Justice Gets A New Set Of Wheels

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Pine kindergartner Justice McNeeley knew at the first sight of his Go-Bot, the state-of-the art wheelchair was going to give him newfound mobility.

"You people better watch out, here I come," the 5-year-old shouted to the crowd that surrounded him Saturday evening in front of Sidewinders Saloon.

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Jim Steinke (left) of Innovative Products, manufacturers of the Go-Bot, helps seat Justice McNeeley into his wheelchair.

The Pine watering hole was the site of a day-long benefit for Justice that included an ATV poker ride, horseshoe and pool tournaments, auctions, raffles and barbecue.

The event, and the donations leading up to it, earned the $8,500 needed to purchase the Go-Bot for the youngster.

Justice has spinal muscular atrophy -- a form of muscular dystrophy -- but refuses to let it slow him.

Last summer, he was on the Diamondbacks T-Ball team and is often seen riding horses around Pine and the Payson Event Center. He's an engaging, witty youngster, whose infectious smile warms the hearts of all who meet him.

On hand Saturday to present the new chair to Justice was Jim Steinke of Innovative Products, manufacturers of the high-tech wheelchair. Steinke traveled from North Dakota to participate in the celebration.

Prior to the presentation to Justice, his mother, former Payson Rodeo Queen Katie McNeeley, gave a tearful and emotional thanks to those who had participated in the fund-raising effort.

Steinke took the microphone and he too showed the overwhelming emotion that most every onlooker was experiencing. Steinke and Justice's father, Trent, lifted the youngster into the Go-Bot for his inaugural ride.

After tooling around the parking lot amidst the smiling crowd of adults and children alike, Justice had to be called back to be given more instructions on operating the new wheelchair.

When school opened Monday morning, he apparently was still learning the in-and-outs of the Go-Bot.

"He's been running into everything, but he'll soon learn," his mother said.

The benefit opened Saturday morning with the poker ride that drew more than 50 ATVs and some motorcycles. Justice was among those who rode in it, rambling over the twisting, primitive Forest Service road as a passenger on his father's quad.

At the time, Justice was unaware that later in the day he would receive his long-awaited Go-Bot. The wheelchair, which Steinke had brought with him, was hidden in a saloon storage room to be presented to Justice at the afternoon ceremony.

The day's celebration culminated almost a three-month long fund-raising effort that was spearheaded by a volunteer group that included Christine Burba.

In mid-July, just when the plans for the Aug. 28 benefit were picking up steam, Burba said the volunteer group was determined it would raise the money needed to purchase the chair.

Justice's mother had tried with no success to obtain the Go-Bot through insurance and state aid.

"They say it is experimental so they won't help with it," she said.

Developers of the Go-Bot say it will allow him to "explore the environment using upright, self-initiated mobility to experience a course of development more equal to his able-bodied peers." The Go-Bot also will "facilitate development in the areas of language, socialization, self-esteem, visual-motor and upper extremity function."

Watching Justice ride it for the first time Saturday afternoon, it was obvious the Go-Bot will probably do all that -- and more.

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