Joliet Big Wheel fundraiser let bikers ‘be a kid again’

UCP-Disability Services in Joliet hosted its 3rd fundraising event

By Denise M. Baran-Unland

Before a Joliet Big Wheel race got rolling on Saturday night, Michelle Sniezewski paused to explain why she wanted to ride a Big Wheel in the first place.

“It’s for a good cause,” Sniezewski said.

A member of the “How’s My Rear, Part 2” team, Sniezewski said they competed at the Joliet Memorial Stadium to raise money for Easterseals Joliet Region. The nonprofit provides “education, outreach, and advocacy” for people with autism and other disabilities, the Easterseals Joliet Region website said.

United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services in Joliet hosted the Great American Big Wheel Race for the third time on Saturday. The nonprofit introduced the race in 2021.

The five-person teams raced for the opportunity to win up to $5,000 in cash for its favorite charity. This year, 17 teams raced, the highest number of teams yet for this fundraiser, according to Anastasia Tuskey, director of marketing and public relations for UCP.

Team Adler took first place. Tuskey said team members plan to use the money to help a local 3-year-old in need of accessible equipment.

“We had so much excitement and everyone I talked to said it was a great event,” Tuskey said. “Several people are already talking about coming next year. I’m really proud. I think we have a nice signature event.”

Big Wheel racing for a cause

Each team paid a $1,200 entry fee. This entry fee included a Big Wheel, team T-shirts and swag bags filled with goodies from local merchants. Returning teams that already had a Big Wheel only paid $1,100. They, too, received team T-shirts and swag bags.

That wasn’t the case with the Comcast team, a “rookie” team according to team member Nate Rettinger.

“We heard about it from one of our resource groups and it sounded like a great event,” Rettinger said.

The Comcast team was racing for the Boys and Girls Club in Joliet. Rettinger, who said he hadn’t rode a Big Wheel in “probably 45 years” hoped for the best.

“I did practice little,” Rettinger said, “but not a lot.”

Vijay Murugesan, a member of Joliet Area Young Professionals, said his team would donate the money back to UCP if it won. Colleen Lyons, team captain and board chair of the organization, was also hopeful, even though she’d never ridden a Big Wheel “until yesterday,” she said.

Races began at 6 p.m. in a double-elimination format until first-, second- and third-place teams were crowned. Fred Ferrara, event co-coordinator and retired Joliet Junior College Chef, reviewed the guidelines with teams before the race began.

“Several people are already talking about coming next year. I’m really proud. I think we have a nice signature event.”

—  Anastasia Tuskey, spokesperson for United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services in Joliet

Spectators were more than welcome to attend and cheer on their favorite team. Janet Ahern of Burr Ridge and her family settled in the stand to “root for the Will County Sheriff” team.

“It’s their first year of racing,” Ahern said. “And my granddaughter is here from Pennsylvania to attend the race.”

Al Sizemore of Shorewood came out to cheer for his son Lawson Sizemore, whose team won first place last year. He thought Lawson Sizemore’s team had a good chance of winning again this year.

“He’s got a good team,” Al Sizemore said.

Lawson Sizemore, 20, of Shorewood, has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1A, a disorder that affects the peripheral nerves.

He’s served as an associate coach for football, basketball and baseball for Joliet West High School, Lawson’s alma mater.

Lawson plans to study journalism with a concentration in sports broadcasting from the University of Illinois and has driven to the school in his new accessibility van.

“He’s enjoying his freedom,” Al Sizemore said.

Gina Wysocki-Szpur, development director at United Cerebral Palsy-Center for Disability Services in Joliet, said in a 2021 Herald-News story that she first saw a Big Wheel race many years ago in San Francisco.

So UCP decided to tackle it.

“I think many of us need to look inside and talk to our inner child – and put them back on a Big Wheel,” Wysocki-Szpur said in 2021. “And let them be a kid again.”


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