Wheelchair racing is creeping steadily onto Maryland's sports landscape, thanks to Larry Hughes and his Maryland Resident Wheelchair RoadRacing Series.
The series, a 12-race event spread across the state from April to October, attracted 30 competitors and 21 sponsors this year, both all-time highs. The series, which involves races from one mile to 26.2 miles, winds up its fourth season with an awards banquet next month.
Besides showcasing the talent and determination of its disabled competitors, the series is the most visible arm of Maryland WheelchairAthletics Promotions Inc., a non-profit organization Hughes formed in 1987.
The growth of the MWAP series follows a frustrating time for Hughes, whose ideas met a tepid response at first. Only six racersand two sponsors took part in 1988 in what then was a nine-race series.
"It was tough getting this thing going," Hughes says. "The only thing I heard was what you cannot do, what will not work."
Alan Davis, the owner of Princeton Sports in Columbia, is one of Hughes' original backers. "We've sponsored races in the community for years, and this seemed like a natural," says Davis, who is still with Hughes.Sponsors finance such costs as medals and hotel accommodations for racers.
"We found Larry's commitment to be outstanding," Davis says. "We wanted to get in on the ground floor of his idea. As long as Larry has the energy to do it, we will have the energy to help him."
The money generated from the racing series, from sponsorship funds to racing entry fees, pays for each race. Hughes says the banquet is the costliest part of the series, but it also generates the most moneyfor MWAP.
Banquet profits, used primarily to begin the next series, have also financed the purchasing of wheelchairs for needy children.
Hughes runs Maryland Wheelchair Athletics Promotions out of hisColumbia apartment, where he designs all of his promotional brochures and posters.
MWAP also promotes wheelchair sports through the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. This year, the countyassisted Hughes by adding a three-on-three wheelchair basketball league and several wheelchair tennis tournaments to its Therapeutic Recreation activities.
"I'm hoping these programs will help us maintain sponsors on more of a long-term basis," Hughes says.
"Every yearI'm beating the bushes, and that makes it difficult to plan. I thinkit's evident that we are doing what we said we were going to do."