Once a week, for about a half hour, fifth-grader Claudio Chavez and a handful of his classmates at Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley get to do some of the same things that "regular" kids can.
The children, all confined to wheelchairs, grunt their way through a series of arm dips and pull-ups on a course designed to help strengthen muscles and increase stamina.
But unlike courses with individual exercise stations that have been popping up in parks and playgrounds across the country, the one at the Garden Grove school grounds is designed specifically for the handicapped.
"As far as I know, it's the only one in the area," said Principal Ed Riediger of the $20,000 wheelchair course, designed by Stanford University and the Arizona Heart Institute. "It was installed this summer in response to jogging courses installed for non-handicapped people."
The money for the course came from Simi Valley Unified School District and donations, including a $4,000 grant from Wells Fargo Bank.
Covering about two acres of the grassy area between Garden Grove's center for its orthopedic students and the main classrooms, the course has 10 stations and 20 different exercises.
Geraldine Wilson, who teaches the intermediate class of handicapped students, and an assistant keep careful watch as the students maneuver through the various exercises.
"I like the pulling two bars," said Chavez, 11, referring to one exercise that resembles the parallel bars in gymnastics. With Wilson's help, Chavez is able to lift his arms, grip the two bars and pull himself through the middle while remaining in his wheelchair.
Another student, 11-year-old Craig Peterson, shows off his strong upper-body control at the slalom exercise, where he weaves his wheelchair through a maze of wooden poles.
An advantage of the exercise course is not only to build physical strength in youngsters and adults confined to wheelchairs, but to add emotional strength as well, Wilson said.