Franklin Square residents George and Sandi Silks, along with the Kiwanis Club of Franklin Square, held their yearly fundraiser at the Lucky Bar 13 on April 16 to benefit the Nassau County Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged — a mini paralympics-style event, where physically challenged youths compete for fun and prizes.
“Last year, we had about 1,100 kids competing in the event,” George said. “We gave away small prizes like coloring books, crayons … and the bigger prizes were things like a bicycle and a swing set that could accommodate a wheelchair.”
While Nassau’s Victory Challenge only began in 2011, the Silks have collected money and gifts for physically challenged children for more than 30 years. Sandi said that they’re happy to continue holding their fundraisers because of the spirit and camaraderie displayed by the young athletes. She recalled watching a physically challenged high school student struggle to finish the wheelchair slalom event at a previous Victory Game. By the time he made it through the course, the entire crowd of athletes and spectators jumped to their feet and cheered his perseverance. George remembered a similar event where a track runner gave up his first-place position to cheer for and finish with his friend.
“The hearts in these kids are amazing,” Sandi said.
This year, the couple invited U.S. paralympic gold medalist Lora Webster to the fundraiser. The Long Island resident and sitting volleyball champion met the Silks at last year’s Victory Challenge, where they gave her the grand tour. Webster was taken aback by scale of the event, which spanned several days and even saw competitors from Westchester and Massachusetts. She was the keynote speaker at the event, sharing her story from the loss of her leg to cancer when she was young, to winning a gold medal in sitting volleyball at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016.
Webster competed in track and diving while in high school and won her first paralympic medal in Athens in 2004. She won the silver medal at the 2008 games in Beijing. Webster was also the inaugural recipient of the nation’s All-Time Great Female Sitting Volleyball Player award. She said events like the Victory Challenge mean a lot to physically challenged athletes.
“It’s important because you can connect with people who know what you’ve gone through, who know that day to day routine, and just enjoy what you’re doing,” Webster said.
She plans to defend her gold medal at the next Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. Webster, the Silks and the Franklin Square Kiwanis will attend this year’s Victory Challenge at Nassau Community College, which starts on May 31.