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BOWLING GREEN - Larry Koester may not be able to walk, but he can sure drive.
Sitting in his bright yellow mini-rod tractor splashed with the Pennzoil logo at the National Tractor Pulling Championships on the Wood County Fairgrounds, no one would guess he lost his legs below the thighs after they were burned when a tractor rolled over on him.
But the disability didn't stop the 50-year-old from Wadesville, Ind., from participating in tractor pulls less than a year after his accident.
"My friends thought it was very important to get back into the sport," Mr. Koester said, adding that he has been involved in tractor pulls for 18 years. "It's great rehabilitation in a roundabout way. I had to change a few things rather than quitting."
Those changes allow Mr. Koester to drive his tractor, appropriately named "Footloose," by pushing the throttle forward with his right hand. He is able to stop by lifting his thighs to engage the brakes.
"After I got hurt, the thing to do is to show people you can go on, even if you have a handicap," he said.
He became involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation a few years after he recovered from his injuries, saying he forgets about himself when he is around terminally ill children.
"Being in a wheelchair, the kids accept me more," Mr. Koester said after signing autographs and taking pictures with some of the 150 Make-A-Wish children who attended the tractor pull this weekend.
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Many of the kids were walking around proudly showing off pictures of themselves and Mr. Koester, who was sitting in his tractor complete with a Make-A-Wish Foundation sticker and the phrase "It don't take feet to kick butt" painted on the back.
One of those children was 10-year-old Leilani Turk of Toledo, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease in January.
Clutching her picture and modeling her autographed shirt, Leilani said the tractor pull was "cool," especially when she was able to see the tractors up close and sit in the one of the driver's seats.
Although Mr. Koester focuses on the contributions of those involved with the foundation daily, Megan Ferguson, program service director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio, Inc., said he shouldn't be so modest.
"He probably should sing his praises a little more," she said. "He's a true inspiration for these kids."
Sessions I and II of the pull were canceled Friday because of rain, but Terry Andryc, media coordinator, said he still expected 60,000 to 70,000 spectators for the weekend to watch the tractors vie for first place in their respective categories.
First-place winners in Saturday's Session III at noon were Tom Zorn from Morrisville, N.Y., in the super farm class; Rob Foster from Fairgrove, Mich., in the 4-wheel-drive trucks class; Bruce Slagh from Zeeland, Mich., in the limited modified class, and Jerry van Dorpe from Charlotte, Mich., in the diesel super stock class.
Saturday's 6:30 p.m. Session IV first-place winners were Scott Teipen from Crothersville, Ind., in the pro stock class; Larry Roberts from Wilmington, Ohio, in the open super stock class; Randy Petro from Camden, Ohio, in the unlimited modified class, and Craig Nation from Bulter, Mo., in the 2-wheel drive trucks class.
Placing first in Sunday's Session V at noon were Kevin Masterson from Grandview, Ind., in the pro stock class; Lee Swift from Coldwater, Mich., in the mini rods class; Bob Boden from Wharton, Ohio, in the super modified 4-wheel drive truck class; Greg Hibbitts from Hudsonville, Mich., in the super semi class, and Joe Eder from North Collins, N.Y., in the unlimited modified class.
Contact Erika Ray at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6088.