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Andretti, Hancock County youths spent summer giving back

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In sports, it's easy to be awed by the feats of skill we witness between the lines. Sometimes, though, even more inspiring is what happens away from the courts, tracks and limelight

I was privileged recently to watch John Andretti and a host of his friends and corporate sponsors raise money for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. It's a hospital that pledges to never turn away a child away due to a family's inability to pay. With more than 60 percent of its young patients uninsured or on Medicaid, providing world-class care to the kids in need means outside financial support is crucial.

That's where Andretti and his gang come in. In 1997, Andretti, a former IndyCar and NASCAR driver, teamed with radio personality Dave "The King" Wilson to host a kart race benefiting Riley Hospital. Now in its 18th year, the Race for Riley and accompanying fundraising has served to provide often life-saving medical care for countless children. 

Andretti and Wilson have helped organize Race for Riley since its inception, with former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman Joe Staysniak and local media relations director Rick Posson joining the event committee 14 years ago. Cheerios, Kroger and Window World are among the longtime sponsors, with New Castle Motorsports Park donating use of its facility.
"For me personally, (the satisfaction) is watching the event grow and prosper," Posson said. "When I first got involved with General Mills and John 14 years ago, it was just a couple of media stops and the race. This year we had 16 events in 13 days, and we are approaching $300,000 for the year and close to $3 million since it all began. The growth and happy kids is what it is all about." 
(Interruption for bragging: I won the media portion of the Race for Riley on Tuesday, edging a group of mostly television personalities. I apologized to Andretti for not being well-known like the Indianapolis sports anchors who usually win the 10-lap feature on the NCMP one-mile track. Understandably, the crowd on hand at New Castle had no idea who I was. And that was fine; bragging rights over Daily Reporter co-workers Tom Russo and Jim Mayfield is what I was after. Those two couldn't participate this year because of a late-breaking assignment, or, as I choose to believe, they lack intestinal fortitude.)
One of the "kids" Posson and so many others involved with Race for Riley have been happy to know is Paige Rawl, who has grown from a former Central Indiana middle schooler bullied by classmates because of an HIV diagnosis to the personification of perseverance and advocacy. Now studying molecular biology at Ball State University, Rawl has been treated at Riley's Ryan White Infectious Disease Clinic since her diagnosis at age two. She was born with the disease, but treatment at Riley has helped make her HIV undetectable.
Rawl spoke Wednesday at a downtown Indianapolis hotel during a dinner benefiting Riley. Briefly home schooled to get away from the bullying, Rawl eventually transferred to Herron High School, where she found a supportive environment. Through it all, Rawl said, the staff at Riley became part of her family, the network she could count on in her most trying moments.
It's with the help of Andretti and so many others that treatment for those such as Rawl will continue to fight and, hopefully, blossom.
Posson isn't surprised Andretti has continued to give his all to the cause.
"John's passion for Riley is huge being that he had both a brother and sister who were Riley kids," Posson said. "His passion has spilled over to us all."
Volunteering and sports extends to all levels. Here in Hancock County, scores of local student-athletes dedicated parts of their summer to selfless acts. Among them:
* Hope Spaulding and Maddie Lee of multiple Eastern Hancock sports were counselors at a local Royal Family Kids Camp, a national organization that happens to share a nickname with the EH Royals. Spaulding and Lee, for the third year in a row, helped mentor children of abuse, abandonment and neglect. Visit royalfamilykids.org for more information on this worthwhile group.
* Mt. Vernon senior Larkin Cooper took the initiative to create and organize Mt. Vernon Gets Active, a free community-based physical fitness event that included sports, games and a 5k run. Check out Mt. Vernon Gets Active on Facebook for pictures of Saturday's undertaking.
* New Palestine football's Sterling Curran and Nick Brickens spent part of their short summer break (first day of school is Tuesday) to build a house for a family in need. "We have tons of kids do stuff," Dragons football coach Kyle Ralph noted. "One of our team rules made by our leadership council is that every player must complete eight hours of community service to know what it means to be unselfish and help others." Curran's and Brickens' activism was coordinated by their church, New Palestine United Methodist (npumc.com).  
* Tennis ace Mark Alvarado of Mt. Vernon was selected for lab internship and for several weeks studied cancer and searched for cures alongside other scientists. "That is way above what I was doing before my senior year," MV tennis coach Gabe Muterspaugh remarked. "Mine was weights, sports, girls — not in that order usually. I thought this was extremely mature and focused of Mark, forgoing his senior year summer."
* Six members of the Greenfield-Central swim program — Jordan Cermak, Taylor Cermak, Kortney Hodnett, Isaac Tow, Krista Zornes and Sarah Zornes — traveled to Tennessee for a Park Chapel Church youth group service project. The young men and women chipped in fixing roofs, painting and cleaning up yards for the needy. On a mission with Brandywine Community Church, G-C swimmer Hannah Walden assisted children in an orphanage in Haiti. "It was a life-changing experience," Walden said. Parkchapel.org and brandywinechurch.org detail these and other charitable acts.
* The Mt. Vernon girls soccer program recently sorted non-perishable food items at Gleaners Food Bank, which distributed over 25 million meals last year to 300,000 folks, including 100,000 children. Learn more at gleaners.org.
If you know of local student-athletes performing selfless acts, let us know. Visit RileyKids.org or race4riley.com for donation information or to learn more about Paige Rawl's journey.
Brian Harmon is sports editor of The Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3227 or at bharmon@greenfieldreporter.com.

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