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‘Starter’ is role model for others

Amputee will take lead on July 24th walk

SHARE ‘Starter’ is role model for others

Those participating in Tuesday's fifth-annual Deseret News/Granite Furniture 5K Fitness Walk will have some very special company.

In fact, they'll meet 11-year-old Jared Needham right up front.

Jared has been designated the "official starter" of the walk by Shriners Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, one of the benefactors — along with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves' Toys for Tots program — from the annual Deseret News marathon, 10K run and 5K walk. The Shriners have a special place in their heart for Jared, and he for them. They've had an ongoing relationship practically from the day he was born.

Jared, the second oldest of four children of Grant and Christina Needham of Holladay, was born with fibular hemomelia — he was missing the fibia bone in one leg.

Christina Needham knew from the moment of birth that something wasn't quite right physically with Jared — he was missing two toes on one foot. Before he was a year old, doctors at Shriners amputated the lower part of that leg just below the knee, immediately fitting him with a prosthesis.

Since getting his first prosthetic leg, he's had to replace it with new ones with every growth spurt. His mother said Jared — who will enter the fifth grade at William Penn Elementary next month, now has about 10 legs that he takes to school for show and tell.

"He wants others to feel comfortable being around those who have disabilities like his," Christina Needham added. "He wants others to see that they can have lives as normal as anyone else's."

Jared hasn't slowed down a bit. "He completed his first season of tackle football last fall and is already looking forward to this season," his mother said. "He's been a receiver, played defense, gotten in there and knocked heads with everyone else."

Also an avid skier, Jared had a startling experience this past year while riding a chair lift at Snowbird.

"His prosthetic leg was quite heavy hanging off the lift with the ski on, and it came loose," recalled Christina Needham. "So the ski and his leg went down the hill without him, and he had to slalom down on one leg. It was quite a sight for other skiers."

That was no big challenge for Jared, who family and friends call "the most affectionate, loving child" around. He has become sort of a role model for other young people with artificial limbs.

And Jared has another goal in mind — competing in the Paralympic Games sometime in the future. Whether that's as a winter or summer Olympian, Christina's not sure. "He loves so many sports, who knows?" she said.

With Jared and the rest of the Needham family entered this year, the 5K fitness walk begins at 7 a.m. Tuesday at the Delta Center, finishing at Liberty Park along with the marathon and 10K races.

Late registration continues Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the University Park Marriott Hotel, 480 Wakara Way, in Research Park. You can find more information on the web at www.desnews.com/run.