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Larchwood teen-ager sets her sights on qualifying for world para-Olympics

By DENISE D. TUCKER Argus Leader Staff LARCHWOOD, Iowa -- Cruising behind West Lyon High School, Cheri Blauwet breezes past the handicapped spots and parks behind some cars along the football field.

She opens the door of her Ford Probe, slides into her wheelchair and heads toward the empty track. Then she retrieves her customized racing chair from a nearby shed and quickly swaps chairs.

Blauwet is ready to begin another track workout. Her second workout of the day.

The muscular, blond 18 year-old is training for a national track-meet qualifier and for the International Para-Olympic Committee World Championships, which will be held in August in England.

Blauwet, the youngest of three children, has used a wheelchair for most of her life.

"When I was 1 year old, I was run over by a tractor" on her family farm, she said. "My spinal cord was not severed but died due to the lack of blood supply."

Blauwet doesn't view her injury as a setback. "Being disabled since 1, I don't think of myself a being disabled," she said. "It's given me more opportunities. It's made me a more independent and outgoing individual, If you want to succeed, you have to be."

Her mother agrees.

"We really haven't had to do a lot of pushing," Judy Blauwet said of her daughter. "She's a self-starter, and we've encouraged her along the way."

Although Blauwet has encountered obstacles with her wheelchair, she doesn't dwell on them.

"There's a point when you don't get frustrated anymore," she said. "You learn to work around it."

A member of the Minnesota-based Courage Youth Sports track team, Blauwet has established new records in Iowa state track meets and at two Junior National Wheelchair championships.

"I don't pity myself or anyone who has a disability," she said. "It's something that the world throws at you."

Her athletic travels have made her friends across the United States. While flipping through a copy of "Sports 'N Spokes" magazine, she pointed out a few of them.

She lists Jean Driscoll, a six-time Boston Marathon winner and Para-Olympian as her hero.

"She's really nice," Blauwet said.

Blauwet also has dominated the classroom and piano. She graduated from West Lyon High School with a 4.0 grade-point average and was president of the Student Council. She was a four-year member of the Northwest Iowa Honor Band and lettered in music.

Blauwet received several academic and sports scholarships, which she will use to attend the University of Arizona-Tucson. She plans to study mulecular and cellular biology. She also will participate on the university's wheelchair track team.

Blauwet's Courage Youth Sport: track coach considers her al inspiration.

"When she's around the other athletes, she's a role model an natural leader, and the younger ones admire her," said Stuart Harder of Rush City, Minn. "She's going to go far in whatever she chooses to do."