Race to the Finish: Wheelchair Athletes Compete with New UIL Rules

- PAMPA - For Lauren Pingel, 2014 is shaping up to be a big year.

"This year, I get to compete in track for the first time," Lauren said.

She has always been a sports fan. Lauren is the manager of all the basketball teams at Pampa High School.

But now, she's getting off the bench and into the action, as a member of the track team.

She'll be competing for the first time in shot put alongside her able-bodied classmates.

"I get to compete with kids my own age and feel like an able-body instead of someone keeping stats on the sideline," Lauren said.

"I mean just the smile and the excitement knowing that she gets to be a part of a team in that way, and train with them and travel with them and do everything all the athletes get to do," Lauren's dad Brad said. 

Brad Pingel is no stranger to athletics either. He started an organization  in 2011 called Wheel Times. It's grown to 25 wheelchair athletes from across the Panhandle.

"We just felt like in the area, there should be something for kiddos to participate in," Brad said. 

Now participation means something even bigger. A new UIL pilot program will make it possible for wheelchair athletes around the state to become a part of the team, and compete for their high school against other wheelchair athletes.

This year, just track and field events will be open to wheelchair athletes - the 100, 400 and shot put.

So what does the future hold?

"This wheelchair event in our state track meet is just one step to what we hope are many, many steps to providing additional opportunities to students who have previously not had access to particular UIL events," Jamey Harrison, UIL Deputy Director said.

According to Harrison, the program and its details are a work on progress, but they hope to eventually add more sports and are also working with Special Olympics Texas. 

As for Lauren, and her dad, the new program goes beyond the track.

"I don't know how long they've been talking about it. In my eyes, it's been a long time coming. and you know, I think the UIL  is definitely stepping in the right direction," Brad said.

Stepping in the right direction, right on the high school track.

You can also get more information on Pingel's organization, Wheel Times , or check out the new UIL pilot program.

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