DISABILITIES

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By Daniel J. Vance


“I didn't know there was a problem until after Chase was born,” said 44-year-old Johnna Throckmorton of Richmond, Virginia, referring to her son's 1993 birth. “They wrapped him up and took him away. About 30 minutes later, my husband came in crying and a doctor I'd never seen before came in crying. The first thing I thought was my baby had died.”

Rather, Chase had a birth defect, a form of spina bifida, in which a section of his spine had developed outside his body. A National Institutes of Health website states that spina bifida is a “disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings caused by the failure of the fetus' spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.” It affects perhaps 150,000 Americans.

While growing up, Chase appeared once as a Toys R Us catalog model. Today, to get around, he uses a manual wheelchair. Throckmorton said when she talks about having a son that uses a wheelchair to people for the first time, they often ask in roundabout fashion if Chase is “normal” in other ways. The answer: Yes.

Now age 17, “Chase is small for his age, but has very strong upper-body strength,” said Throckmorton. “I chose not to have him use a power wheelchair because I didn't want him becoming lazy.” At school, his friends haven't treated him any differently.

She added, “Chase is calm tempered, very outgoing, and has never met a stranger. He's polite, friendly, and everybody adores him. He's completely 'normal' from the waist up; he just can't walk.”

About three years ago, Chase was competing in a one-day, Virginia-wide, Olympic-style sporting event for children with physical, visual, and hearing disabilities. The games had been around since 1981. When the event organizer that day announced this particular “games” would be their last due to lack of funds, Throckmorton immediately offered to begin running it.

“I had seen the look on Chase's face (after the announcement) and he was devastated,” said Throckmorton. “He had looked forward to the games every year. All the other children were in shock, too.”

This June 26, the Virginia Victory Games will feature perhaps 100 children ages 6-21 with physical (not intellectual) disabilities competing in the 60-, 200-, and 400-meter runs, bowling, softball throw, and wheelchair slalom. I'm sure they'll have fun.

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