Wheelchair athlete Hightails It for Heroes
Jerry Sarason, 47, opens doors for others whenever he can, often rides his bicycle from the Troy home he grew up in to Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township and is excited for opening day of deer-hunting season.
Don’t say he’s “handicapped.” He uses a wheelchair since he suffered a spinal cord injury near his belly button in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident in 1991. He prefers the term “living with a disability.”
He said local philanthropist Tony Fillipas, Sr., now deceased, was his mentor. Fillippis founded Wright & Fillippis, a company that provides healthcare products and services to those with disabilities. Fillippis lost both of his legs below the knee in a train accident at age 13. His struggles led him to start his business and found the Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame in 1999.
Sarason has competed in numerous wheelchair races, water skis, teaches a wheelchair basketball course once a week at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and was in charge of TJ’s Towing in Troy until two years ago. He currently works at Mobility Works in Madison Heights after he was recruited at an athletic event to work there. He shared his expertise and made sure the racing course at the Hightail It For Heroes 5K and 10K races, which benefit Easter Seals, held at Stony Creek Nov. 10 were properly set up so the wheelchair athletes have a safe and enjoyable time.
Using a recumbent hand cycle, he’s completed a 300-mile race from Charlotte, N.C., to Myrtle Beach in torrential rain. He also participates in any kind of adaptive sport he can. “Almost any sport can be adaptive,” he said. “You have to find a place with a parking lot or asphalt.”
He visits patients in the Beaumont Hospitals with recent injuries to explain that “life isn‘t over.”
“I appreciate what’s given to me on a daily basis, and what I can do for others and what others can do for me,” Sarason said.
To that end, he said he talks with and works with a lot of veterans. For the past nine years, he’s spearheaded wheelchair basketball teams and recently competed in Indiana with his current team.
His urges everyone to treat those with disabilities “like anybody else.” “It’s OK to offer help, but don’t say ‘What’s wrong with you?’” he said.
Craig Sharum, communications director for Easter Seals Michigan, said many veterans are in need of behavioral health services, which Easter Seals helps to provide. He said that many people perceive Easter Seals as an organization that only provides help to children with disabilities, but the organization also provides services to those with mental illnesses, emotional impairments, autism, developmental disabilities and other special needs. The nonprofit also works with veterans to help those who suffer with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“Easter Seals also assists seniors to have independent lives and help people with substance abuse,” he said.
The organization assists farmers with disabilities to obtain adaptive farm equipment, Sharum said.
“We’re constantly trying to grow and adapt to the needs of the community, ” Sharum said.
“I always felt like helping people,” Sarason said. “Every person could have a disability when they get older,” he said. “Support organizations that assist those with disabilities. You never know when someone you know will have a disability.”
For information on Easter Seals, or to donate, check online at www.essmichigan.org or call (800) 75-SEALS.