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Local race continues to honor memory of Justin Pressley

The first fundraiser without his brother will be a surreal moment — a sad moment — but a worthwhile moment for Luke Pressley.

His brother, Justin Pressley, was an advocate for the disabled in the community before he died in 2018, but Luke is carrying on the ADA Memorial 5K, 10K and 1 Mile Fun Run Saturday, July 27, on the Gainesville square.

ADA Memorial 5K, 10K and 1 Mile Fun Run

What: Fundraiser for Access to a Better Tomorrow, a local nonprofit benefiting the disabled

When: 7 a.m. Saturday, July 27

Where: Gainesville square

How much: $25 for fun run and 5K, $30 for 10K

More info: Race signup

“We want to continue this legacy he left for the race,” Luke said. “So that’s one reason you'll see us on Saturday, is kind of honoring his life.”

The event, scheduled 7 to 10 a.m. with races beginning at 8:15 a.m., will serve as a fundraiser — registration for the fun run and 5k is $25 while the 10k is $30 — for Access to a Better Tomorrow, the local nonprofit Justin founded. Luke now serves as its president and plans to use the funds to help a local high school student.

“This is one of our largest fundraisers, and this year's proceeds, we're going to set up a scholarship fund in honor of my brother,” Luke said. “We’ll try to get a yearly, ongoing scholarship for a local high school student that's disabled.”

Luke said he expects about 200 people, including volunteers, to be at the event. They usually raise $7,000 to $10,000 after expenses, and he’s hoping for much of the same this year.

Other proceeds from the race will go to the North Georgia Screamin’ Eagles, a local power soccer team Justin founded.

Justin suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident when he was 16. The accident left him quadriplegic, but he used the disability to help others in his same situation. 

On top of Access to a Better Tomorrow, Justin co-founded the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville. He founded the Georgia Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund and was an officer with the Access Center for Independent Living and Access Hall County, Inc. He was also a founding board member of Our Neighbor Inc. and served on the Georgia Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission.

“He was  a warrior in the disability community,” Luke said. “That was his passion. He kind of didn't let his disability hold him back. There wasn't anything he didn't think was possible. So in that spirit, I kind of feel obligated to continue on his legacy that he left. And if we can help some local folks, that would basically give purpose for what he had put together over the years.”

Recently, the event has done just that.

A Boy Scout in need received an Action Trackchair, an all-terrain wheelchair, that helped him stay connected with his troop and go to camps. Other money raised in past years has helpd pay for computers and voice software for disabled people.

While those things are important, Luke said Access to a Better Tomorrow tries to focus on the power soccer team as much as it can.

“To be real honest, a lot of our money goes toward the power soccer team and travel expenses for the team and tournament fees,” Luke said. “What we found is … (disabled people) aren’t connected to the community. And when you put them in a team sport environment where they can be competitive, where they can have the camaraderie of a team, it really gives them a purpose and helps them connect back in to the community.”
But the event is also a way to get the word out about the organization and let people know that there’s a community in the area that Luke said sometimes gets overlooked.

Bringing attention to the disabled is what his brother spent the majority of his life doing, so that’s what Luke plans to do, too.

“There's a community here that is vibrant and can really provide some diversity even in the workplace,” Luke said. “There's a lot of talented individuals that if you can look past the disability — which everybody has a little bit of something — that they can really be an integral part of the community,” Luke said.

Reporter Nick Watson contributed to this story.

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