Whenever she comes to Smith’s Marketplace in Logan, Dreena Barker, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, always gets a helping hand from cashier and friend Janie Curtis.
But on Saturday in the Mount Logan Middle School gymnasium, the two women were competitors as they raced one another in wheelchairs at an annual event meant to benefit Barker's nonprofit organization, Rapid Transit.
By the end of a race that involved Curtis and Barker going from one end of the gym to to the other, weaving through cones and popping balloons, it was clear Barker was the winner.
“No fair!” said Curtis, laughing.
Curtis, who does not use a wheelchair in her daily life, said it was quite an experience racing her dear friend.
“She definitely beat me, but I knew she had the advantage,” Curtis said.
She said participating in the event on Saturday gave her a first-hand perspective of what Barker endures every day.
“And the obstacles that she has to encounter as well,” Curtis said. “I mean, coming into the store, even, when we’re coming down the aisle and we have to watch for people and maneuvering around the things in the store.”
Curtis was just one of several community members of all ages, disabled or not, who participated the Rapid Transit Wheelchair Race on Saturday.
Cones were set up in the school gym and several different races ensued with the help of an MC Aaron Gepford.
“On your mark. Get set. Go!” Gepford said through a mic as it was off to the races for family, friends and supporters of Barker and Rapid Transit.
There was a lot of whooping and hollering from race participants as they made their way in wheelchairs down to one end of the gym and back. Cheers and shouts of encouragement came from onlookers who watched in the bleachers.
Valley resident Alan Thorne both watched community members participate in the race and got in a wheelchair himself to race with his kids.
Thorne, a rehab sales representative with Alpine Home Medical, noted his company provided the wheelchairs people used for the event.
“It’s something we’ll definitely be involved with in the future,” he said. “It’s a neat program Dreena’s set up, and we want to help out any way we can.”
Barker, who was diagnosed with MS in 1991, founded Rapid Transit, a nonprofit that was first created to help raise money for a therapy pool for her, while some of the proceeds donated to the National MS Society and local alternative fitness programs.
These days, Rapid Transit is dedicated to fostering the development of assistive technologies for people with disabilities. Some of the proceeds for the Wheelchair Race go to that cause.
Barker said she is happy with how the event has played out over the last few years.
“Anybody that’s here just has a blast,” she said. “You get people in wheelchairs that have never been in a wheelchair … it gives them a good perspective on what it is like. People that are disabled, they bring their chairs and we have a good time.”
Being in a wheelchair can have its challenges, Barker said, particularly when it comes to going out in public.
“I go into a grocery store, for instance, people look and they point,” she said. “They mostly avoid you because they don’t know what they do.”
Barker is not bothered by their reactions, “But I think it’s kind of interesting.”
Thorne believes Cache Valley is a “wheelchair-friendly community.”
“For everyone driving on the roads and all of us, we need to be aware these people are out there … and make our community just as friendly to them as we want it to be for us,” he said.
Barker wants people who participated in the race to come away not being afraid to interact people who are in wheelchairs.
“People are people, whether you’re in a chair or not,” she said. “That’s the whole point.”