The last few months have been especially good ones for Sacajuwea Hunter. To start with, Hunter, 14, competed in a special exhibition at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics.
Hunter, who lost both her legs as a child, has received a new wheelchair and a new set of artificial legs, and she and her family recently moved into a new house near RFK Stadium in Southeast.
Hunter and her family needed all the good news. In June the family lost its Southeast home in a fire that took the life of one of Hunter's three foster brothers, 10-year-old John McIntyre, who suffered from cerebral palsy. The family also lost all of its household possessions, including Hunter's artificial legs.
Despite the family tragedy, Hunter came in fourth in the women's 800-meter race at the Disabled Olympics at the Summer Olympics. Her hard-won athletic achievements, coupled with publicity surrounding the family's misfortune, have turned the shy seventh-grader into a local celebrity.
"Everybody at school wants to shake my hand," said Hunter, with a laugh. "When they see me, they say stuff like, 'Watch out, here comes the Olympic winner.' I got the chance to go, and I tell people, 'Just concentrate on what you really want to do.' "
Within weeks after she returned from Los Angeles to a hero's welcome, the city's Department of Human Services gave her a new wheelchair. Previously she had used one lent to her by New Life Inc., an athletic organization of about 90 handicapped youths created by Hunter's coach, Bill Greene.
"I was very happy about the wheelchair," said Hunter. "It's an everyday wheelchair, not the racing kind, but I can use it to play basketball and tennis."
Private donations to the Hunter family have topped $3,600, according to WJLA-TV public affairs manager Mary Braxton, who coordinated the fund-raising efforts. The station contributed $400 and presented the Hunters with a $4,000 check last month toward the purchase of a new pair of artificial legs, which Hunter uses mostly to get around at the Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill.
But the artificial limbs, which arrived last week, cost a total of $4,899, and the family must make up the difference.
"They'll just have to bill me and wait," said Wilma Hunter, Sacajuwea's mother. "The donations for Sacajuwea have stopped coming in, and after being burned out there's so many little things you have to buy. I keep finding I need the small things, like needles and thread."
The Hunters were nearing the end of a process to adopt the three McIntyre brothers when the fire occurred after the children were left in the care of Wilma Hunter's 21-year-old son. Afterward the city officials responsible for the children halted the adoption, but in August a Superior Court judge ruled that the process could continue.
Sacajuwea Hunter was adopted by the couple seven years ago.
All of her problems have been alleviated," said Greene, who interested Hunter in racing competitively, "but people don't realize that now we have 90 other Sacajuweas to provide for."