By Kathy Day
When 41-year-old Andy Huesing met 5-year-old Alessandro Pintor on Aug. 23, it could have been any other meeting of new friends.
But in this case, the new pals rolled up in their wheelchairs at SeaWorld’s Garden Plaza for the launch of Roll Models, a mentoring program pairing adult spinal cord injury victims with children in wheelchairs. They were one of seven pairs of new friends who spent the day getting to know each other. Family members also joined the fun during an event that included a Shamu show, a chance to explore the park and meet a couple of animals, and an ice cream social.
Organized by HeadNorth, the Carmel Valley-based nonprofit providing support and resources to paraplegics and their families, in partnership with Tadpole Adaptive (a San Diego online retailer that provides equipment for children with special needs), the effort inspired some giant smiles.
As Huesing, one of the owners of Tadpole Adaptive, got to know Alessandro, the youngster showed off his skills, tilting back in a wheelie that prompted a similar move by his mentor. It wasn’t like an adult talking to a little boy but rather two people sharing a common bond.
Huesig learned that penguins are his new friend’s favorite animals and the one he wanted to see most that day, although the penguin visit was delayed by a longer than anticipated stop at Turtle Reef where Alessandro took to the video games.
Later, Alessandro – and his parents – learned about how to make his wheelchair go faster, although Huesing said he is already a bit of a speedster.
Huesing, a Hillcrest resident, broke his neck at the C-7 level diving into a swimming pool when he was 17. While he has no use of his legs and his hands are somewhat affected, he otherwise has full upper body mobility.
His young friend, a San Clemente boy who was injured in a car accident when he was 3, has a similar injury. However, Huesing noted that Alessandro has better control of his hands than he does, perhaps because of his therapy at Project Walk in Carlsbad.
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