A small crowd gathered at the Sitrin Medical Rehabilitation Center in New Hartford to celebrate 2012's Wheelchair Challenge winner.

Devon Henry of Herkimer completed the full 15K Boilermaker Road Race in one hour and 42 minutes, a half hour sooner than the cutoff time for the challenge.

"It's a rush," Henry said. "When you're going up the final turn and you know you're about to finish, you're just like, 'Wow, I did it.' When I got to the top the hill I was like, 'I really did this.' I can sit here and say that I accomplished something a lot of other people have accomplished before me."

To honor Henry's amazing effort, Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield awarded him a custom built racing wheelchair. Weighing only 12 pounds, the chair is made of high quality, light weight aircraft aluminum, allowing it to be fast and strong.

Mark DePerno works with the Sitrin STARS and sits on the Utica Boilermaker Wheelchair Division Committee. He says offering the specialized chairs to local finishers helps to compete on a higher level.

Gino Geruntino, WIBX
Gino Geruntino, WIBX

"This is world class equipment that affords local athletes to compete against the best in the world," DePerno said. "Devon Henry is very much an appropriate recipient of this wonderful equipment, and as a result he's going to be competing against those from afar. Without this technology, nobody would have the opportunity to compete at such a great speed and in such a great race."

One of those recipients was Hermin Garic, a winner of the 2005 Wheelchair Challenge. He says finishing the race is something special in its own right.

"Since then, I went through a ton of racing chairs," Garic said. "But, I've started to train more. I've been out and doing about 30 miles a day, each day. Just inspiration from other racers that come here and props to them for showing me different techniques and all this that comes with the sport."

Garic says Henry has a great future ahead of him, and has advice for anyone doing the race for the first time, either in a chair or on foot.

"Don't limit yourself," Garic said. "Go out there and start gradually training and work yourself up to the mileage you can handle and you want to handle. Just train and practice every moment that you get because it pays off. The more you practice, the better you're going to be at whatever you do."

As for Devon Henry, he says with his new $2,500 custom fitted racing chair he'll be able to meet his new goal for this year- to finish in an hour and a half.

"I know it's a hard course, and I knew that going in," Henry said. "It's another feat that I've got to do again. I've got to do it again."

Since 1998, Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield has donated 23 wheelchairs to successful race finishers. This year, the group says there is one challenger ready to hit the course and attempt to win their very own racing chair. If Garic and Henry are right, they'll have an entire city supporting them the entire way to the finish line.

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