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Letting nothing get in his way

Published: June 23, 2007  |  Source: dallasnews.com

Doctors said he couldn’t race, but veteran didn’t give up

GARLAND – Quintin Stephens has won more than 300 medals and has held seven national records.

He spots his opponents 20 or 30 years.

But it’s his degree of difficulty that may be most impressive.

The Marine veteran is one of less than 1 percent of athletes who race in national wheelchair competitions as a C5-C6 quadriplegic.

“When you’re at the 5-6 level, you would be in an electric wheelchair unless you did what I did – just refuse to give up and just push and use what you have,” said Mr. Stephens of Garland.

He won five gold medals in both the 2004 and 2006 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

He added to that total last week in Milwaukee, where he won the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter races and qualified for the U.S. Paralympics championships. U.S. Paralympics competition will determine who goes to the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

The world competition is Mr. Stephens’ ultimate goal. He qualified for the 2000 Paralympics but couldn’t go because his mother died.

Doctors gave Mr. Stephens a diagnosis of C5-C6 Quadriplegia after a 1981 car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down and with limited hand and arm movement. They said he wouldn’t be able to dress or feed himself – let alone compete in races.

“The doctors told me I wouldn’t have the drive or be able to do anything from their textbook point of view,” Mr. Stephens said. “When I started racing, we called the doctors that said I can’t do this, and they had a change of heart.”

During his hospital stay, members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America encouraged Mr. Stephens, who served in the Marines from 1976 to 1980. They told him he could use a manual wheelchair, race in competitions and do anything he worked toward.

“A lot of times when you have a spinal cord injury of this magnitude, you’re up one day and down another, and it’s very hard and difficult to deal with,” he said. “You’re going to have some bumpy roads, but if you stick with it and have a positive attitude, you can accomplish many things that you think you can’t do.”

Mr. Stephens, 49, said encouragement from Paralyzed Veterans of America and his father have kept him racing for almost 20 years.

“Other paralyzed veterans look at him and see he’s a gold-medal winner and think, ‘If he can do it, then I can do it,’ ” said Glendon Bentley, executive director of the Garland-based Lone Star chapter of the veterans organization.

The award winner has deep calluses on his hands and has to wear an Abdominal Binder to help with breathing.

His training regimen is 6 miles a day.

Glenn Barton of Garland helps Mr. Stephens train by walking the track with him and keeping his mind focused.

“Others see that he’s in a wheelchair, but I see his potential,” Mr. Barton said. “I can stimulate him to visualize winning.”

Mr. Stephens said his hard training is what helps him beat competitors who are mostly in their 20s and 30s.

Because the U.S. Veterans Administration has had to cut back funding for veteran sports, Mr. Stephens almost didn’t make it to the regional competition, a necessary step to qualify for this week’s national games.

Eric Biskamp, who has lived next door to Mr. Stephens for three years, helped raise money to send him to both the regional and national events.

Mr. Biskamp didn’t know much about his neighbor until a month ago.

“I had to Google him online and thought, ‘Wow, he won five gold medals,’ ” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do something for soldiers.”

The Garland competitor still needs funding to cover costs for his trip to the U.S. Paralympics from Saturday through July 2 in Georgia. Funds will cover his lodging, flight, food and a new racing chair. His current wheelchair is too large and has to be padded to fit properly. It’s also five years old and somewhat worn.

Mr. Stephens hopes to raise about $7,200 to cover the $6,000 chair and $4,000 trip. He needs to finish his fundraising by Thursday. Visit www.quintinforgold.com for information on how to donate.

By ANGELA CHAMBERS / The Dallas Morning News

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