By Kym Kostos
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Billy wheeled himself down the corridor at school. The buzzing of the students filled the halls. It was the last week of school before summer break. The eighth graders were going to be graduating that night and in three months starting high school.
William Matthew Warner was no different than any other kid at school who would be graduating that night and moving up to the next level in education. Everyone knew him as Billy, but he was not like other kids his age. When school is over, the kids will be outside running about under the warm sun. But, Billy couldn’t run because he was bound to a wheelchair.
Since birth, Billy hadn’t been able to walk due to a muscular disorder. The doctors and specialists told his parents that he would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Billy had always dreamed of walking and dancing like the other kids, but he knew he would never be able to do that ever.
He always envied the other kids who could walk, run and play sports. The big eighth grade dance was in two days and he knew that he would never be able to ask anyone out because he couldn’t dance with them. It was no fun to just go to a dance and sit and watch.
Billy went over to his bottom locker and his friend Allison was there. Allison had been a friend of Billy’s since they were in the first grade together. Allison also lived next to Billy and they had played together as well when they were younger.
Now Allison was a cheerleader and was on the volleyball team as the captain. She was a popular girl at school and always had a lot of friends around her.
As she came over to her locker, which was close to Billy’s she smiled and said, “Hi Billy.”
“Hi Ally.” Billy said. He liked calling her Ally, it was what he had called her since he had known her. Ally preferred to be called Allison, because it sounded more grown-up, but she let Billy call her Ally because they had known each other for so long.
“Are you excited about graduation tonight?” She asked as she grabbed her books out of the locker for her next class.
“I guess.” Billy replied. He wasn’t really all that excited though. Maybe if his dad would be attending to see him graduate instead of just his mom, he would be happy and excited. Billy missed his dad. His dad was in the Navy and went out to sea on six month long trips. His dad was Billy’s best friend.
He had always treated Billy as if he wasn’t in a wheelchair. He would play catch with him with the football and baseball, they would fly kites together, and he would take Billy swimming in the pool by placing him in an inner tube. Billy always liked that. Anytime he was out of his wheelchair he felt good and when his dad was around, he felt even better.
But, his dad wouldn’t be home for another three months. Billy was going to miss the summer time with him. But, at least his dad was going to be home for the holidays that year. Last year Billy missed him because he was gone during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.
Billy’s mom was always busy working and taking care of Billy and his younger sister Amanda. Billy envied Amanda because she was perfect. She was perfect in every way and she had two perfectly great working legs. He watched her run around the yard, kicking the ball and swinging on the tree swing their dad had built. Amanda was five years old and was a carefree child. Even though he envied her, he still loved her and liked playing games with her.
Her laughter made Billy smile when he was feeling down. Billy’s dad had built a special swing for Billy to swing on when he was younger. It supported his legs and he was able to sit on it with his dad’s help of course.
So, everyone was excited about graduation and Billy remembered that he needed to pick up his graduation gown and cap. So, he wheeled over to the office to pick it up. Allison had left with her giggling friends already. They were talking about the dance as they left.
“Hi Billy.” Mrs. Roberts greeted Billy. She was the school secretary.
“Hi Mrs. Roberts.” Billy greeted her back. “I need to pick up my cap and gown.” He said.
“Okay.” She left to go to the back room and came back shortly with the items Billy had requested. “Here you go!” She said as she handed him his cap and gown. “Congratulations!” She said with a smile.
“Thanks!” Billy replied as he took his cap and gown and carried them over to his locker and put them inside. Billy then wheeled himself off to his next class.
While he was sitting in class, he had noticed that the girls sitting next to him were passing notes and giggling. The bell hadn’t rung yet, so the students were still talking and laughing. His history teacher, Mr. Jones, entered the room and settled the students down as the bell rang. He began to teach class.
Mr. Jones talked about the Olympic races and how long they had been going. It was an Olympic year, so the summer games were in full swing. Billy had always wondered what it would be like to compete in some sort of sport. But, unfortunately, that was not possible for him, since he was in a wheelchair.
He listened to his teacher talk as he daydreamed about being in a race of some sort and running across the finish line while everyone cheered him on. He would be presented with a trophy and medal and have his picture taken in the paper and every girl in his class would want him to ask him to the dance. Billy’s thoughts were interrupted when his teacher was calling on him.
“Well, Billy?” He asked looking at him sternly, knowing that Billy wasn’t paying attention.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your question.” Billy replied embarrassed.
“I had asked you if you knew about the Wheelchair Racing Olympic events. Well, they actually weren’t actual Olympic events, they were just an exhibition. The men's 1500 meters race and the women's 800 meters race took place. It was the first time for disabled athletes to compete against each other at the Summer Olympic Games. The Para Olympic Games were the traditional venue for top level para-athletics. Being the second Olympic exhibition event, the wheelchair races followed the disabled skiing event at the 11984 Winter Olympics.” Mr. Jones informed the class.
Wheelchair races? Billy had never heard of them before. The information excited Billy a little. He would have to read more about them when he got home. He would do some research on the internet about them.
When school was over, the kids were rushing out to meet their parents, some were getting on the school bus and heading for home. Later that evening, they would return for their graduation ceremony.
Billy didn’t live too far from school, so he usually wheeled himself to school in the morning and back home after school. He lived only about four blocks from his house. It was a nice warm day and Billy loved being outdoors, so he enjoyed wheeling himself home that day.
When he got home, his mom was there waiting for him with a snack of celery sticks with peanut butter. They were Billy’s favorite. “So are you excited about graduation tonight Billy?” She asked him.
“Yeah, but I wish dad were going to be there.” He said.
“Well, there is a little surprise I have for you.” She squealed and opened up the laptop. It was Billy’s dad on video. He had recorded a quick video and sent it to Billy’s mom as a surprise for Billy.
“Hey son, I am sorry I can’t be there to cheer you on tonight for your graduation. But, I will be there in spirit. I am so proud of you. You are growing up to be a son that I am proud to have as a son. Congratulations son. I love you and miss you.” Then the video ended.
“Well, wasn’t that pretty cool of him?” His mom said smiling.
“Yeah, that was cool of him.” Billy replied as he wheeled himself to his room. Billy was used to seeing videos from his dad on special occasions when his dad couldn’t be there. It wasn’t the same though as having his dad actually there.
As Billy munched on his snack and sipped his glass of milk, he turned on his computer and began surfing the internet about the Olympic wheelchair races. What turned up was interesting to him. There was actually a wheelchair race in the next town over! Billy read on. It was going to take place in August. That gave Billy two months to prepare for it. He couldn’t wait to tell his mom. Then he remembered that his dad wouldn’t be back home by then to see him, but he knew he would tell his dad all about it.
When it was time to get ready for graduation, Billy’s mom helped him with his gown. Then they left. He joined the rest of his class who were sitting on the football field lawn. When Billy had gone up to get his eighth grade diploma everyone cheered and his mom and sister cheered the loudest.
After graduation, his mom and Allison’s parents all went to the Pizza Shack. Billy loved the Pizza Shack because his dad had taken him there so many times with just them two together. They would always see who could eat the most pizza.
When they had arrived it looked like they weren’t the only ones who had decided to go there after graduation, the place was busy. After about twenty minutes they were able to get a table and order their pizzas.
Billy’s favorite pizza was pepperoni, sausage and mushroom. So, his mom ordered one special for him. His mom was a vegetarian and his sister only liked cheese pizza. So, since tonight was his special night, she had ordered a special pizza just for him. His dad was the only one who would eat the same pizza has he did. He missed his dad so much.
After dinner, Billy’s mom was driving them home and Billy decided to tell his mom about the wheelchair races.
“Mom. I was doing some research on the internet about the wheelchair races at the Olympic games…” He began.
“I remember those. It was a big deal back then.” She said.
“Well, there is going to be a race held in August and I was wondering if I could compete in it?” He asked.
“Where is it going to be held?” She asked curiously.
“In Fairmount.” Billy said excitedly.
“Well, that’s not far, that’s only about thirty minutes away.” She said. Since his dad would be gone for the summer, Billy’s mom thought it might be a good idea to keep her son’s time occupied preparing for a race that he seems really excited about. “Okay. I say do it, Billy.”
“Really?” Billy was really excited now.
“Yes. Your dad would encourage you to do it, so I will do it too.” She said smiling at Billy as she pulled into their driveway.
Billy was very excited and sped into his room in his wheelchair to get more information on the wheelchair races.
“Hey! No practicing wheelchair racing in here mister!” She yelled at Billy while he was rushing to his room.
“Sorry mom!” He yelled back from his room. He printed out all the information he needed and a form to enter. Since he wasn’t 18, he needed his mom’s signature for the junior wheelchair races. There was also a $50 entrance fee.
As his mom was signing the entry form, she saw that it was going to cost $50. “Wow, fifty dollars entry fee. That’s a lot of money.” She looked at Billy and said. She didn’t want to disappoint him though. “I’ll tell you what, I will give you the money to enter, but maybe you could get a paper route or something to help pay for it too?” She said.
“Anything mom!” He said. She signed it and wrote him a check for $50. She put it in an envelope and put a stamp on it and placed it on the kitchen table.
The next morning Billy was having breakfast and couldn’t wait to mail the entry form. He would have waited for the mailman to come and pick it up but that wasn’t going to be later that afternoon and Billy wanted to get his entry form off as soon as possible.
After breakfast he wheeled himself down to the big blue mailbox by the market. On his way back he went as fast he could, even though it was slightly uphill. He could feel his arms weakening a little. “Hmmm…” he thought to himself, “I am going to need to build arm strength.”
When Billy got back to his house he looked up the information on where to get a paper route. He found the number and called it. The person on the other end of the phone told him that there weren’t any openings for a paperboy. Billy thanked the man and hung up. He had to find a job somewhere.
Billy went to the garage and pulled out one of his dad’s dumbbells and began to lift it with his arm. First with his right arm, and then his left arm. He wanted to build some muscle and strengthen in his arms and he had seen his dad do this many times before. He always loved how big his dad’s muscles were.
A little while later, Billy’s mom came into the garage, “Billy, can you go to the store for me?” She asked. “Amanda is taking a nap and I need some sugar to bake cookies and I am all out.”
“Sure mom!” Billy replied. Anything for cookies, he thought to himself. His mom gave him some money and a little extra on top of it.
“Buy yourself a candy bar and a comic book.” She smiled at him as she handed him a twenty- dollar bill. “And bring me back the change.” She added.
Billy put the money in his pocket and wheeled himself down to the market again to pick up some sugar for his mom. He wasn’t in the mood for a candy bar, but he picked up some Gatorade. He had seen he athletes in commercials drink it and it was supposed to give you power. He picked out one that had blueberry flavor and was blue in color.
When he went to pay for his sugar and drink, he noticed a note on the counter that was advertising for a delivery person. Billy decided to ask about it.
“What does the delivery person need to have in order to apply for that position?” He asked the clerk behind the counter, who happened to be the manager.
“Well, we need someone with a car.” He informed Billy.
“Oh. Okay.” Billy replied disappointed.
The manager knew Billy and his father. Who had been coming to the market for years. He liked Billy and his father. “I’ll tell you what though, if you are looking for a job, I can sure use someone to sweep up around here inside and out every day. And sometimes I have small orders for groceries and sandwiches for local businesses around here who order for lunch.”
“Really?” Billy exclaimed. He was excited!
“Yes. Do you have a wagon?” The manager asked Billy.
“I sure do!” He did too. He had his red wagon from when he was younger. It was still in the garage, he had seen it earlier that day when he was lifting the dumbbell.
“Great! Can you start tomorrow? I just had someone pass out fliers everywhere letting people know of our sandwich specials and that we will be delivering. I am going to charge a $2 delivery charge, which is yours whenever you deliver sandwiches somewhere. And it’s a $3 dollar delivery charge when you deliver groceries to someone. As for sweeping inside and out. It needs to be done in the morning before we open at 8:00 am. I will pay you $5 to sweep inside and out. It usually only takes about 30 minutes. So, what do you say?” He asked Billy with a smile.
“Sounds great! I will be here tomorrow by 7:30 a.m.!” Billy said as he wheeled himself home as fast as he could. He couldn’t wait to tell his mom the great news. He had found himself a job!
“Mom! Mom!” He was excited to let his mom know.
“Shhh…” She whispered, “You are going to wake up your sister.”
“Oh sorry.” Billy whispered back. He handed her the sugar and change. “I got a job!”
“You did? Doing what?” She was curious.
“Helping at the market with sweeping, delivering sandwiches and small local grocery orders.” He then went onto explain how much money he would be paid. “I could pay you back the entry fee really fast!” He said.
“Well, it sounds like something you could do. You just be careful when you are out there.” She said.
“Mom, I’m 14 years old and I will be starting high school next year.” He reminded his mother.
“I know sweetie, I just forget sometimes. You are growing up so fast!” She said and kissed him on his cheek and tussled his hair.
The next day Billy arrived at his new job a little before 7:30, just as he said he would. He liked having the responsibility of having a job now. The manager showed him where the broom was kept and Billy began to sweep the inside of the store and then he moved onto the outside. When he was done he put the broom back into the closet where he had pulled it out of.
“All done, Mr. Adams.” Billy told the manager.
Mr. Adams inspected the store and the front of the store. “Well, I must say, you did a fine job, a really fine job Billy.” He smiled.
“Did you bring your wagon?” He asked Billy.
“I sure did.” Billy replied.
“I have a standing order for Mrs. Rockwell. She likes to have a pint of fresh milk, eggs, bread and fresh fruit delivered every morning to her door. She also has a bigger order done once a week, but that is too big for you to deliver. But, you will be taking her order every morning after you are done sweeping.” He said. He handed Billy Mrs. Rockwell’s order and the address. “Do you know where this address is?” He asked Billy.
“Sure I do!” Billy replied. “That is just three blocks from where I live.” Billy took the address on the paper and the bag of groceries and put it in his wagon and set out for Mrs. Rockwell’s house.
It took him twenty minutes to get there. He knocked on the door and Mrs. Rockwell, an older lady in her sixties, opened the door. “Well, hello there.” She greeted Billy.
“Hi my name is Billy and I will be delivering your groceries every morning to you.” He said.
“Well, that is just wonderful!” She smiled and said. She took her groceries. She set them on the table next to the door and went to get out her wallet.
“Oh, Mr. Adams said you didn’t have to pay me because he sends you a bill at the end of the week.” Billy informed her in a business-like voice.
“This isn’t for Mr. Adams sweetie, it’s a tip for you..” She then handed Billy two dollars.
“Wow! Thanks!” Billy said. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” He then wheeled away and down the sidewalk. If he didn’t have his wagon, he would have raced back as fast as he could.
When he got back he told Mr. Adams that Mrs. Rockwell had given him a two dollar tip.
“Well, that’s because you did a fine job of delivering her groceries to her. It’s a thank you from her.” He explained to Billy.
“I never had a tip before. I know my mom or dad always leaves a tip at a restaurant or when the pizza is delivered to our house. I guess I never really understood what they were.” Billy was excited to receive his first tip.
“Well Billy, plan on getting many more.” Mr. Adams said smiling.
Billy finished his first day of work. He had made eleven dollars in tips that day and had made three grocery deliveries and two sandwich deliveries. He had almost made enough money that day to pay his mom back the $50 she had given him to pay for his entry to the wheelchair races!
He had bought a sandwich at the market, but he was given a 30% employee discount, so it didn’t cost him much. He was really liking working at the market, even though it was just his first day.
“See you tomorrow Billy!” Mr. Adams said after he sped off in his wheelchair. He was going to leave his wagon at the market, so he wouldn’t have to take it home and bring to work every day.
Billy would work every day, except for Sundays, from 7:30 am until 1:30 p.m. Sometimes he was busy making deliveries, and sometimes it was slow and he didn’t have anything thing to do for an hour or so. During those times, he would practice racing his wheelchair or lift big bags of flour or sugar to strengthen his arms.
He was getting faster and faster in his wheelchair. He would practice going uphill as fast as he could. His arms were building u p strength. Billy was getting better and better.
On Sundays, he would go to a park where there was a lot of pavement and he would practice going really fast. One day, there was another kid there in a wheelchair named Oliver. He was bigger and a year older than Billy.
Billy watched Oliver as he sped around on the pavement. Billy was impressed. When Oliver had stopped speeding around, Billy approached him. “Wow, you are really fast.” He said.
“Thanks.” Oliver replied. “I’m getting ready for the wheelchair races in Fairmount.” He said.
Billy felt a lump in his throat. He knew that he would have to compete against Oliver and he was a lot bigger and faster than Billy was. He knew he was going to be some tough competition.
“I’m racing too this year for the first time.” Billy said proudly.
“You are? Well, good luck then. I’ve won the races for the past four years.” He said as he sped away, showing off for Billy and trying to make him feel a little insecure.
“Thanks.” Billy said as Oliver left.
It was only two weeks away from the races and Billy was getting nervous already and now with his run-in with Oliver, it was pretty intimidating.
He began to practice harder and harder and push himself. With the money had made from his job, he had ordered a basket to put on the back of his wheelchair so he could carry his deliveries and go a lot faster than if he had to pull his wagon. This cut his delivery time down considerably and he was also able to practice going fast.
When he was searching for a basket for his wheelchair, he had come across a racing wheelchair that he wanted. It was called the Mock 9 Sports Wheelchair. It cost $2,000 but it had everything you needed and wanted for racing. It was sleek, black and red, it had superior stability and effortless turning, a single-wing bumper, extra hard caster wheels to ensure chair speed and maneuverability. It was a light and lean machine.
Billy wanted it so badly. He knew he would have to work a lot of hours to save up to buy that wheelchair and there was no way he could do that in time for the races. So, he just continued practicing and practicing.
He had bought some orange cones to practice wheeling around and in an out of. He clocked his time and he practiced every day for hours.
Two weeks had gone by and it was the day of the race. He woke up that morning, it was a Sunday morning. Mr. Adams said he was going to be there to support him, his mom and his sister, and even Allison and her parents were all going to support Billy’s big race day. He had hoped his dad would be there, but he knew it wasn’t possible.
He had asked his mom if his dad had sent him a video like he always does when he can’t be there for Billy. Billy felt disappointed when his mother had said that she hadn’t received anything from his dad.
“Don’t worry Billy, I am sure he just got busy being on the ship. You know he loves you.” She said as she rubbed his shoulders. “Besides, you are going to have your own cheering section there.” She said smiling.
“I know.” Billy said, “I was just hoping to hear from dad.”
They arrived at the racing event and Billy had to check in and get his number. His mom helped him put it on his wheelchair. The news media and reporters were there and he noticed that reporters were interviewing Oliver. He decided to wheel himself over to where they were.
“So, Oliver, being a champion in the wheelchair races for so many years in a row for the junior division, what is your secret?” One reporter asked.
“Now, if I told you, I would ruin my chances of winning, wouldn’t I?” Oliver smiled and joked around with the reporters. He looked so calm and relaxed, Billy thought to himself. He wished he could be as calm and relaxed as Oliver was.
Billy wheeled away, the race was going to start in a few minutes and he didn’t want to make himself feel even more insecure. He went over to the starting line.
“Is this your first time racing?” The kid next to him asked.
“Yeah. What about you?” He asked.
“Me too. I feel really nervous.” He said.
“So do I.” Billy said.
“Well, good luck!” He said to Billy.
“Good luck to you too.” He said and then added, “Guess we can’t say break a leg.” Billy laughed.
“Good one!” The kids around him who had heard all laughed. Just then Oliver came over to the starting line.
The announcer began to speak and make some announcements and that the race was about to start. He counted down from three and then shot the gun and the race was on!
Billy had a good start, but Oliver was in the lead. There were two kids in between Oliver and Billy. As Billy approached the orange cones, he maneuvered his wheelchair around them, not knocking any down. He passed one of the kids who was in front of him and was in third place now.
Billy remained steady and fast. He could hear people cheering for him as he passed his cheering section. The racetrack was oval shape and Billy took his turns with grace and speed.
He then passed the next kid, the one who he had been talking to before the race. Billy had now taken second lead. He felt his heart pumping and racing. He couldn’t believe that he was actually in a wheelchair race and he was giving it all his power.
He kept trying to catch up with Oliver, but Oliver was just too fast for him. But, Billy didn’t’ give up. He kept trying to catch up. As he turned the track corner once again, he was careful not to flip over his wheelchair. He had seen other racers do that and he was afraid that he might also, so he would slow down when he would turn the corners, causing him to lose precious time.
At the next corner, he thought to himself, I am going to speed up and take my chances. As he came around the corner, he did just that. He felt his wheelchair begin to tip and leaned the opposite direction bringing it back down. He continued his speed.
He had picked up some space with that move and decided to do that from now on in the hopes of catching up with Oliver. As he turned the corner again, he saw Oliver looking over at him. Billy wanted to beat Oliver so badly.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Billy felt a surge of energy run through him. With one last push, he gave it all his strength and passed up Oliver!
Billy kept going and going and when he looked up, he saw the finish line. Then he noticed something else. His mom and sister, Allison and her parents, Mr. Adams and… hid dad? He must be hallucinating, he thought to himself. That can’t be his dad!
Seeing his dad, he felt another burst of energy and he sped across the finish line taking first place! Everyone was cheering for him. His dad came over and picked him up from his wheelchair and held him up in the air showing how proud of him he was.
People came over to him and gave him a trophy and put a ribbon with a medal around his neck. Billy felt like a champion!
He heard reporters trying to ask him questions and flashes from photos being taken of him. There was so much chaos and excitement around him, but all he could think about was his dad holding him, hugging him and saying how proud of Billy he was.
When things settled down, Billy asked his dad, “I thought you were on the ship?”
“They let me off early. I told them that I had to see my boy compete. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world Billy! I did everything I could to get here to see you cross that finish line.” His dad said.
His dad had tears in his eyes because he was so proud of Billy and was so happy to see him. After the event was over, they went to the Pizza Shack. Everyone was there. Billy had his trophy that he carried proudly and he had his medal around his neck that he wore proudly.
Billy was at the table with everyone who had come to support him and was waiting for his pizza to arrive. He and his dad had ordered a large pizza with mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni and were going to see who could eat the most the fastest, as they always did.
Billy was feeling the happiest that he had ever felt in his life. While he was smiling, in walked Oliver and his family. Oliver was looking sad and carrying his second place trophy and wearing his second place medal.
Billy felt the need to go over to him. “Hi Oliver.” He said. “You raced really good.”
“Yeah, but not good enough to win.” Oliver was pouting.
“You still came in second. That’s pretty good.” Billy was trying to stay positive for Oliver.
“Yeah, I guess.” Oliver was still pouting.
“Well, you will have a chance to win next year. I plan on entering again and every year after that.” Billy said smiling. “I would love the competition.”
Oliver looked up at Billy, “You’re pretty cool.” He said smiling.
“Thanks, so are you.” Then he paused and added, “Maybe next time we can practice together.”
“Think you can show me how to turn those corners like you did?” Oliver asked Billy.
“I would love to.” Billy said. Then his pizza arrived. “Well, I gotta go. Great job Oliver, I will see you around.”
Billy went over to his family and joined them and ate pizza. He was happy to share a pizza with his dad. They ate so much that Billy felt sick. But, it was a good sick.
When they were done, they all headed home. Billy wheeled himself into his room and in his room, in the middle of his room was the Mock 9 Racing Wheelchair!
Billy went over to it and ran his hand along the wheels. It was black and red just like he had seen it online. Billy turned around and his dad was standing there. “Dad, how did you know?” He asked in shock.
“Your mom came in here to clean your room one day while you were at work. She said she had seen it up on your computer and she looked at it and knew you had wanted it. She told me about it and I told her to order it. I was promoted and I have a bigger salary now and guess what?” His dad asked.
“What?” Billy asked back.
“Because of my promotion, I won’t have to leave anymore.” He said. “I will be here for all of you from now on and not miss anything important in your lives.” He hugged Billy tightly.
Billy was smiling as big as he could, because this was definitely the happiest day in his life!