Blake Walters, 13, center left, jokes with his mother, Renata Walters, left, during practice on his tandem recumbent bicycle at Oak Opening Preserve Metropark on Friday. Stephanie Morrill of Programs to Educate All Cyclists, right, adjusts Blake's restraints. Her son, Skyler Canizales, 12, looks on.
For two years, 13-year-old Blake Walters, diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months, watched the Sylvania Cycling Classic from the sidelines, dreaming of what it would be like to participate. This year his dream came true, and he was a contestant.
At 12:25 p.m. Sunday, Blake lined up his tandem bike on Erie Street, along with 30 other racers his age, and took off for the 5-minute Kids Race that looped around Burnham Park.
PHOTO GALLERY: Sylvania Cycling Classic
Blake sat in the back seat. His uncle, Renato Sosa, sat up front and assisted in spinning the bike’s wheels on the closed-road course. Although every child was deemed a winner in the race, Blake finished in the middle of the pack.
His parents, Renata and Rick Walters, family members, and friends cheered him on.
Before training for Sunday’s race, Blake had never ridden a bike.
Mrs. Walters said that, although he has a slight range of motion in his legs, his body is paralyzed in all four quadrants. But Blake is known for finding a way to do things he loves, including hunting, fishing, and drag racing.
“If he wants to try it, we find a way to do it,” Mrs. Walters said.
At the first race in 2011, Blake said he thought the cycling race was exciting. The next year he told the race announcer, Brent Evans, about his dream to participate.
“I was amazed by this little boy that sat in his wheelchair all day, ringing a cowbell that I gave him, cheering every biker on,” said Mr. Evans, a professional cyclist who competes in national and international races. The announcer again this year, Mr. Evans had noted Blake’s enthusiasm and his stamina; Blake watched the whole competition that usually begins at 8 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m., despite extremely hot weather.
“We were here together all day while other people came and went,” Mr. Evans said. The two became friends and met again at last year’s race. Mr. Evans decided to honor Blake with the responsibility of grand marshal at this year’s race. Blake was the official starter for the Elite Men’s and Women’s CAT, and congratulated winners at the award ceremonies. But Blake also wanted to be a contestant. In May, Mrs. Walters remembers, “Brent called and said, 'Renata I had this in my heart and we are going to make it happen.' ”
Through the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, located in Sylvania, Mr. Evans found a bike that allowed Blake to work the pedals.
The center and volunteers helped Blake prepare for race day. “It is an amazing feeling,” Blake said of riding a bike. He was grateful, he said, to all the people, and to God, who pulled together to make his dream come true.