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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Students and teachers at Trousdale County High School took up a challenge this week to give up the use of their legs for a day.

Participants in the Team ALeX “Spend a Day In My Wheels” Challenge spent their time confined to a wheelchair while completing their normal routines during the course of the school day.

The challenge is named for Alex Johnson, a seventh-grader in Wilson County and the nephew of TCHS Assistant Principal Ben Johnson. Alex has been in a wheelchair since first grade because of a rare skeletomuscular disorder.

“My nephew started this challenge about two years ago,” Ben Johnson said. “He came to me wondering if we would do this challenge at the high school to get a view through his eyes as well as all those in our society who are confined to wheelchairs or mobility devices.”

“It’s to raise awareness of people in wheelchairs so they hopefully can lead better lives; also to partner to help people who can’t afford wheelchairs get them,” Alex Johnson added.

Ben Johnson and TCHS Principal Teresa Dickerson looked for students and teachers willing to participate. Eight students and 10 teachers took up the challenge.

Students spent Monday in wheelchairs while teachers participated on Tuesday. Permobil Foundation of Lebanon provided the wheelchairs.

“We had such an interest in participating,” Johnson said. “A lot of the participating students are athletes or those who do other extracurricular activities. It’s very difficult to go back to very simplistic movement.”

The participants said being in a wheelchair opened their eyes to the everyday struggles someone in that situation faces – even something as simple as going through a door.

“I’ve always been curious as to how difficult it is, to roll and turn around, especially doors,” said TCHS senior Noah Cartwright. “You have to go backwards; use one hand to open the door and the other to turn the chair.

“It opens your eyes – just how you want the challenge to be. This world isn’t necessarily made for those in wheelchairs.”

Students said the physical strength required to wheel a chair around the school was more than they might have anticipated as well. The mental aspect was equally challenging, including being looked at by other students.

“I find myself thinking about I’m going to get from place to place physically, and it’s hard to concentrate on the job tasks I have today,” Johnson said.

Ramps were another challenge, Cartwright added, saying, “You’ve got to really lean into it.”

“I was in a wheelchair my sixth-grade year after I tore my ACL,” said sophomore Addison Gooch. “I thought it would be cool to do it by myself this time. But it’s really hard.”

“Once Coach Johnson brought it to my attention, I figured it’d be nice to see if I could accept the challenge,” said junior Tarvaris Claiborne. “I didn’t know it’d be so hard to get through a door! Just maneuvering around, your arms really get tired.”

Participants were challenged to do specific tasks while in their chairs, such as using the restroom facilities, visiting the vending machines, finding wheelchair access to the auditorium stage and going through the cafeteria lunchline.

Friendship Christian has also participated in the challenge previously and Alex is hoping to get more schools and even businesses involved.

“We have met with Cracker Barrel corporate in Lebanon and I gave a speech about what the challenge is. Some people there are going to do it on June 3,” Alex said.

“We’re also hoping to get more schools doing this.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.