When Eva Houston takes off in her track chair, she feels “free and empowered.”

The recent Westside High School graduate wanted to share that feeling with the kids gathered at the Lewis Central High School track in Council Bluffs on Monday for the 28th annual Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp.

Houston was by 12-year-old Jacoby Knop’s side as he practiced turning and braking before taking off in a hand cycle. The vehicles are powered by the arms rather than the legs and are usually used in athletics.

Knop was one of the first kids to claim one of the hand cycles that lined the track. He crossed the finish line out of breath.

His favorite part of the experience? “Everything.”

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Knop was born with spina bifida, an opening in the spinal column through which the spinal cord can protrude.

The 37 kids in the camp came from across Nebraska and the U.S., said camp director and therapeutic recreation specialist Jena Munson.

“A lot of these kids might be the only one in their school system who’s in a wheelchair,” Munson said. “It’s great to watch the camaraderie that develops.”

Cycling is one of several activities offered by the CHI Health Immanuel Rehabilitation Institute during the camp, which runs Monday through Friday.

One of the goals of the camp is to show the kids that participation in sports is not only possible, but something they can thrive at, Munson said.

It’s a message Houston advocates.

Houston was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was about 2 years old, and she transitioned from crutches to a wheelchair while performing in Westside’s marching band.

“When I got my first track chair, it was so frustrating,” she said. “How to turn, how to brake, I was doing it all by myself.”

With YouTube videos and help from her dad, Houston’s journey landed her a scholarship at the University of Illinois.

Houston wants to provide guidance so “(the kids) don’t have to do it all on their own,” she said.

“I think the biggest way to keep people with disabilities empowered is through sports,” Houston said.

Landon Kruse has participated in the camp for six years. The incoming Lincoln High freshman said he’s hoping to compete in track at a competitive level in high school.

“It’s important to see the different sports that you didn’t know you could play in a wheelchair,” Kruse said.

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jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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