FORT WAYNE – Nina Welfle, 17, came in through the left field tunnel in her neon yellow wheelchair, applying another surge of speed to her spinning wheels as she rounded the baseball diamond in Parkview Field.
Crossing the finish line in an hour and 47 minutes, she was the fastest female wheelchair participant in the half marathon – beating her sister, Molly, 15, by fractions of a second.
Nina crossed the finish line with a smile and a slight cut on her knee endured during the 13.1-mile trek.
I just ate the dirt, she said with a laugh. I was running it hot and heavy.
Part of Turnstones varsity basketball wheelchair team, the Welfle sisters, their teammates and coach, Bob Burnsworth, were among the 17 wheelchair racers who participated in the sixth annual Fort4Fitness 4-mile, 10K and half marathon races.
Burnsworth said that the layout of course put all participants on an equal playing field.
It gives them (the basketball team) the competition to be in regular races with people, he said. The runners were catching me on the uphill, and I was catching them on the downhill. Wheelchairs have just as much competition as able-bodies. Now if we could just have 1,000 wheelchair participants, we would have it made.
Wheelchair racers for the 4-mile walk/run, 10K and half marathon started five minutes before the cannon was shot for other participants. However, all racers take the same course to the finish line. Race director Dave Craker said that Fort4Fitness supports a healthy lifestyle for all people and that its important to support the diverse range of the more than 10,000 registered participants.
Theres nothing that says whether you are able-bodied or disabled that you cant exercise or accomplish something, he said. The most inspirational people here for me are the people who are doing it, even if they struggle at it.
Gregory Mitro, 52, participated in the 4-mile walk/run race for his third year. Finishing in an hour and 47 minutes with his wife, Dianne, he pushed his wheelchair with as much force as he had left until he crossed the finish line. He received a round of applause, and Dianne pushed his wheelchair the rest of the way.
Its just so nice having people cheering you on. It feels wonderful, he said. For me I just try and do whatever I can around my home and through the neighborhood.
Dianne said the best thing about Fort4Fitness is that it inspires all participants.
Theres no other group like runners – they cheer you on for encouragement, she said. I like it here because there are no losers, were all winners.