Unified sports advocates from Carmel, Noblesville to lead 500 Festival Parade

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Mitch Bonar and Abby Abel display their Grand Marshal T-shirts. (Photo provided by Charles Jischke, Purdue Athletics)

Growing up, Abby Abel was a regular 500 Festival Parade visitor. She’ll have a much different view this year.

“It’s pretty cool now to be leading the parade,” Abel said.

Abel and her friend, Mitch Bonar, were named Grand Marshals of the IPL 500 Festival Parade, set to begin at 11:45 a.m. May 26. The Indy 500 is the next day, and Abel and Bonar will participate in laps around the track before the race begins. The pair was honored to highlight the good work high school and college students are doing as part of the unified sports movement, which unites people with and without intellectual disabilities.

500 Festival representatives surprised Abel at her Play Unified Basketball Tournament at Purdue April 16.

“It was breathtaking,” Abel said of the surprise.

Abel, a 2015 Carmel High School graduate and Purdue women’s basketball player, started the unified tournament as a freshman.

“It’s cool to see how (the unified tournament) evolved and for them to think our story is good enough and should be celebrated at the 500 parade,” Abel said.

Abel and Bonar, a 2015 Noblesville High School graduate, became fast friends through their work with Champions Together, a collaboration of Special Olympics and the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

“It’s a huge honor to represent and be the voice for those that don’t have a voice,” said Bonar, who was born with cerebral palsy. “I’ve always struggled with my ability to make true friends due to people not being totally accepting of my disabilities.”

Bonar said unified sports show the differences are not that great.

“This is my first ever parade/race,” said Bonar, who attends Ivy Tech in Noblesville. “I was born here in Indiana, so it’s an incredible experience to have this opportunity.”

Abel said she is eager to share the story of her friendship with Bonar.

“He’s really inspired me to go on with the Play Unified movement and bring it to my college,” Abel said. “It’s great to share this with my best friend.”

Abel has watched as her unified tournament has grown.

“We tripled the size of the event,” Abel said. “This year I was no longer contacting people, people were contacting me.”

Purdue athletes from various sports help Abel with the tournament.

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