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97-Year-Old and Great-Grandson Use Race as Physical Therapy Motivation

Event Brings Together Family and Friends in Support of Competitors' Hard Work at Rehabilitation

May 22, 2013

Maxine Summers Kuhns and her great-grandson, Austin Kocher, celebrate their victories following a series of races May 19 on Wilmington College's Beckett Track.

Maxine Summers Kuhns and her great-grandson, Austin Kocher, celebrate their victories following a series of races May 19 on Wilmington College's Beckett Track.

Even though the distance from start to finish was fewer than 100 feet, it must have seemed like a marathon three years ago when two wheelchair-bound Wilmington residents, Maxine Summers Kuhns and her great-grandson, Austin Kocher, first considered a race.

They decided the competition would feature each of them emerging from their wheelchairs and racing the distance using their legs with the assistance of walkers.

Kuhns, who will turn 97 years old June 5, is recovering from a stroke she suffered three years ago, while Kocher, a 2002 graduate of Wilmington High School, who turned 29 on May 14, was diagnosed with rapid onset multiple sclerosis soon after graduating from Ohio Northern University in 2006.

Dayna Kocher, Austin’s mother, explained her grandmother conceived of the contest.

“Maxine challenged Austin to a race to inspire him to regain his strength and mobility,” she said.
Kuhns acknowledged that her great-grandson agreed to the race “for me,” yet they both benefitted with their physical therapy by working toward that event on the horizon.

Austin Kocher noted, “She said it’s the best birthday present she ever got and, at 97 years old, she’s had a lot of them.”

Rachael Duncan and Ruth Jones of Drayer Physical Therapy work with both of them and attended the race.

“Having goals like this race builds motivation,” Jones said before the competition. “It’s huge when it’s something they’re excited about. It’s been great for Austin to prepare for something like this.”

Race day was May 19 at Wilmington College’s Beckett Track. Family and friends, including a number of Austin Kocher’s friends from ONU, were all on hand to cheer on the competitors.

Kuhns used a quick start that carried her to victory in the walker race, but Austin took his revenge by cruising to victory in the subsequent wheelchair race over the same distance.

Dayna Kocher noted they wanted to hold the race at Wilmington College because it is a “special location” for several members of her family.

Indeed, Kuhns attended classes at WC as a teenager in the 1930s, Austin Kocher took several summer courses there and Dayna Kocher is a 2004 graduate. Also, Austin Kocher grew up on nearby Alumni Circle with the College practically in his backyard.

Dayna Kocher noted that, while the day’s focal point was the race, ultimately it was about bringing together family and friends in support of the hard work the two friendly competitors are putting in toward their physical rehabilitation.

The group enjoyed a picnic lunch at Denver Williams Park.