Paralympic hopefuls had a chance to learn from elite level coaches and athletes, as well as test their skills, Sunday at Elk Grove High School.
Among the athletes at the U.S. Paralympics Gateway to Gold Ambulatory Track & Field Talent Identification Clinic was Naperville's Annie Schlesinger. The 15-year-old has cerebral palsy but competes on Naperville Central's track team and cross country teams.
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Her mother, Fran Schlesinger, said that in two weeks, Annie will fly to the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, Calif. She hopes eventually to get to the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"It's great for her," Fran Schlesinger said. "It's great for her to see that she is competitive among other kids with her disability. It's good for her to see that everybody has different circumstances they are trying to overcome. And it's good competition."
"I think it's just good to be around other people with my disability and others too, just to see how we can improve together and how we can help each other," Annie said of Sunday's event.
Mundelein resident Cari Strong was on hand with her 12-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, who is on the track and cross country teams at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein.
"She's not as fast as them, and she doesn't necessarily get to be in all of the races, but she is part of a team, and she is OK with that," Cari Strong said.
MacKenzie said her aim is to "get faster and beat my times." She also wants to improve her form.
"I just want to get better at it."
Athletes not only from the area but also as far away as Minneapolis and Milwaukee, came to gain expertise from teachers such as 1996 Olympic javelin thrower Erica Wheeler, who imparted her technique to eager students with prosthetic legs and missing arms.
Maria DeGuzman, 32, of Wauconda, who is completely blind but has competed in the Boston and Chicago marathons, was with a group training in track and field.
"I've been dealing with an injury (tendinitis in her foot) the past couple of months, so just I'm trying to help heal and improve my form," she said.
U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Coach Teresa Skinner said the goal of Sunday's event was to spot talent. She said she was impressed by the athletes' "drive and their passion to actually get involved."
"Kids and adults with physical disabilities have this innate fear initially about getting involved and trying new stuff," she added. "Once they get over that fear and actually get out here, it just opens up so many doors."
However, she said she would like to see more athletes get involved.
"There are well over 1,000 potential athletes, if you take the surrounding area of probably a two-hour radius around Chicago," Skinner said. "A turnout of 30 is fantastic. But where are the rest of them? How do we get them involved? How do we reach them?"