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Boyertown wheelchair athlete Burnell makes most of PAC experience

PHOENIXVILLE >> He propelled around Phoenixville’s Washington Field track last Friday with the greatest of ease.

Watching Dorian Burnell compete at last week’s Pioneer Athletic Conference Track & Field Championships turned more than a few heads and garnered lots of non-partisan cheers, though few outside the Boyertown contingent knew the back story.

Burnell, a sophomore at Boyertown High, is a member of the Bears’ track & field team. He is also a wheelchair athlete.

Burnell was born with Spina bifida, a birth defect where there is incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord.

Burnell has been participating in track for two years. He does so with the use of a hand-powered bicycle.

Boyertown sophomore Dorian Burnell competes on his hand cycle during the Pioneer Athletic Conference Track & Field Championships last Friday at Phoenixville. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

“I had three personal bests today (last Friday),” Burnell said after competing in the 100, 200 and 400. “That’s the goal, to just run faster.”

It was a banner day for the Bears’ athlete after being limited this season following an operation.

Since the PIAA regulates track & field and all other sports’ postseason competitions, Boyertown made a special request to have Burnell participate at the league championship meet.

“The PAC voted him in to come here,” said veteran Boyertown boys track and field coach Jon Zellers. “He deserves it.”

Participating in track isn’t Burnell’s only athletic pursuits – ‘This is one of my many sports,” he said.

Among the other sports is sled hockey, where is a member of a national-caliber contingent.

“I started (hockey) in seventh grade. This will be my fourth year,” Burnell said. “I always was in cycling.”

The Burnell family has always lived in the Boyertown area.

“I got my bike from a group IM ABLE (Foundation) in Reading,” he said. “I can go bigger. Right now, I have a youth bike.”

The Wyomissing-based IM ABLE Foundation seeks to remove obstacles that prevent people affected by disabilities from being physically active by providing grants, resources, fitness opportunities and motivation. Burnell is a grant recipient of the foundation that was created by Chris Kaag in 2002.

Dorian would like to continue competing as a wheelchair athlete as long as he can. But he also harbors long-range plans in terms of a career path, too.

“I want to go into Orthodontic Prosthetics,” said Burnell.

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