a rare opportunity for many of the kids, who have mobility challenges but don’t compete in the Special Olympics because their disabilities aren’t cognitive.

“Some of these kids are really good athletes,” said Adair Grommesh, Hope Inc. director, adding that some of them could be future Paralympians – an elite level of competition for athletes with certain disabilities.

Throughout the meet, about 40 children competed in adaptive races and field games in different divisions based on ability. Not only was it an opportunity for children with disabilities to compete, it was also a time for parents and siblings to play at their level.

“It’s very family-centered,” Grommesh said. “They get in the adaptive equipment and play together.”

Kids cheered on their parents as they raced each other in wheelchairs. Many admitted it’s not as easy as their kids make it look.

There was no shortage of applause and encouragement at the meet where every participant racked up a few medals.

While Joe Keller, 13, won several events in the motorized wheelchair division during last year’s competition, he had the second-fastest chair this year.

“There’s a new machine out there that’s faster,” said his father, Gary Keller.

But it wasn’t his wheels that earned him a gold medal Saturday – it was his ball throwing abilities.

“I got one first. That made my day,” Joe Keller said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599