Young wheelchair athletes in NYC qualify for national meet

Lucy Shannon, Harry Houng-Lee, and Penelope Fernandez were on the track at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem on Thursday afternoon training for their big competition next week.

They are members of the Rising New York Road Runners Wheelchair Training Program, a free program that started in 2016. The goal is to give young people between the ages 6 and 21 who have a physical disability the opportunity to shine at a sport

"We provide them not only with free training but we fit them for a wheelchair as well so they can really maximize the power of the race," said Marissa Munoz, senior vice president for community impact for New York Road Runners.

Lucy, 11, Harry, 9, and Penelope, 8, all qualified for a regional competition. Now they're heading to Denver for the Move United Junior Nationals.

"I have been working very hard, so I can win medals and go to Colorado," Lucy said. "It feels great to be in this program and I really enjoy it."

The program measures kids for racing chairs and provides coaching, training sessions, and racing opportunities. 

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Lucy Shannon, left, and Harry Houng-Lee participate in the Rising New York Road Runners Wheelchair Training Program at Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, Thursday, July 14, 2022. (FOX 5 NY Photo)

"I love practicing with my friends and racing with and against other athletes," Harry told FOX 5 NY.

The athletes joined the wheelchair training program about a year ago. Coach Paul Kolterjahn said that in no time they've shown their ability to tackle the sport.

"We're not just working on sport — we're working on interpersonal, we're working on social," Kolterjahn said, "and helping them develop to be productive individuals in society going on as they grow up."

Founded in 1958, New York Road Runners organizes dozens of races in the New York City area every year. Its flagship event is the New York City Marathon.