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C.O.R.E. and T.E.A.M. Rise Above to cross finish line at L.A. Marathon

Posted: May 24, 2009 9:03 p.m.
Updated: May 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Left to right: Garrett Robinson, Tom Bolewski, Aaron Baker and Kenny Craig will compete in the L.A. Marathon thanks to perseverance, the Center of Rehabilitative Enhancement and T.E.A.M. Rise Above.

Monday's Los Angeles Marathon will be a triumph against athletic odds for many individuals, but there may be no group which represents the ability to overcome obstacles more than a team of handicapped people that are slated to finish the event thanks to the help of the Center of Rehabilitative Enhancement (C.O.R.E.) and Together Each Other Achieves More (T.E.A.M.) Rise Above.

On May 25 at 1 p.m, approximately 15 individuals who have sustained debilitating injuries will gather at Fifth Street and Flower Street and walk across the finish line at the Los Angeles Marathon.

"Whether they complete all 26.2 miles or 26.2 inches, the ability to cross the finish line under their own power is something that many of these individuals were told they would never be able to do," said Laquita Conway, president and co-founder of C.O.R.E. "We are trying to promote the possibility of moving forward."

Conway became involved with C.O.R.E. nearly a decade ago when her son Aaron Barker suffered a neck injury while competing in a motorcycle race in 1999 that left him unable to move his limbs.

Doctors told Baker he would never be able to walk again, but Baker took the incident as inspiration to focus on other aspects of life.

"When I had my accident, I never thought of it as a bad thing," Baker said. "I saw it as a chance to work toward being an example. I kind of look at it as a chance to
promote positivity through my experience. I never accepted what the doctors said as far as what I could and could not do."

After years of rehab, Baker and Conway got on a tandem bicycle and started pedaling across the country, going from San Diego to Southern Florida in 2007.

Last year, Baker had improved enough that he was able to pedal his own three-wheeled vehicle, and his mother and he rode from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

"Aaron is a great young man," said fellow handicapped marathon participant Marc Richards. "What he has been able to do as far as a cyclist is amazing. This will be the third year Baker has participated in the marathon and the fourth for Richards. Both were guided to participate by Dr. Taylor Isaacs, who treated both men.

"For me, it has been an amazing experience to get to be a part of the marathon because of what it symbolizes to me as someone who was told he would never be able to walk again," Richards, who uses what he describes as an exoskeleton-like devise to walk, said. "I think it is important for all of us to be able to do something.

"It's not how much of the race you can complete, but the act of being a part of it. The first year I did the marathon, I was the only one doing it. To see more people out there has been very inspirational."

Baker sees the marathon as one of many ways to show people who are disabled that there is never a reason to doubt their physical abilities, and that the most powerful muscle in the body is the mind.

"What Aaron's injury has taught us is that we all have to work for a quality of life, but some of us have to work harder," Conway said. "Aaron's situation has shown us how to work toward the pursuit of wellness. For him to get to stand and walk the last stretch of the marathon is a celebration of him rising above."

Over the last decade of rehab, Baker generally spends one to two hours working on regaining his ability to walk and function.

"It has really been a gift to take a situation that was so dire and turn it into a positive experience," Conway said. "Aaron has worked so hard to raise awareness and raise funds for his cause, and for him to make sense of this whole way of life has been amazing to see.

"I am simply in awe of the human spirit he has displayed. He's not only my son, but also my best friend because he has made me a better person through everything he's gone through."

Now 30, Baker is capable of walking with the assistance of a cane and continues to work on strengthening his body for events like the last leg of the marathon.

"In a way my accident was a blessing," Baker said. "When I was 20 and riding motorcycles I thought I knew everything.

"Then I had the accident, and everything changed. From there on, I knew that what I did had to be for the greater good. It is my job to be a catalyst for a positive atmosphere in not only my life, but also in the lives I touch."


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