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Players of all abilities compete in wheelchair basketball, handball tournament in La Crosse
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Derek Filzen, left, of Winona takes a shot during a wheelchair basketball game during Saturday’s Wheels for All tournament at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The biannual event is hosted by students in the college’s Sport Management department.

Carbrey Grelle excels at adaptive sled hockey. Wheelchair basketball? Not so much.

“I was terrible at basketball in high school,” Grelle said. “I’m terrible at this, too.”

To be fair, Saturday morning was Grelle’s first time attempting the sport. The 34-year-old has used a wheelchair and forearm crutches since developing polyneuropathy from Guillain-Barré syndrome three years ago, a condition caused when the immune system attacks the nerves in the body. The adjustment has been “pretty life changing — it’s tough,” but Grelle has found friendship and vitality in adaptive sports.

Saturday, Grelle joined eight individuals age 12 and up from the STAR Association, which encompasses the Coulee Region Sled Hockey Association Frost team, for the fourth Wheels for All tournament at Mitchell Hall.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Tyler Gunnarson, 12, of Lewiston, Minn., cuts between Kaitlyn Lane and AJ Rowe, both UW-L student, as he takes the ball up court during Saturday’s tournament at Mitchell Hall.

The biannual event was hosted by 13 students in the UW-L ESS 421 course for sport operations management/event and venue management major along with 17 volunteers. Another 52 UW-L students competed in the two bracket, basketball and handball game, with each of 12 teams playing three games before going on to elimination rounds.

Sponsored by 11 businesses and organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club, Polite Barber Shop and the Eagles Nest, the event included raffles throughout the day and prizes for the winning teams. The majority of players were able bodied, using wheelchairs borrowed from the university’s adaptive athletic department. The tournament provides an opportunity to better understand what those with disabilities experience on a daily basis, said student Hannah Jensen, one of the event’s organizers, noting this was the first year team Frost participated.

“It’s been awesome,” Jensen said. “The Frost team, they were going so hard, they were so into it. It’s been really energetic.”

UW-L senior Dani Lee, playing with team Coulee Golf Bowl, her employer, struggled to keep from tipping as she wheeled across the gym floor at rapid speed but was thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie and competition.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Peyton Gunnarson, 16, of Lewiston, Minn., left, and UW-La Crosse student Jacob Wehner, shake hands after a game.

“Everybody is treating each other like we’re all the same and we’re all being team players,” Lee said. “It’s really cool that we can all come together and interact on the same platform. It makes us more aware.”

“The more (inclusive) sports you have the better,” Grelle said. “We all get to play on the same field. I think La Crosse is really coming up with a lot of adaptive things for the community. We didn’t have this when I was in school. It’s so awesome and it’s really nice to not feel like an outsider. I think that’s really important for our young people especially.”

Todd Strittmater, 54, was impressed with the athleticism the youngest Team Frost players, who were working up a sweat racing across the court and shooting baskets. Strittmater, who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair only on excursions that require a great deal of walking and found the sport harder than expected.

“The hoop is much higher,” Strittmater said with a laugh. “It gives you a different point of view ‘cause you’re down lower.”

Also an adaptive sled hockey participant, Strittmater says inclusive athletics have kept him from becoming a “couch potato,” particularly in the cooler months. Events such as Wheels for All are essential to staying active and healthy, and he and Grelle have high hopes for the proposed STAR Center, a facility currently in the fundraising stage which will offer recreational activities and physical and occupational therapy for individuals of all abilities.

“It’s going to be really important,” Grelle said. “So important to our community.”

For information on Wheels for All, visit the group's Facebook page.


Health-med-fit
topical top story
As Wisconsin eyes medical marijuana, doctor views, research findings mixed

Greg Kinsley of Madison says marijuana reduces gut pain and inflammation from Crohn’s disease.

If he stops using the psychoactive plant, his digestion “doesn’t work right,” said Kinsley, 55, an electronics engineering technician.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

When Baraboo police confiscated marijuana from Greg Kinsley's vehicle a few years ago, he showed them a note from his doctor saying he could use marijuana for symptoms of Crohn's disease, a digestive disorder. Baraboo authorities decided not to charge him. Still, Kinsley, of Madison, hopes Wisconsin fully approves medical marijuana. "Not looking over your shoulder would help," he said.

Bunny Balk of Columbus says marijuana prevents pain from fibromyalgia and controls anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Before she started smoking marijuana or cannabis, she was addicted to opioids prescribed by doctors, she said.

Marijuana “lets me continue my life without being in bed and looking for that next pill,” said Balk, 60, a grandmother of six and former real-estate broker.

Wisconsin, which has not joined 34 states in approving medical marijuana, might be inching closer to making the move. New Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed it, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature is working on a bill.

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Greg Kinsley, of Madison, said smoking marijuana prevents cramps and bleeding from Crohn's disease, a digestive condition he has had for many years.

But while Assembly Leader Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he’s open to the idea, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said he and most Senate Republicans are opposed.

Doctors, too, are divided on whether the state should authorize marijuana for therapeutic uses, as neighboring Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota have done.

Dr. Michael Miller, a recent Wisconsin Medical Society officer and past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said marijuana can be addictive, isn’t better than approved drugs and is unpredictable because purity and potency varies.

Proponents are pushing legislatures to circumvent the Food and Drug Administration drug approval process for medical marijuana because they want to allow pot for any use, said Miller, a UW-Madison clinical instructor and psychiatrist with the Rock County Drug Court.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL 

Before Bunny Balk uses marijuana for pain and to ease mental health conditions, she typically lights a scented candle and places a pillow at the base of her apartment door to control the smell.

“The therapeutic use is, I think, a subterfuge,” he said. “It’s a transitional step toward legalization.”

“Not for everyone”

Dr. Angela Janis, director of psychiatric services at UW-Madison’s University Health Services, cautions against marijuana use in childhood and adolescence, when it can affect long-term cognition and mental health.

But she said research has found considerable benefit in adults for pain, nausea and muscle spasms, and some studies suggest help for sleep disorders and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

“There’s benefit, but it’s not for everything, and it’s not for everyone,” said Janis, chief medical officer of LeafLine Labs, one of two companies permitted to sell cannabis products for medical use in Minnesota.

Dr. Zorba Paster, who works at SSM Health in Oregon, said he supports medical marijuana. He brought attention five years ago to a little-used state law that already allows residents to possess marijuana with the “valid prescription or order of, a practitioner.”

JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Bunny Balk said she uses about one ounce of marijuana, or cannabis, a month. For pain, "it works better than anything else," she said.

Paster wrote a letter saying Kinsley, one of his patients, could use marijuana for his bowel symptoms. When Baraboo police officers confiscated a small amount of pot from Kinsley’s car in 2014, Kinsley showed them the letter, which led them to forgo charges.

Paster said that after the incident he turned down numerous requests for such letters from people who weren’t his regular patients. He writes a weekly column for the Wisconsin State Journal and regularly appears on broadcast media.

“I think medical marijuana should be legalized because right now opioids kill people and marijuana does not,” he said.

Report: benefits, risks

A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said cannabis can treat chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy and muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis.

“But it’s not clear that it’s better than other options that are out there,” Dr. Robert Wallace, a University of Iowa health scientist who worked on the national report, said at a forum at the state Capitol last month.

The national report focused mostly on potential harms, saying cannabis use before driving increases the risk of traffic crashes. Cannabis impairs learning, memory and attention immediately after use, and likely increases the risk of psychosis, the report said.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL 

Greg Kinsley typically ingests marijuana through smoking but sometimes eats gummy candies or drinks soda infused with THC, one of the main ingredients in marijuana. He said he uses marijuana for Crohn's disease, a bowel disorder.

Smoking cannabis can make respiratory problems worse, but it doesn’t appear to increase the risk of lung, head and neck cancers, as smoking tobacco does, the report said.

Some studies suggest legalized medical marijuana decreases opioid use and overdose deaths, but there’s not enough evidence to confirm the finding, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Between 9 percent and 30 percent of marijuana users may develop a use disorder, including addiction, the institute said. The majority of marijuana users don’t go on to use harder drugs.

Research on marijuana is limited because the federal government considers it a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of drug categories, and the official supply available for studies is hard to obtain.

Wisconsin allows residents to use CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, from any source if they have a doctor’s note — a requirement Evers wants to eliminate. No doctor’s note is required to possess CBD from hemp produced through a state program.

A CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, was approved by the FDA last year for two forms of severe childhood epilepsy. Two drugs containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, are approved for nausea from chemotherapy and weight loss caused by AIDS.

Some GOP support

Voters appear to want Wisconsin to approve medical marijuana and also recreational use of cannabis. In November, in 16 counties and two municipalities, including some that typically support Republicans, voters overwhelmingly approved nonbinding advisory referendums — some to legalize medical marijuana, and others for recreational use.

In a oll/2019/01/24/mlsp51release/" target="_blank">Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin voters in January, 59 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal.

“The face of this debate has shifted dramatically in just the past eight to 10 years,” said Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point.

Testin and state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, a cancer survivor, are working with Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who have previously introduced a medical marijuana bill, on an updated version of the measure.

Testin said his grandfather used marijuana to ease pain and increase his appetite while dying from cancer about 20 years ago. Veterans have told him they’ve turned to cannabis to get off opioids, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that men and women who serve our country have to essentially do criminal activity to get relief,” he said.

Gary Storck, of Madison, has long used cannabis for glaucoma he developed as a child, and says it also helps with pain from arthritis and prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with last year.

Like Kinsley and Balk, Storck has no trouble getting or using cannabis, despite Wisconsin’s lack of an approved program.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL 

Bunny Balk, a grandmother of six and former real-estate broker, lives in Columbus. She is active with Americans for Safe Access, a group trying to legalize medical marijuana.

But legalization “would take away the fear factor,” said Storck, 63, who blogs at cannabadger.com.

Evers replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who opposed medical marijuana. Testin has replaced another medical marijuana critic, Leah Vukmir, as chairman of the Senate health committee. That means it’s likely the medical marijuana proposal will get a hearing this legislative session, which hasn’t happened since 2009, Storck said.

“At least it will be talked about,” he said.


BRANDON BERG, Chippewa Herald 

La Crosse Central's Johnny Davis (5) drew loud cheers from the Kohl Center crowd Friday with a dunk and an alley-oop layup. The junior has a scholarship offer from Wisconsin.


Local
La Crosse reviewing options for floodplain relief

The La Crosse Floodplain Advisory Committee is looking to try something new to lend a hand to people who can’t afford to own homes in the city’s special flood hazard area.

Jason Gilman, La Crosse City Planner

“We’re finding obviously that the grant in itself is pretty limited use. It’s been used for tear downs and complete rebuilds, but it’s not getting used for people filling basements and lifting their homes,” city planner Jason Gilman said.

In 2016, the city launched a relief program that offered $20,000 grants to qualified property owners investing in building improvements to raise a structure up out of the floodplain; however, Gilman said, the projects remain cost prohibitive even with assistance due to FEMA technical bulletin requirements.

The planning department has been looking for other options to use the $250,000 in tax increment district funding allocated for funding floodplain relief.

The idea behind the program was that it would give homeowners who are just barely in the floodplain — less than two feet under the elevation line — an option to start the process of getting their buildings out of the floodplain, saving them money on costly flood insurance and providing a boost to redevelopment.

Gilman and Sara Strassman put together options for the committee to consider, including further involvement with La Crosse County’s home rehabilitation program.

Gilman invited Brian Fukuda, the county’s community development specialist, to Thursday’s meeting to discuss how the program works.

“It’s really our effort to incentivize redevelopment,” Fukuda said.

Without county intervention, building on open space is cheaper than acquiring a property within the city and replacing it with something of higher value. The county provides grants to fill that cost gap, which boosts development in the Powell-Poage-Hamilton, Washburn and Lower Northside Depot neighborhoods.

Since 2016, the county has awarded about $600,000 in grants, which resulted in $6.4 million in new tax base and $6.1 million in private investment, he said.

The proposal being considered by the floodplain committee would be a partnership between the city and county to use the floodplain relief funding to expand the program to the full floodplain area on the North Side.

Gilman is also researching the availability of a real estate investment fund and corporate investment if they could find a developer willing to invest in energy efficient workforce housing to attract talent to La Crosse.

“We’re hoping to have more flexibility for people on the North Side especially, but citywide, too,” Gilman said.

The committee will consider the options again at its May meeting.


Jason Gilman, La Crosse City Planner