The McDonalds Relay will host the third annual Battle with the Blades to bring awareness of limb loss to the local and regional communities.

Battle with the Blades showcases the talents of U.S Paralympic track athletes who have overcome limb loss and other obstacles to fulfill their dreams of being elite athletes. The U.S Paralympic athletes will be demonstrating their talents at Southside High School on April 20 during the McDonalds Relay, where they will run alongside high school athletes from around Arkansas. Some of these athletes include 200 M World record holder Richard Browne and four time Paralympic medalist, blind long jumper Lex Gillete. This will be an IPC (International Paralympic Committee) approved event.

Fundraising efforts will be held leading up to the race at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s that will consist of a pancake breakfast, raffle, fashion show, and dinner which will include a silent auction. CrossFit 413 and CrossFit Fort Smith will be holding WODs (workout of the day) and all of the money raised will be donated to the Battle with the Blades. All proceeds will go to the Never Say Never Foundation and the Arkansas Freedom Fund.

The Arkansas Freedom Fund is a non- profit organization that provides outdoor recreational rehabilitation. They have programs in the areas of biking, golfing, fishing, hiking, hunting, and martial arts. All of these events are designed to get military veterans active while promoting health and rehabilitation. Money raised through all the events will help accomplish this.

The Never Say Never Foundation is a nonprofit organization that was formed to help disabled youth to overcome adversity with positive attitudes. With the money raised they will help provide a sports adaptive prosthetics to a local Arkansan. The average cost of a prosthetic is between $6,000 and $60,000.

This year’s recipient is Cody Johnson. He states that getting the Prosthetic is “an opportunity to keep moving forward and turn a bad situation into a good one.” Cody is 26 years old and he is preparing to run in this year’s McDonalds Relay. Johnson has run track ever since high school, where he ran the 100m, 200m, 4x100, and the 400m. After high school Cody joined the Marines for a year and then returned to Arkansas. Once back in Arkansas a gun accident caused Cody to lose his left leg. This would not bring Cody down, as he would train to get back to what he loved, and that was running. Cody is currently working out to get better 6 days a week at the gym and at the track. Cody says that he wants others with limb loss to know, “it’s not the end of the world, and don’t give up; think of it as a new beginning.”

Francios Van Der Watt, a local prosthetics and orthotics maker who is also the co- founder of the Battle with the Blades and board member of the Never Say Never Foundation, will be making Cody’s sports adaptive prosthetic.

Van Der Watt, who is originally from South Africa, moved to Arkansas in 2014 to continue making prosthetics and open up his own prosthetics business called Van Der Watt Prosthetics and Orthotics. Francois has been the U.S Paralympic Track prosthetist since 2011 and even traveled to Rio this summer with the Paralympic athletes. Van Der Watt has made prosthetics for some big name athletes including Olympian Oscar Pistorius and Paralympian Jerome Singleton who was the first person to beat Oscar in six years. Van Der Watt said seeing Singleton win was one of his most memorable experiences. He said that he makes prosthetics for “anybody that needs them; any age.”

Francois has been making prosthetics since college but he did not go to college wanting to do that. He stated; “I wanted to be a farmer”, but his roommate’s brother who made prosthetics changed his mind.

There are several levels of sponsorships available to help with Battle with the Blades, which are all tax deductible. For further information on events or sponsorship support, please contact: Phone number: Mimi at: (479) 452-773.