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Published: Tuesday, 4/16/2013

After fire, teens step up help to therapy program

From left, Alyssa Webster, Matt Wensink, Alexa Wegman, Trevor Walsh, Byron Swartz, Grant Blackburn, Autumn Walker, and Gabrielle Matlack are among those staging the race/walk on May 25. From left, Alyssa Webster, Matt Wensink, Alexa Wegman, Trevor Walsh, Byron Swartz, Grant Blackburn, Autumn Walker, and Gabrielle Matlack are among those staging the race/walk on May 25.
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A group of teens from Lake, Oregon, and Northwood high schools are planning their third annual 5K fund-raiser for the Vail Meadows Equestrian Center. They say the fire last month that killed 10 horses gives their efforts new urgency.

The race/walk, called Run for the Meadows, is May 25. All money raised will go to the nonprofit horse-riding therapy clinic at Vail Meadows in Oregon.

Registration is at 8:30 a.m. at the fire hall at 28410 Oak St. in Millbury. The race starts at 10.

The teens, most of whom attend Lake, have worked hard. They have solicited businesses for donations and have had 200 promotional T-shirts made. So far, 120 participants have preregistered at runforthemeadows.com. The biggest donation from a business so far is $500.

The 5K began in 2010 as a fund-raiser to support the hippotherapy activities at the center. After the fire, the effort is to help get the place back on its feet. Lake sophomore Byron Swartz compared the assistance to the community support Lake Township received after the 2010 tornado that killed seven and destroyed the high school. “It’s not a lot different, because people have been able to come together so quickly,” he explained.

Alexa Wegman, a senior at Northwood, said the Vail Meadows community should know it is not alone. “We want to give something back when tragedy strikes,” she said.

Vail Meadows uses horses as therapy for children and adults with mental and physical handicaps. Most of the horses used died in the March 21 fire. An electrical problem is believed to be the cause; the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office has not released its investigation findings.

Toledo police Sgt. Mike McGee, a member of the Vail family that owns and operates the horse center, said rebuilding has not begun but debris has been cleaned up. Among casualties was Harley, the retired horse Sergeant McGee rode as a member of the police department's mounted patrol. The officer said he still feels the loss.

He said the Vail family wanted to keep the hippotherapy program going and he was training a new horse named Sundance. The therapy horse Yuma was not in the barn at the time of the fire.

The money from the 5K would be spent on replacement horses and new tack, the sergeant said. “We lost a ton of tack — saddles, blankets. It's just like we’re starting the program from scratch.”

A few petting animals also perished, including a pig and duck, Sergeant McGee said. A pot-bellied pig and a goat have been donated to replace them.

About the teens, he said: “They’re super. I can’t describe them with any other adjective.”

Another fund-raiser to benefit Vail Meadows is set for May 18 at Eagle’s Landing Golf Course, 5530 Bay Shore Rd., Oregon. The event starts at 1 p.m. with a four-person golf scramble, be followed by dinner at Icons Eatery and Entertainment, 3150 Navarre Ave. in Oregon.

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