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updated: 6/15/2014 4:46 PM

Disabled athletes bond, compete at national event in suburbs

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  • Ethan Burkhardt, 13, of Libertyville, crosses the finish line in the 100 meter dash at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Burkhardt was born with spina bifida and has qualified for three events in the national championships in Iowa in July.

       Ethan Burkhardt, 13, of Libertyville, crosses the finish line in the 100 meter dash at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Burkhardt was born with spina bifida and has qualified for three events in the national championships in Iowa in July.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Christian Clemmons, 19, of Beach Park, is reflected in the sunglasses of Bob Swanson, of Round Lake, as they stage for the 400 meter run in the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Clemmons was born with spina bifida while Swanson was injured in a snowmobile accident. Clemmons won the event.

       Christian Clemmons, 19, of Beach Park, is reflected in the sunglasses of Bob Swanson, of Round Lake, as they stage for the 400 meter run in the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Clemmons was born with spina bifida while Swanson was injured in a snowmobile accident. Clemmons won the event.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Athlete Brian Nelson, left, and Darren Bolton, parent of athlete Sarah Bolton, chat with Brian's mom Ginnie, at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association regional games at Lake Forest High School on Sunday.

       Athlete Brian Nelson, left, and Darren Bolton, parent of athlete Sarah Bolton, chat with Brian's mom Ginnie, at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association regional games at Lake Forest High School on Sunday.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Bob Swanson of Round Lake prepares to compete at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association regional games at Lake Forest High School Sunday.

       Bob Swanson of Round Lake prepares to compete at the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association regional games at Lake Forest High School Sunday.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Athletes stage for a sprint race at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday.

       Athletes stage for a sprint race at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ethan Burkhardt, 13, of Libertyville, crosses the finish line in the 100 meter dash at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Burkhardt was born with spina bifida and has qualified for three events in the national championships in Iowa in July.

       Ethan Burkhardt, 13, of Libertyville, crosses the finish line in the 100 meter dash at the Great Lake Adaptive Sports Association 2014 Adult Regional Games at Lake Forest High School Sunday. Burkhardt was born with spina bifida and has qualified for three events in the national championships in Iowa in July.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 

Each year, the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association holds a series of events that give disabled athletes a chance not only to compete and hone their skills, but also to meet other athletes from across the nation.

This weekend, the spotlight was on track and field, as GLASA hosted the 2014 Adult National Open & Great Lakes Regional Games.

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Sunday was the culmination one of the weekend's events, held on the campus of Lake Forest High School.

GLASA Executive Director Cindy Housner said 165 athletes registered, including 30 injured veterans.

Housner said representatives from U.S. Paralympics, Disabled Sports USA and Wheelchair & Ambulatory Sports USA were also on hand for the event.

She said she was pleased with this weekend's level of competition.

"We are always looking for more athletes, but we have had a number of new, first-time athletes, as well as some elite competitors that are competing on an international level," she said.

Annie Schlesinger of Naperville, who has cerebral palsy, said she enjoys the event for "the people, the competition, just getting to do what I love with my friends."

Schlesinger, who is on Naperville Central's cross country team, said she was trying to improve her times, focusing in particular on the 400-meter event.

Her father, Eric Schlesinger, said, "it's great. It's a lot of fun. It's a chance to compete against your peers."

A number of athletes from out of state competed, including Katie Schewanick, 20, of Birmingham, Ala., who became a paraplegic following an auto accident.

She said became involved in athletics through the Lakeshore Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Alabama that serves people with physical disabilities

She said of the track events, "I like that it's an individual sport, and I don't have to rely on anyone else. It's just me. And I like the speed of it."

A number of the athletes were just beginning to get involved in the sport, like 13-year-old Cooper Hagler of Bartlett, who has been competing for two months. Hagler, who has cerebral palsy, has also participated in sled hockey and wheelchair basketball.

"I like that (GLASA) gives opportunities for kids with special needs," Hagler said.

For Cooper, there was a special Father's Day element, since he was accompanied by his grandfather, Mike Weber of Schaumburg.

For 16-year-old Brian Nelson of Lake Villa, this is his first year running.

Nelson, who has cerebral palsy -- he had a stroke before he was born -- said there is a lot of hard work involved.

"You just have to train as hard as you can and the best you can. The more you train, the better you get and the more opportunities you will get," he said.

He said the person who influenced him the most is Michael Phelps.

After seeing Phelps compete, Nelson said to his mother, Ginnie, "Mom, I want to go to the Paralympics."

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