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Power wheelchair hockey at Hoggard

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Being a high school freshman can be a real challenge. You’re self-conscious, trying to learn your way around a new building, surrounded by a lot of new people. And then there’s the wheelchair.

Justin Verzaal is a freshman at Hoggard High School. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He also admits to having the time of his young life at Hoggard.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been so fun and exciting. Everybody here is so nice and happy to help and stuff,” Justin said.

It’s been a two way street.

“It’s been good for Justin to be a part of our leadership class and it’s been good for us to have Justin. We’ve learned a lot from him and he’s learned a lot from us,” said Kim Bierstadt, Justin’s teacher.

When Justin came up with the idea to start a power wheelchair hockey team here in the Wilmington area, his classmates in Kim Bierstadt’s student council leadership class rallied to the cause.

They helped organize, publicize, and run the first event.

Justin said, “Over the summer, I went to a power hockey tournament at the RBC Center in Raleigh. It was crazy.”

This past Saturday, Justin’s dream took a big step forward with a start-up clinic in the Hoggard gym. His dad even revved up his wheelchair for the day.

This isn’t Justin’s dream alone. His mom knows the ground rules of Duchenne muscular dystrophy all too well and what this means. “It may sound strange but it’s freedom. Justin spends a lot of time inside these days. He used to play sports, he walked, he ran. But things have changed now so being able to do this puts him on the same playing field as his brother and sister that are off playing baseball and soccer. He’s able to have a sport that he can call his own and have his family cheer for him.”

This sport represents hope for a boy facing daunting odds.

This disease will ultimately sap his motor skills and quite possibly take him at an all too young age.

Justin is looking nowhere but forward. “I’m hoping I’ll be able to graduate from high school and maybe go on to college or something.” Maybe on a power wheelchair hockey scholarship.

The power wheelchair hockey team is open to anyone of any age in a power wheelchair.

You can contact the Muscular Dystrophy Association for more information at 763-3114.

The next event is planned for February 20th. Justin is hoping for a big turnout.

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Story summary

Being a high school freshman can be a real challenge. You’re self-conscious, trying to learn your way around a new building, surrounded by a lot of new people. And then there’s the wheelchair.

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