Samantha Sturkey glided through the room, her short arms thrusting the wheels of her chair into motion. Her dark, straight hair flipped from side to side as she giggled and weaved in between tables on the second floor of the Manayunk Brewery on Thursday night.
The 9-year-old has not been able to stop talking about getting a new sports wheelchair, said her mother, Nicole Dipadova of Roxborough, at the weeknight fundraiser in her daughter’s honor. Sturkey outgrew her current hand-me-down sports wheelchair — a lighter type of wheelchair with angled wheels for increased agility.
“It’s getting us by for now, but it’s not measured for her, so this is a big deal,” Dipadova said of the second-hand chair.
Sturkey was born with spina bifida, a birth defect preventing the spinal column from closing. Every case is different after birth, Dipadova said. Some children with spina bifida are able to walk.
But Sturkey’s limited mobility doesn’t stop her from staying active. She’s a player on Katie’s Komets, a basketball prep team with the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. She plays alongside 11 others affected by cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other disabilities at the Carousal House, a recreation center in the city for people with disabilities.
“One of the greatest rewards is that a lot of the kids went on to play college wheelchair basketball,” said Stuart Greenberg, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation program director and former director of the Carousel House. He said when parents watch their child play in the first game, they are overwhelmed with emotion.
“For the parents, they cry, some of them. They can’t believe that their kid is playing a sport. They never dreamed that it could happen,” he said.
The Philadelphia Carousel House gave Sturkey her current sports wheelchair. She has a regular one for daily use but Sturkey and her family hope to buy a new sports wheelchair, so she can get back to practice with her team. Sturkey is pulling for a pink one. The typical price ranges from $1,900 to $4,000, according to Dipadova.
Over 100 family members and friends came out to the fundraiser, which featured a comedy show of five Philadelphia comedians: LaTice Mitchell-Klapa, John Deal, Frank Genzano, Jess Carpenter and Rick Mirarchi.
“The love is overwhelming,” Dipadova said. “There really are a lot of people out there with huge hearts.”
Sally Andersen, the fundraiser’s organizer and Dipadova’s personal trainer at Body Resolutions, got the idea to do the fundraiser with her comedian friends after hearing that Dipadova’s daughter was missing basketball practice because she could no longer fit in her sports chair.
As of Friday morning, Andersen said, the event helped to raise well over $2,100.