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Teen wheelchair athlete is on a roll

By Michelle Hopey Special to the Daily Planet
Monday February 12, 2001

Lamile Perry is like most teenagers. He likes to hang out with friends, shoot hoops, talk to girls and dream about what it will be like to go off to college — not bad for a guy who wasn’t supposed to even breathe on his own. 

“Yeah, I’ve come a long way,” Perry said. 

When he joins the U.S.A. Track and Field team at the 2001 Junior Wheelchair Games in Brisbane, Australia this September, the 17-year-old will celebrate not only athletic success — but personal triumphs. 

As one of 30 team members selected from across the country, this will be Perry’s second time competing in the games. However, it is up to each athlete to pay for their travel expenses — air fare and accommodation — and Perry needs to come up with $3,519 this spring in order to compete. 

Born with Cerebral Palsy, a congenital disease that affects the muscular and nervous system, he was two months premature which required him to be hospitalized and hooked up to a life-saving respirator for the first few months of his life.  

Doctors didn’t expect Perry to come off the respirator. But Perry pulled the tube out by himself, which amazed his doctors and family. 

His mother, Mary Lightfoot, said Perry has never let obstacles get in the way of success.  

“From that day on I knew he’d be a strong kid,” Lightfoot said.  

And she was right. 

Since the age of six, Perry has been involved with Bay Area Cruisers — a wheelchair sport team run by the Bay Area Outreach Recreation Program.  

“At first I didn’t like it,” said Perry. He is able to take small steps, but has to use a wheelchair to get around. “I wasn’t used to being in a wheelchair so much.” 

But not long after, he found that sports were his thing. At 9 years old he began competing in both track and field, and basketball. His motivation and enthusiasm helped him soar, said his coach Tim Orr. 

“He’s come a long way,” said Orr, who has worked with Lamile at BORP since Perry was 7 years old. “When he first came he was real young and just a crazy kid, but he’s really matured and become a leader. He’s made a lot of progress.”  

Orr noted that in addition to track and field, Perry is an outstanding basketball player despite the severe muscle contractions that Cerebral Palsy causes. “For him to have gotten where he is with basketball is amazing. He has made the most of his ability.” 

As a junior at Berkeley High School, Perry spends an hour and a half practicing each day preparing for the USA games.  

“My family and friends really motivate me, they’re very supportive,” Perry said. Lamile has a twin brother Emile and who suffers from a more severe form of Cerebral Palsy than he does. 

Although Perry plans on participating in several events when he arrives in Australia, he said he prefers the 100-meter and the discus throw. He is expected to compete in eight to 10 races while he is at the games.  

“My only goals for the trip are to do as best as I can and make my country proud,” said Perry. 

Orr has been chosen as the national coach for the third time and will accompany Lamile to Australia. Two other area athletes were chosen to attend as well — Marcus Oden of Walnut Creek will be part of the basketball team and Jen Chew of Antioch will compete in several track events.  

“These kids are the cream of the crop,” said Orr. “It’s a lot of fun to travel with the best junior athletes in the country.”  

For more information or to contribute call BORP at 849-4663.