From Detroit to Tel Aviv, Roadrunners were Warrior Strong
Wayne State was one of the first universities in the nation to provide inclusive services for students with disabilities — in the classroom and on the playing field.
The disabled student population grew significantly after WSU established the Office of Counseling for the Handicapped in 1961. The office provided guidance to the administration on campus accessibility and building modifications, provided adaptive technologies to the nearly 150 disabled students enrolled at the time, and served as a liaison to those students, ensuring the maximum academic experience with a minimal loss of independence. In 1964, WSU was recognized as one of only 11 institutions across the country offering such provisions.
Because extracurricular activities are key to a rounded college experience, the office assisted in the formation of a track and field team for athletes in wheelchairs in 1966. They were 12 strong out of the gate, and named themselves the Roadrunners. The team continued to expand, and during their first year, 22 Roadrunners participated in the Michigan Wheelchair Games (pictured), winning the men’s, women’s and overall championships. After a repeat performance in 1968, five Roadrunners — Jack Donaldson, Bill Griggs, Miriam Harris, Joe Gianino and Karen Gorman — were chosen to help represent the United States at that year’s Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel. Gianino brought home a silver medal and Donaldson a bronze, while Gorman earned four medals: a gold, two silver and a bronze.
“The Roadrunners team was far ahead of its time,” says Grant Lofdahl, head coach of today’s WSU track and field and cross country teams. “These athletes accomplished some amazing things, such as winning multiple medals in Tel Aviv against the world’s best, long before many Americans had likely heard of the Paralympic Games.”
Lofdahl goes on to say, “The female competitors helped set the tone for women’s athletics, including our track and field program — which continues to grow — and their pioneering efforts are an inspiration.”
As part of our Sesquicentennial Celebration throughout 2018, Wayne State University will share stories that highlight the people, places and moments that contribute to our 150-year history. Learn more at 150.wayne.edu.