Legally blind youth finds independence in mud bogging

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

PROCTORVILLE — Tanner Huff climbs into his trail buggy emblazoned with the words “Fear This” on the front. He revs up his engine and gets the vehicle ready for its run through the wet, sloppy track at Crazy Carl’s Raceway in Proctorville.

Although he competes regularly — about once a month — like the other racers and makes his way down the 100-foot track, everyone in the crowd knows that he is not an ordinary competitor. They cheer him on, clapping and screaming as he pops up and down through the mud.

The 15-year-old Chesapeake High School student has cerebral palsy that limits his ability to walk. He is also legally blind. But, he and his family say when he goes mud bogging, he feels the independence he has never been able to experience before.

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His mother, Susan, said her son has been around racing his entire life — she and her husband, Jon, own the frame shop Hilltop Alignment in Chesapeake. He has been driving since he was about four, his father said, but this is his first season behind the wheel as a competitive trail buggy-racer. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Emma, also comes to the racetrack to cheer her brother on.

“He (Tanner) couldn’t get out and go like an average kid. This was the safest way for him to go four-wheeling,” she explained. “This (trail buggy) has been specifically built for him. This gives him the total independence that he has never been able to have. It makes him have the ‘15-year-oldness’ that he can’t experience really any other way.”

Susan and her husband try to prepare Tanner before every race, but he doesn’t need much help. Tanner said he can “just feel the way the track is.” He said he can vaguely see bright colors so he can spot the orange cones that are placed at the finish line of the track. When they are muddy, it makes that kind of difficult, he joked. He also usually rides with a sidekick, which gives a little bit of assistance finding his way down the track a little easier.

Once Tanner heard about the races from “Crazy” Carl Carpenter — a janitor at the Chesapeake schools and owner of the racetrack bearing his name — he knew he wanted to compete.

Tanner said he has yet to win a race, but that really doesn’t matter. He said getting on the track and getting muddy is the best part.