“You can feel the energy”

Members of the Journey of Hope Cross Country Bike Team gather on July 26, 2016, at the Football for All Wheels Vs. Wheels event at the North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook. Karie Angell Luc / Pioneer Press

“This is cooler than a video game,” said Charlie Zieziula, 12, of Northfield, a Sunset Ridge School seventh grader, spectator and North Shore Youth Football Griffins player whose team participated.

“This is real life and you can feel the atmosphere in this gym,” Charlie said. “You can feel the energy of the wheelchairs.”

Approximately 25 NSYF players attended and could try out wheelchairs.

“We’re hoping they (NSYF) can see being an athlete is more that just putting on a uniform and playing on a field,” said Jim Roth of Wilmette and of the NSYF Griffins.

“It’s truly an inspiration,” he said.

The event showcased players of the Northwestern University of Evanston Wildcats football team, the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association of Lake Forest and The Ability Experience’s Journey of Hope bike team.

“The North Suburban YMCA believes in inclusive events,” said Kim Nyren of Northbrook, NSYMCA senior manager for community investment. “Sports and programming should be available to all, and the NSYMCA is striving to achieve that for all families.”

The 28 cyclists and 10 crew of the Pi Kappa Phi philanthropic team were hosted overnight at the NSYMCA. This was their seventh annual NSYMCA visit. They arrived from Brookfield, Wis., during a stop on their 4,000-mile tour from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

“Probably the coolest part of the trip was coming into Illinois,” said cyclist Michael Krohn, 22, of Oak Brook, a University of Colorado Boulder junior.

In Northbrook, the team had dinner with participants before the wheelchair football game.

“It’s definitely an opportunity for them (Journey of Hope) to see what blessings they have and to see the abilities of everyone,” said Andrew Bublitz, project manager for The Ability Experience.

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