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15K on wheels? No sweat

It just takes one good challenge to get Joey Chiavaroli motivated.

Last year it was his Lutz chiropractor, Dr. Scott Paton, inviting Joey to join him in the 5K race for Gasparilla, thinking the 10-year-old would balk.

But Joey did enter, finishing with an impressive 36 minutes.

This year Paton threw down an even bigger challenge: Saturday's Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.

Joey, who was born with spina bifida and competes in a racing wheelchair, was gung-ho about it.

"His outlook is far superior than any young boy of that age," Paton said. "He completely believes in himself. He's a real competitor."

For years Joey has competed in national wheelchair events. But he has never faced such a test of endurance as the 15K, which translates to about 9.3 miles. Arlene Sand, who leads the junior division of Wheelchair Sports USA, says Joey is the first child his age in a wheelchair to participate in the race's 29-year history.

"Yeah, I'm a little nervous," said Joey, who splits his time between his mother's home in Charlotte County and his father's in Hudson. "I know I'll finish it, but it's a big race and anything could happen."

If practice truly makes perfect, Joey should do great, said his dad, Randy Chiavaroli. Joey spends at least two afternoons a week swimming for 2 1/2 hours each day, and recently started traversing a 10-mile bicycle trail in preparation for the 15K.

In addition to building up his physical stamina, Joey has fine-tuned his mental attitude.

"He's really focused now on what he's doing," Chiavaroli said. "He really wants to win, and he'll go that extra mile."

Paton has turned the event into a fundraiser for Joey. Because he is growing, Joey frequently needs a new racing wheelchair, which costs about $3,000, plus $1,000 a year for tires. That does not include thousands of dollars in travel expenses.

Paton plans to be alongside his patient in the race.

Joey's thoughts on the outcome? "My prediction is I'll beat him."

For more information about Joey, see his Web page at www.joeywheelchairracing.com. Times correspondent Sheryl Kay can be reached at skreporterhotmail.com or (813) 230-8788.

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