It began as a frustrating challenge: Drew Tokar, 12, of Rossford lost his footing several times as he tried to climb the steep rubbery steps leading to the top of a giant inflatable slide. Even with the assistance of a teacher and an adult volunteer the task at times seemed impossible.
When young Drew, who is blind, reached the top he collapsed in exhaustion. Within moments, the youngster and his assistants were zooming down the slide together.
Although he could not see his surroundings, the expression of joy and triumph on young Drew’s face said it all. He had pushed himself and succeeded.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view
That was the purpose of the 12th annual Fitness Fun Day at Wood Lane School on Thursday, said Melanie Stretchbery, superintendent of Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
The event provides recreational activities for youth with disabilities from the Wood County Educational Service Center, Wood Lane School, and school districts in the area.
More than 200 students participated in the event this year, organizers said.
“This is a chance for them to get to know each other,” Ms. Stretchbery said. “There is a lot of pressure on them to fit in. But here there are no barriers, there are no judgments.
“They’re learning how to play with each other and explore their environment.”
Thursday’s event featured many activities, including nine inflatable play structures, horse rides, a petting zoo, a fishing pond, and use of Wood Lane’s therapy pool.
Nick Below, 13, who attends Wood Lane School, wasn’t able to participate in most of the activities but still enjoyed himself. He can only communicate by sign language and physically isn’t capable of doing some things, his teachers say.
He did walk around a lot, laughing as he watched his friends play.
When he grew tired and sat to rest, his friends would come and sit with him; their joy and laughter transcending the communication barrier.
“I like this because I get to see my friends,” young Nick said through an interpreter. “My favorite is the inflatable slide.”
The annual event was founded by Mindy Barnhart, an adapted physical education teacher for the Wood County Educational Service Center.
“I try and make it a fun and fitness day instead of competitive so they can all participate and nobody has to feel like they came in first, second, or third place,” she said.
Wood Lane School has 29 students enrolled between the ages of 3 and 22. The school serves students who have the most intense medical needs, Ms. Stretchbery said. The school also offers educational programs and services to more than 200 adults and senior citizens.
All activities and food were donated from local businesses including Subway, Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative, Air Extreme of Toledo, Dusty Boots Equestrian Therapy, and Nature Creek Petting Zoo.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.