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World wheelchair athletes compete

Looping the Bayfront Center, wheelchair racers from around the world competed in the Second Annual HEALTHSOUTH-Top End Criterium Wheelchair race Sunday morning.

Despite wet streets and cloudy skies, brightly dressed racers in six categories streaked past spectators as they pumped to the finish.

"This is just a fun event," said Susan Pawlak, director of therapeutic recreation at HEALTHSOUTH Rehabilitation Hospital in Largo. "It's a chance to make a greater awareness in the community that there is opportunity for injured athletes."

After almost 16 grueling kilometers, Phillippe Couprie of France finished first in a field of about 80 in the men's open timed race.

The event was one of many wheelchair sports provided by HEALTHSOUTH, a hospital that specializes in rehabilitation of people who have suffered head, spinal cord and back injuries or strokes.

"A large number of our patients were once heavily involved in athletics and other activities," Pawlak said. "We'd like to keep people active and give them the opportunities to compete."

HEALTHSOUTH offers them numerous programs, from tennis tournaments and wheelchair bowling to an upcoming adaptive sailing program.

"Almost anybody can do wheelchair sports," Pawlak said. "It's a hobby."


For information on activities for people with disabilities, call Susan Pawlak of HEALTHSOUTH at 586-2999.