Medals, plaques piling up<br>for GC wheelchair athlete

GC VILLAGE — The Van Hemelryck family just might need to build a shed out back to house all of their son’s medals and plaques.

That’s because 8-year-old Jacob Van Hemelryck continues to tear things up in the world of sports for the disabled. The Grand Canyon third-grader competed recently in a regional meet at Mesa High School and qualified for nationals in eight events.

Jacob Van Hemelryck, 8, competes in his racing wheelchair during the "Friendship" 5K" in Las Vegas on Feb. 3. Following close behind is father, Mike Van Hemelryck.

Using a wheelchair the community helped him purchase through the local Rotary Club a few years ago, Jacob took first place in the 60 meters, 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, club throw, softball throw and table tennis doubles. He also took second in table tennis singles.

Although he has little competition in many of the divisions, qualifying for nationals is based on his times and marks, not the first-place finishes.

Jacob, who has been competing for three years now, recorded some personal-best times in four of the five wheelchair racing events.

"He made some new friends this time .. there were people there from all over the country," said Mike Van Hemelryck, Jacob’s father. "We got to race with a couple of guys from the University of Arizona team."

The U of A athletes competed in the Para-Olympics in Australia and were on hand at Mesa during last month’s meet. The regional meet was hosted by Mesa Association of Sports for the Disabled.

Jacob goes through a rigorous training schedule in the spring. Locals have likely seen him around Park Circle or going back and forth between his home and the general store in the racing chair. Jacob tries to train at a high school in Flagstaff periodically and even goes down to Mesa four or five times a year to get in more practice time.

He also competes in various five-kilometer events, such as those in Las Vegas and Tucson. Jacob also finished the Seattle kids marathon. In that event, he did the entire length of a 26.2-mile marathon over a month’s time.

About a month ago, Jacob competed in Tucson for a track meet and won eight medals and a plaque at that event.

The national meet will be July 21-28 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Jacob will be there for the entire week of competition.

"I’m going to have a good time," Jacob said with a smile.

And what’s his favorite event?

"My favorite event is ... well, I like all of them," he said. "Table tennis is fun."

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