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Wheelchair Games Athletes Revel in Competition

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Sarah Maher is a tiny, six-year-old, javelin-throwing angel whose competitive focus can be turned by nothing less than a goodie bag of treats, while Bill and Jerry Braun, a Vietnam Vet and an Army nurse, who met and married, travel the world looking for wheelchair competitions to conquer.

The Brauns and Little Miss Maher were just a few of the more than 50 competitors, family members, volunteers and friends who gathered at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital campus Saturday for the 32nd Annual Wheelchair Games, an event that is as much a celebration of joy and courage as an athletic competition.

“I like to throw and that’s good,” said Maher, who was being coached, photographed and supported by brother Aidan and sister Caroline and her parents and grandparents. “But I am nervous about the races (wheelchair races) – there’s a lot of turning.”

That said, the young athlete from Westfield, N.J. inquired about that promised goodie bag and went back to being a kid, playing with her siblings.

Jerry Maher pushed out three shot puts and watched husband Bill throw the heavy weight before sitting with their companion dog Journey, who aptly has accompanied the couple from their home in Tyler, Tx. to Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island and points north in search of parasailing, paraskiing and other wheelchair games.

"Bill was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War and suffered badly,” Jerry Braun said. “I lost my leg below my knee. These competitions are great because we love to travel, get in the van with Journey and find a somewhere to play. The Burke Games are a great event. We just love it.”

For Burke’s Director of Marketing Richard Sgaglio, the Burke Games are a festival that invites wheelchair-bound athletes to share a day with fellow competitors.

“The athletes are competitive, but you can see the joy they have in being around each other here,” Sgaglio said as he moved from event to event. And the volunteers, who come from local schools, colleges and churches, and many of our staff, who are here on their own time to share the day. It’s really special.”

And for the youngest, like Sarah Maher, to the eldest, like Bill and Jerry Braun -- the smiles, the competitive grunts, the fast-paced wheelchair races, the flying table tennis paddles, and, of course, the promise of goodie bags, make Burke a perfect place to spend a day at the Wheelchair Games.

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