Athletes from Africa Compete in the Kessler Foundation Wheelchair 10k
Racers from three continents gathered for the 11th annual Kessler Foundation Wheelchair 10k, the wheelchair division of the Fred D'Elia Ridgewood Run in Ridgewood, NJ, on Memorial Day 2011. It is one of the largest wheelchair races in the country and one of the few integrated races where wheelchair athletes and runners compete on the same course at the same time. The racers compete for a total purse of $10,000. For the first time, racers from Africa came to compete in what was sure to be about more than winning a race.
In Ghana, people with disabilities have a history of being mistreated. If they were not poisoned to death, they were destined to a life of begging on the streets because no one would hire them. One man, Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, changed everything.
Born with a severely deformed leg, Emmanuel refused to beg on the streets and dedicated his life to serving people with disabilities. To raise awareness of the injustices done to Ghanaians with disabilities, he decided to cycle across Ghana, for the equivalent of 600 km on a bicycle with one leg.
From Emmanuel, sports for individuals with disabilities in Ghana evolved as a way to gain recognition and have something productive to do. With sport accomplishments, honor goes back to Ghana and athletes with disabilities are recognized for their abilities. Due to economic and geographical limitations, however, the athletes have difficulty logging enough competitive racing hours to fully qualify for the Paralympics.
Kessler Foundation sponsored two athletes to compete in the 10k: Patrick Obeng, 35, from Ghana, and Wilson Nyakoko, 36, from Zimbabwe. Emmanuel and Sam Aidoo, technical director of the Paralympic Committee of Ghana, came from Ghana to support Patrick and Wilson. These track athletes had little experience with road racing. Although they didn’t win, they crossed the finish line with smiles, knowing that they did their best and that they were 10 kilometers closer to reaching their Paralympic goals.
For the second consecutive year, Jordan Bird, 22, from Arizona, clinched the Male Open Division with a time of 22 minutes and 27 seconds. Patrick, who had not competed in a 10k since 2004, finished in second with a time of 24 minutes and 40 seconds. Wilson completed the course in 37 minutes and 49 seconds.
Jacqui Kapinowski, 49, from New Jersey, won the Female Open Division with a time of 35 minutes and 33 seconds.
The Male Masters Division, for people 40 and over, was won by Tony Nogueira, 43, from New Jersey. Tony is one of the original members of Kessler Foundation’s WheelBlazers—an adaptive wheelchair racing team. He completed the 10k in 23 minutes and 47 seconds.
Shannon Francklin, 48, from Georgia, won the Female Masters Division with a time of 1 hour, 1 minute, and 34 seconds.
Joseph Dowling, 72, of Connecticut, clinched the Male Grand Masters—for athletes 50 and over—with a time of 36 minutes and 24 seconds.
For the second year in a row, Santiago Sanz, 30, from Spain, won the Male Quad Division in 25 minutes and 3 seconds.
Jim Cuevas, 20, from New Jersey, won the Male E Athlete Division—for athletes between the ages of 19 and 21—with a time of 46 minutes and 3 seconds. This time included the 20 minutes it took to change a flat tire on his racing chair in the middle of the course! He is a member of the North Jersey Navigators, a junior athlete adaptive sports team for athletes with disabilities 21 years of age or younger sponsored by Kessler Foundation. His father, Jimmy Cuevas, serves as the Head Coach, and his mother, Isabel, is the track coach.
Winning the Female E Athlete Division was Chelsea Crytzer, 20, from New Jersey, who completed the course in 1 hour, 6 minutes and 10 seconds.
Jerson Calderone, 16, from New Jersey, beat out his North Jersey Navigator teammates in a tight race to clinch the Male Junior Division—for athletes under 19 years old—with a time of 27 minutes and 25 seconds.
Bridgette Wise, 15, from Pennsylvania, completed the 10k in 45 minutes and 2 seconds to win the Female Junior Division.
What started out as a stormy morning turned out to be a sunny day that paved the way for goals to be reached and new dreams to be born.
Click here for a complete list of athletes and race times.