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Wheelchair team wins national title

Power soccer player Nathan Mayer poses with the trophy he and his team won at the national power soccer tournament.

Every year for the past 12 years, area golf enthusiasts have been helping support Nathan Mayer and his family by participating in the Nathan's Quest golf tournament. Nathan lives in Big Lake, but his family has Hastings roots that go back for generations, and many of his great-uncles still live here and sponsor the golf tournament each year.

At just 8 months old, Nathan was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic neuromuscular condition that causes all the muscles in his body to be weak. At 18 months he started driving a power wheelchair, unable to even sit up without help. SMA has compromised his ability to swallow, so while he still eats some food orally, he also is fed via a feeding tube. The disease also makes the muscles around his lungs weak, and needs to use several machines to keep his lungs healthy.

At age 12, Nathan isn't letting any of that slow him down. He's part of the Courage Center's Courage Thunder power soccer team, based out of Golden Valley. He and five other wheelchair athletes recently won the USPSA Division II National Power Soccer Championship title in Fishers, Ind.

The rules of power soccer are similar to standard soccer, but the games have their differences. Power soccer teams are made up of four players (one goalie and three forwards). Metal guards are attached to the power chairs, and players maneuver the chairs to "kick" an oversized soccer ball into a 19.6-foot-wide goal. To better accommodate the chairs, the game is played indoors on a basketball court.

Nathan's team went into the tournament with an 8-0 record. They beat seven teams to claim the national title.

Being a part of the Courage Thunder team has given Nathan and his teammates one way to overcome their disabilities.

"I never thought I could be a big athlete like this," Nathan said. "I love that I'm in a competitive sport like a lot of my peers. Power soccer makes me feel like I'm not the only one in a wheelchair."

"I have the chance to play a sport that I love, to be part of a team and to compete with other athletes," Nick Misgen of Woodbury said. "My teammates are my best friends and I am never happier than when I am playing power soccer. It has been a very positive experience."

Courage Thunder had competed at the national tournament for the past three years. In 2007 they finished fourth, third in 2008 and second in 2009. This year it was their turn.

"All our hard practice paid off and it felt like we accomplished something huge," Nathan said. "Even though we won, we're looking forward to more achievements!"

Nathan, who just finished sixth grade, already has a few goals in mind. He wants to go to college and become either a sports agent or a lawyer - or maybe both, said his coach and father, Tracy Mayer.