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Iditarod Hopeful Gives Public Dog Sled Demonstration Saturday
Although doctors told Angelo Suriano he'd never walk after a 1986 car accident paralyzed him from the waist down, the now 43-year-old paraplegic of Stockholm, N.Y., is training hard to become the first disabled musher in the famed Iditarod sled dog race.
If I can do this, people with and without disabilities might be inspired, says Suriano, a New Jersey native who moved to a 40-acre homestead in upstate New York in 1995. Clarkson University is supporting Suriano in his bid for the Iditarod.
People attending the event are advised not to bring dogs, as they would upset the sled dog team.
Suriano got his first pup, a Siberian mix named Ivory, a few years ago and trained her to pull him around in his wheelchair, a technique that most of his 17 Siberians and Siberian mixes can now perform.
Suriano is being supported in his training by Clarkson University. A dog sled is being adapted for him by Dustin Crandall, who just got his master's in engineering, and Clarkson physical therapy Assistant Professor Leslie Russek. Other rehabilitation engineering design projects to assist Suriano with overcoming challenges presented by his disability are under consideration. Suriano also meets with Clarkson physical therapy students to help them learn about spinal cord injuries and how to motivate people with such injuries.
Suriano will face many physical challenges in the Iditarod. "I've been working for 15 years on a lot of different therapies," says Suriano, who regained some use of his right side and a little of the left, but can still only walk a short ways with the aid of a cane. "I have no calf muscle control, no ankle or toe motor movement, with good quadriceps and hamstrings on the right, but little on the left."
To qualify, Suriano must compete in two races this winter: A 60-mile race February 15 in Sandwich Notch, N.H., and on March 1 in the CanAm250 race in Fort Kent, Maine. He needs only to finish the New Hampshire race, but in the 250-mile CanAm he needs to be in the top 70 percent of finishers, in a time that is no more than double the time of the first-place finisher. In both races, he'll use eight dogs, but will need 16 for the Iditarod.
In the meantime, Suriano is looking for corporate sponsors and other donations. It takes 20 pounds of dog food a day to feed the team, 40 pounds or more in winter. While he received the donation of a wheeled cart to train his team in warmer weather, he is still trying to obtain items crucial to compete in the Iditarod, including veterinary care, dog food, harnesses, collars, dog cable gang line, dog booties, medical supplies, 1/4" chain, 1/4" quick links, snaps, 22" hand ax, snowshoes with bindings, outdoor cook stove, musher mittens, hand and foot warmers, thermal underwear, socks, and rain gear.
Clarkson's emphasis on rehabilitation engineering includes design projects that address real-life challenges from within the local community. Student teams have tackled such problems as building a wheelchair that is capable of going on woodland trails, creating a software program that helps mentally disabled individuals remember what they were working on, and building a motorized scooter that allows children with severe disability to experience independent mobility.
Suriano's relationship with Clarkson began when he attended a talk at Clarkson University by Peter Rieke, a paraplegic who climbed Mount Rainier. While Suriano had contemplated running the Iditarod before that time, hearing Peter Rieke's message inspired him to begin planning and training in earnest.
Photo caption: Angelo Suriano takes his dog sled team out for a practice run in Parishville, N.Y. Suriano aims to be the first paraplegic to compete in the Iditarod. He is receiving assistance from Clarkson University, which has a focus on physical therapy and rehabilitation engineering. (Clarkson University Photo by Christopher Lenney)