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updated: 6/28/2011 8:37 PM

Tour of Elk Grove adds disabled veterans race

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  • Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson gets ready to start a mini-race Tuesday to promote disabled athletes who will participate in an adaptive handcycle race as part of the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove.

      Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson gets ready to start a mini-race Tuesday to promote disabled athletes who will participate in an adaptive handcycle race as part of the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Elk Grove Village residents Roy and Georgette Frank, whose Heart of A Marine Foundation will sponsor a bike race in honor of their son, Lance Cpl. Phillip Frank, share an emotional moment as they tell a story about Phillip.

      Elk Grove Village residents Roy and Georgette Frank, whose Heart of A Marine Foundation will sponsor a bike race in honor of their son, Lance Cpl. Phillip Frank, share an emotional moment as they tell a story about Phillip.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Tim Lindgren of Homer Glen was slated to enter the Marines until a car accident made him a paraplegic in 1998. He gets high-fives from the kids at the Elk Grove Village summer camp Voyager as he starts a mini-race Tuesday. He will be one of the athletes that will participate in an adaptive veterans handcycle race as part of the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove.

      Tim Lindgren of Homer Glen was slated to enter the Marines until a car accident made him a paraplegic in 1998. He gets high-fives from the kids at the Elk Grove Village summer camp Voyager as he starts a mini-race Tuesday. He will be one of the athletes that will participate in an adaptive veterans handcycle race as part of the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Alberto Velasco, 31, of Schaumburg, one of the athletes participating in the handcycle race in the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove, gets a start in the mini-race with high-fives from the kids at the Elk Grove Village summer camp Voyager on Tuesday.

      Alberto Velasco, 31, of Schaumburg, one of the athletes participating in the handcycle race in the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove, gets a start in the mini-race with high-fives from the kids at the Elk Grove Village summer camp Voyager on Tuesday.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Alberto Velasco, 31, of Schaumburg, one of the athletes that will participate in the handcycle race in the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove, gets a start in the mini-race with cheers from Rinka Yamakawa, 5, and Madeline Aldrich, 4, of an Elk Grove Village Park District preschool camp.

      Alberto Velasco, 31, of Schaumburg, one of the athletes that will participate in the handcycle race in the upcoming Tour of Elk Grove, gets a start in the mini-race with cheers from Rinka Yamakawa, 5, and Madeline Aldrich, 4, of an Elk Grove Village Park District preschool camp.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Rachel Levin
rlevin@dailyherald.com

Six-year-old Eli Velasco of Schaumburg cheered Tuesday while standing on the side of Elk Grove Boulevard in Elk Grove Village.

"Go, Dad," Eli said.

Eli's father, Alberto Velasco, lapped the competition on his handcycle at the Heart of A Marine Foundation's Meet the Athletes Day.

Gunnery Sgt. Velasco had been a marathon runner. But that all changed when he became a paraplegic in a 2007 car accident after returning from two tours of duty in Iraq.

"I didn't know what I was going to do," Velasco said.

A year later he started riding his hand bike indoors to "try not to get fat."

Tuesday's event was to promote a new feature in the Tour of Elk Grove bicycle race -- the Heart of A Marine Adaptive Athlete Race, which will be at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 7. The proceeds of the race will go to charities that help veterans and their families.

This year will be the first in the race's six-year history that includes a race for disabled veterans riding handcycles.

When Velasco goes out on his handcycle, he rides an average of 35 miles. Sometimes his wife, Judy Velasco, Eli, and his 3 year-old sister, Elodie, take bikes and join him.

"He passes us up a few times," Judy said.

Velasco is in training for the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9. He'll be competing on Team Reeve, sponsored by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

The man Velasco refers to as his "paraplegic Bible" led the pack with him at Tuesday's Tour of Elk Grove preview event. Tim Lindgren of Homer Glenn became a paraplegic in 1998 and started riding his handcycle in 2000.

"It takes a little while to get used to it," Lindgren said. He said transferring from the wheelchair to the cycle and back is the most challenging part of learning to ride.

Even though Tuesday's display was not a competition, the athletes were still competitive. For Lindgren, a former Navy corpsman, being competitive is part of being in the armed forces. "It's in us," Lindgren said.

He can't wait for his wife, Jenny Lindgren, to get a carrier to hitch behind her bike so they can take their 11-month-old twins, Ruth and Henry, on family rides.

Lindgren learned of Tuesday's event through Velasco. They met at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood.

The Heart of A Marine Foundation was founded in November 2005 by Roy and Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village. Their son, Lance Cpl. Phillip Frank, was killed in action April 8, 2004.

"We miss our son every minute of every day," Georgette said. "But were it not for our loss, our foundation would not exist."

Her husband finished her thought as tears began to roll down Georgette's face. "And all the good our foundation has accomplished would not exist," Roy said.

The foundation provides computers and brain injury rehabilitation software to 11 veterans facilities nationwide, free orthopedic canes to veterans, care packages to those still serving overseas, and the Phillip E. Frank Memorial Scholarship.

Velasco volunteers with the organization and coordinated Meet the Athletes Day.

"I call Miss Georgette my Marine mom," Velasco said. "She's a wonderful person."

The Franks said they organized the event to display the athleticism of the veterans.

"We don't see them as disabled; we just see them as athletes," Georgette said.