Queen’s We Are the Champions blared from the speakers at Akron’s Lock 3 Park on Monday as Jacob Looman joined other racers gathered before Saturday’s running of the All-American Soap Box Derby.
For Jacob, 10, the walk with fellow champions was something that was not a certainty just a few years before.
Jacob, a fifth-grader, developed Guillain-Barre syndrome in 2008. Within a matter of hours, he went from being an active 6-year-old to becoming paralyzed and on a ventilator.
Jacob spent more than 100 days in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He then needed 24-hour care at home and has undergone numerous surgeries.
It began as a cold and low-grade fever. Within two days, the fever spiked. By the next morning, he could not stand up. By evening, he lost all movement in his body. Guillian-Barre syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves.
Even today, “Big Jake” as his family calls him, suffers from paralysis of his feet and ankles. He walks with the help of orthopedic devices on his feet and ankles.
He qualified for Saturday’s race by winning in Madison, Wis.
His parents, Marie Linkie Looman, 42, originally from Jackson Township, and Jonathan Looman, 41, of Tallmadge, met while derby racing in 1982.
His father went to the All-American in 1982 and won two heats. His mother raced in the All-American in 1983 and 1984. She readily admits she didn’t fare very well.
The family’s derby connections do not end there. Marie’s brother, Michael Linkie, of Canton, raced in the 1983 All-American race. And Marie’s grandfather, James Linkie, Sr., who died in April at age 99, volunteered for the All-American for about 20 years. Jonathan’ father still volunteers.
Jacob said he remembers when he became ill and could not move. A recent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., added donor bone to his feet and released the Achilles’ tendons to help him walk better.
The surgery, his mother said, allows Jacob’s feet to bend easier while walking, but he is not expected to ever regain full use of them.
Jacob’s grandfather, Will Looman, bought him a kit car two year ago and took him to watch the local races.
After the car was built, he raced in the Madison race last year and won this year.
Jacob’s brother, Joshua, 8, hopes to race next year.
His parents said Jacob’s illness brought the family closer together and has made them grateful for things big and small.
“We can’t take things for granted,” Jacob’s mother said.
“When you have a child or grandchild or niece or nephew who comes as close as Jacob did to losing his life, you appreciate” life so much more, his mother said.
Jacob said he brought some good-luck charms to Akron, including a lucky penny and a rabbit’s foot.
“I want to win,” he said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at email@example.com.