September 10, 2002
Reunion Race reunites patients, staff and raises money for neuroscience research
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—On a day when Mississippians gather to celebrate the power of healing, Cory Hunter is happy to be alive and a believer in the cause.
The 19 year-old brain injury survivor from Petal will be on hand September 14 at Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s annual Reunion Race to visit the men and woman who helped him rebuild his life and to cheer on friends who will run, walk and roll over the 3.1 mile race course.
Hundreds are expected to participate in the Flowood race that raises money for neuroscience research to improve recovery from brain and spinal cord injuries and other neurological and orthopedic disorders. This year’s race starts at 8 a.m. at Methodist Rehab’s east campus just off Lakeland Drive on Layfair Drive in Flowood.
The race benefits the Jackson hospital’s Center for Neuroscience and Neurological Recovery where a team of physician-scientists work to translate basic neuroscience research into useful therapies that benefit patients suffering from neurological illnesses and injuries.
“By building on our strong commitment to research and the hospital’s reputation, our researchers are able to quickly move their findings from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside, thus bridging the gap between biomedical discoveries and their clinical application,” said Mark Adams, president and CEO of Methodist Rehab.
Patients who have benefited from such research like Mark Wooton, of Brandon, are also expected to attend the race. Wooten suffered from Guillain Barre Syndrome, a rare, debilitating illness that paralyzes the body and weakens the muscles that control breathing. Today, he shows few signs of his bout with the disorder and runs several miles most mornings.
Hunter, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell from a rope swing and landed on soapstone rocks 20 feet below, couldn’t blink his eyes or move his fingers when he arrived at Methodist Rehab. But after four months of intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy, he walked into his home and later danced the night away at his high school prom.
Each year, former patients like Hunter and Wooton come back and share their lives with other former patients and the staff who helped them recover.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to see some of the friends we made while we were patients,” said Randy Lavender, of Tupelo, who competes each year in the race. Last year, Lavender was third in the wheelchair race and the master’s winner. “There are so many of us who come from out of town. I have friends from all over the southeast who I always get to see at this race who I don’t see the rest of the year.”
The 3.1 mile race includes the largest division of wheelchair racers in Mississippi. Wheelchair participants compete side-by-side with a large field of their able-bodied counterparts using specially designed, aerodynamic chairs that have a third wheel in front.
Reunion Race also includes the Reunion Race Rock and Roll where children of all ages can cover the one mile on any set of wheels they like from wheelchairs to skateboards and scooters to gurneys. But there’s a catch—they must do so wearing the appropriate safety gear including helmets and kneepads. Sammy Safety, the hospital’s certified safety superhero, will be on hand to make sure kids who participate have their helmets and safety gear.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Frances Judkins after last year’s race. Her 12 year-old son, Jud, participated in and finished his first 5K race. “The entire crowd—possibly because I was screaming so much—made my son feel so special when he finished. The volunteers were very enthusiastic and seemed to really enjoy being there.”
Another patient participating in race festivities is musician Chris Gill. Gill, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck last year on his way to a gig at The Forum, will be back to perform at this year’s pre-race party at the Jackson restaurant from 6-8 p.m. Friday. The party is free for all registered participants and those not yet registered can do so at the door.
Reunion Race will also feature a wheelchair obstacle course where able-bodied participants can experience what it’s like to navigate hazards that people face each day in a wheelchair. Methodist Rehab’s 69,000 gallon competition hot air balloon, The Independence, will also be on display. Participants and spectators can also participate in a free health fair and health screenings.
“Coaches and others from the Jackson Bandits will be at both the pre-race party and race to support the athletes,” said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab. “The Bandits are helping us organize the state’s first sled hockey team for physically challenged athletes and their commitment to our therapeutic recreation programs at Methodist Rehab means a lot to all of us.”
For former patients like Hunter, Wooton and Gill, the research that goes on at Methodist Rehab isn’t just a topic for idle conversation, but a very real and practical means of eradicating devastating brain, spinal cord and neurological injuries forever.
“This is a fun day for everyone,” said race coordinator Lauren Fairburn. “I think all those who participate in this race understand that it isn’t a typical race. The runners and wheelchair racers really root for each other and cheer one another on. And you haven’t seen courage, strength and determination until you’ve seen this race.”
Pre-registration for Reunion Race is $15 or $20 on race day. For more information about registering, call 601-364-3451 or log on to www.methodistonline.org.
For more information:
Race to raise research funds | The Clarion-Ledger
Hundreds of runners from across the state will raise money for brain and spinal cord injury research at Methodist Rehabilitation Center's annual Reunion Race in Flowood.