The annual Two Cities Marathon attracts thousands of contestants, but this year's event on Nov. 4 includes an especially energetic four-year-old eager to "go the distance."
Rafael Reyes, diagnosed with cerebral palsy spastic diplegia, will be the first-ever "adaptive" participant in the Fresno Half Marathon this Sunday. Dr. Adam Gorra, a pediatric surgeon at Children's and marathon runner, will push Rafael, seated comfortably in his child-size, 27-pound wheelchair, for the entire 13.1-mile course. Their purpose is to raise awareness of Children's adaptive sports program.
"Rafael is so excited!" said Emanuel Reyes, Rafael's dad. "He uses a walker most of the time and is very active so he'll enjoy this. His dream is to be a wheelchair racer some day."
Children's adaptive sports program provides free recreational and athletic experiences for those with disabilities up to age 21. On Nov. 19, the program will begin offering ice and sled hockey – which Rafael also looks forward to experiencing – at the new ice rink at the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno.
From water and snow skiing to track and field, the program draws upon the area's natural resources and athletic facilities to provide participants a fun experience while boosting their health and confidence. Children with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to spinal cord injuries learn through hard work and determination they can participate in athletics and achieve their goals.
"The adaptive sports program is a jewel of this Hospital," said Dr. Gorra, who is also a hockey coach. "It helps children who have many obstacles to maximize their potential while building awareness and support. Ultimately, we'd like to see more adaptive athletes in the Two Cities Marathon and we're excited to bring ice hockey and sled hockey to this area."
"We admire Rafael's courage and determination," said Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director, Children's Hospital pediatric rehabilitation center, who leads the adaptive sports program. "And we're very appreciative of Dr. Gorra's efforts to help us raise awareness about adaptive sports, and add ice and sled hockey to our growing program."
Born extremely premature at 25 weeks weighing just under 2 pounds, Rafael spent the first four months of his life at Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. He continues to receive specialized treatment from Children's pediatric specialists.
Cerebral palsy affects motor skills development between the brain and certain nerves and muscles in the body. Spastic diplegia, known as Little's Disease, is the most common type of cerebral palsy occurring in nearly 70 percent of all related cases. Spastic diplegia primarily affects the muscles of the lower body, including the legs, hips and pelvis.
"The care Rafael has received at Children's Hospital has been very helpful," said Reyes. "My wife Carla and I have seen Rafael improve physically and cognitively. We hope that what Rafael, Dr. Gorra, Dr. Crocker and Children's Hospital are doing will be inspiring for people who don't know medical help is out there. Many kids with special needs can also do ‘normal' things, like sports. They can still lead active, happy lives."
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