Myrna Peterson is taking on Superman to set a new Guinness World Record.
The Grand Rapids disability activist is working to bring at least 194 people in wheelchairs to town May 16 to set a record for “longest moving wheelchair line.” The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, created by “Superman” actor Reeve after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury, set the current record of 193 in 2009.
Can Grand Rapids triumph over Los Angeles?
“We hope so,” said Peterson. “We’ve talked to the Courage Center, Gillette Children’s Hospital, Jack Jablonski’s foundation, all the nursing homes around here, the assisted living centers here. … We want to break that record so, so bad.”
Thinking big, she’s also urged supporters to contact talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to ask her to show up or support the cause. The project already has nearly a dozen local sponsors, as well as support from the area’s philanthropic foundations.
Breaking a wheelchair record is just one of many disabilities projects organized by Peterson and longtime friend Lee Isaacs. Both were injured in accidents 20 years ago that keep them dependent on wheelchairs. They share a special bond in their mission.
“We were both injured on the exact same day, we were both from Deer Lake, both airlifted to Duluth, both had the same surgeons, and both came back home,” said Peterson, a former teacher and mother of four.
Over the years, they’ve organized events to call attention to the challenges of getting around in wheelchairs in rural Minnesota. They are leading workshops this month.
“Myrna is a wonderful, vibrant person,” said Sarah Copeland, program manager for the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation. “She’s bringing awareness to [disability] access issues across the community.”
The most high-profile issue will unfold May 16, when people in wheelchairs from the area as well as the Twin Cities will head to the IRA Civic Center parking lot in Grand Rapids. They will form a line, and eventually move in a figure eight or in a circle for at least a minute. The event must be strictly documented. Guinness requires that a video camera record the event both from above and from the side, Peterson said. Ditto for a photographer. So the local fire department will bring a truck with a crane, from where the videographer and photographer will record the event. Ditto for their counterparts below.
The wheelchair roll will be followed by a dinner, wheelchair basketball event, games and other activities.
The event will raise funds to adapt the vehicles used by Peterson and Isaac. In the months and years ahead, the two plan to raise money to help other folks with disabilities. Their community foundation will help facilitate that, said Copeland.
To learn more go to www.myrnaleemania.com.
Jean Hopfensperger 612-673-4511