Race of the Wheelchairs

The inaugural Wheelchair Racing Championship takes two-wheeled chairs to the streets.

Give Priscilla Lopez a lemon, and there’s a very good chance she will make you some lemonade. This is not just a play on a tired citrus trope: The genial twenty-year-old Oakland resident is really very keen on making various versions of the lemon-based fruit juice, and can fondly recall batches made from ingredients like fresh peaches and ginger, which she serves to her friends each Sunday along with a full-course meal. “It’s just my drink of choice — my D.O.C.,” she explained.

But there’s more to be gleaned from the above than Lopez’s indisputable love for lemonade. One could also conclude from her weekly dinner parties that she is the exceptionally generous sort who doesn’t mind expending some extra time and energy to facilitate the happiness of others. So it’s not too surprising to hear her explain how her house came to be furnished with two manual wheelchairs, which she typically uses as mobile dining room furniture. Lopez bought her first wheelchair for her grandmother, who tended to tire from the long flea market excursions the two take when she visits from Southern California. “She gets tired really easily, so now when she comes I just take her around in her wheelchair,” Lopez said. “That way, when we go out I can take her around further and longer.”

What began as a functional acquisition to accommodate her grandma’s tired legs led to a quirky appreciation for the chair itself — one that found Lopez and her friends frequently rolling around her house. Seating, too, is a precious commodity in a house that hosts frequent social gatherings, and the chair was often occupied during parties. So Lopez purchased another. And while it could be considered an odd choice of furniture, it turns out she’s not the only one partial to the typically utilitarian devices. Her roommate’s boyfriend coincidentally has two such chairs of his own. “When he first came over, the first thing he noticed were my wheelchairs,” she recalled. “It was really cool meeting someone who fancies wheelchairs as much as I do.”

When her roommate’s beau jokingly suggested that they take the chairs for a spin at a nearby park (which they did) — it set the wheels in motion, so to speak, for the inaugural Wheelchair Racing Championship. Scheduled for Sunday, April 1, the event challenges competitors of all ages and abilities to a series of one-on-one dashes to decide who will take home a crown and their very own wheelchair. While two chairs will be provided for the competition, participants are free to use their own chairs (provided they’re of the low-tech, manual variety). Lopez envisions the race — which begins at the corner of 5th Avenue and Embarcadero in Oakland and runs along 5th Avenue’s smoothly paved concrete — as an ironic take on the classic All-American Soap Box Derby. That means checkered banners, a raceway lined with bales of hay, a barbecue, and — because the beverage is Lopez’s obvious D.O.C. — a lemonade stand. Registration at 2 p.m., race at 3 p.m.; free. 510-866-4817 or here


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