Easter Seals Ambassador drives on Day 1 of Targa Newfoundland

ST JOHN'S (September 9, 2007) -- Driving in an event as spectacular as the Steelback Targa Newfoundland would be thrilling for any teenager, but for 17-year-old Justin Mercer it is extra special.

Mercer, who has cerebral palsy, was among a packed field of performance drivers to take the start on Sunday at the sixth-annual automotive adventure known as the Steelback Targa Newfoundland.

"It felt wonderful for me," he said Sunday, adding: "It's a chance to show the general public that disabled people can do this."

The enthusiastic teen is the 2007 Easter Seals Ambassador, and was offered the opportunity as part of the event's longtime relationship with the charity. A paraplegic, he drives using special hand controls.

As his mother looked on with tears in her eyes, Mercer powered up his specially adapted Mazda and started off from downtown Newfoundland. The family, who hails from Upper Island Cove, Nfld., turned out in full force to watch young Mercer's motorsports debut. Even Mercer's grandmother was in attendance.

"It's a thrill to see Justin do something like this," said his father, Ed Mercer. "When he was born, I never even dreamed he'd be able to get up and walk."

Other competitors were equally impressed, and the young architecture student's drive was received with enthusiasm by even the most veteran members of the assembled field.

The Steelback Targa Newfoundland is one of three internationally recognized Targa motorsports events in the world and is listed on the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA) international calendar. This year marks the sixth running of the contest, which starts and ends in St. John's. It covers 2,200 kilometres of the challenging, twisty roads of the central and eastern portion of the island of Newfoundland.

On Sunday (September 9), teams completed a pair of preliminary stages -- known as Prologue stages -- in the communities of Flatrock and Torbay near St. John's. On Monday, the competition heats up in the North Avalon region.

The event is owned and organized by Newfoundland International Motorsports.

Official charity: Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador www.easterseals.nf.ca

-credit: www.targanewfoundland.com