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1,000 young athletes shine despite handicap

Loren Karabatzoglou, 13, of Islip, gets ahead in

Loren Karabatzoglou, 13, of Islip, gets ahead in the 200-meter run at the Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale on Saturday. (June 2, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

"You go, girl! You got it!"

Spectators cheered from the sidelines as a beaming Chalin Crespo, 13, hobbled down the terra cotta-colored track.

Chalin, of the Bronx, usually travels long distances with the help of a wheelchair, but on Saturday she was a track star, competing in the 60-meter dash.

The teen, who has cerebral palsy, was among roughly 1,000 participants competing in Nassau County's Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged.

"It's amazing. They're in their element," said Marianne Rountree, a teaching assistant at Chalin's school, the Westchester School for Special Children. "There's no discrimination. Everyone's equal."

The games, which began Thursday and ended Saturday, were open to people between the ages of 5 and 21 from across the state and beyond. Among those competing at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale were amputees and the blind and the deaf. Events ranged from track and field and wheelchair basketball to archery.

"This is like competing in the world Olympics for them," said Susan Maxwell, the 28-year event's longtime organizer.

Competitors are divided into categories based on wide-ranging abilities.

"If a child is in a walker, they're competing against a child in a walker," Maxwell said.

Victors get the traditional gold, silver and bronze -- but there are also fourth- through sixth-place awards. All receive "I participated" ribbons.

The games were almost canceled a few years ago because of a lack of state funding, but Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano convened a committee to save the event.

Supporters have raised money to pay for prizes, T-shirts, food and other supplies, Rob Walker, chief deputy county executive, said at the event Saturday.

The games gave Billy Haley, a Maspeth, Queens, ninth-grader who attends Brooklyn Tech, a chance to shine.

Haley, who has asthma and Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary movement, cleared 47 inches in the high jump competition as people in the crowd cheered and high-fived one another.

"Yeah, Billy!" someone yelled.

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