The following was written by my friend Barb. I am in awe of her, as she is the first special needs mom that I ever got to know quite personally–more than just an acquaintance. She is an awesome mom, advocate, a force to be reckoned with…and quite inspirational as you will see from what she’s written for us.
Last spring I decided to go to the doctor because I was bone tired exhausted. After running a bunch of blood tests to rule out several things my doctor tells me it is stress? He says “hey you have a special needs child and work full time, your stress level is very high. You need to find an outlet. Maybe you should try walking or working out.” In my mind I hear hysterical laughter because me and working out go together about as well as the north pole and penguins. But to prove him wrong I start walking around the neighborhood 3 days a week. And darn it if I don’t start feeling a little better. Sometimes I hate when he is right.
So after a month of walking there is a big local race on TV and as I am out walking along I start to wonder if I could run a block. So I give it a try and hey what do you know, I made it! And best part i didn’t keel over! Then a friend tells me she ran in the 5K at that big race and I should do a 5K too because you know it’s only 3.1 miles (ack). Again, I hear that hysterical laughing in my head, but I decided to try to do that distance in my neighborhood. I wanted to die and kept thinking “yup this is going to kill me.” But then I finished and realized I did it under 50 minutes first time out. Which admittedly is slow, but hey I did it so yay! So I decided to increase my walks to run/walks and once a week threw in a 5K distance.
After a few months of that realized that I was less tired and had more energy to do things with my son. I was happier in general because I felt better. Bonus some of those pounds that I had been trying to shed forever finally started to come off!
So in a moment of bravery (or maybe insanity) around Christmas I signed up for a 5K. I realized I must be crazy because hey, I am not really a runner. I am more of a plodder around kind of person, but I’ve committed to it so now I’ve got to do it. I posted about it on Facebook so that my friends will hold me accountable and make me do it. Then one special friend from Colorado asks me if I’ve ever heard of Athletes in Tandem. Nope never, but I look them up at www.athletesintandem.org and find out that they do some pretty cool things with special needs athletes. They get them out having fun. Give them a chance to compete in road races, dualathlons and triathlons. They give them a chance to focus on something fun and not just medical stuff. But I didn’t see where they are doing anything in my area so I emailed the founder, Dennis Vanderheiden.
I ended up hang a very nice conversation with Dennis. We talked about the possibility of starting a chapter here in CNY. I admitted to him my lack of experience in anything involving athletics. He said we can work around that. Told me where I could find a jogging stroller. So on July 4 of this year I started running with my son. Again, I thought that this would be the death of me. What I discovered was that running with him is so much more than I ever thought it could be.
I hook up my iPhone to the handle bar and we listen to a hodgepodge of music and we get updates from my Map My Run app that tells us how far we have run and how fast (or slow as the case may be). He laughs when I say how slow we are going. He yells at me when I start walking. Then laughs when I tell him to quit complaining I am dying back here!
On Saturday August 3 we attempted and finished our first 5k. It was supposed to be a nice, small, local 5K. And it was small and local. It was nice. It was harder than hell! It is called the Grizzly 5K in Manilius, NY if you want to do a super hard run. I had no idea the hills that were on this course. I would have had a hard time doing this course without Rhys. But I don’t think I would have finished without him either. I wanted him to cross that finish line. I loved his smile when the volunteers would cheer us on. So we finished in 46:05. Never been so happy to cross a finish line in my life!
This is us about 2.8 miles in – I’m smiling because I can hear the music at the finish so I know it is almost over at this point. And then at the finish with our crazy slow time – but we were not last – there were 9 people that finished after us.
Then we got permission to run in another local small event that doesn’t normally allow jogging strollers, but they made an exception when I wrote to the event organizer and explained that I wanted to push my non-mobile non-verbal son. This race went better as it was super flat and it was a cool morning.Our stretch goal was to finish in 40 minutes – we killed that at 37:45! Best part was my husband had the day off from work so he was there to cheer us on! We also finally had our own stroller for this race. We had borrowed a friends for the others.
Then on August 24, we were racing in the Turning Stone Races. Dennis flew in from Colorado to help us try and kick-off our chapter. We had 4 teams that ran in the 5K and two teams that would be running the half marathon on the 25th. As we were unloading equipment to get ready for the race a woman comes up to me and introduces herself. She says I saw you race the week before. She wants to know if there is a way she can help push in future events so I start to ell her all about Athletes in Tandem. Turns out she is a triathlete and not only wants to push in road races, but wants to help in tris as well. So a great start and we haven’t even run yet!!!
So here are our four racing teams pre-race:
Dennis pushed 21 year old Becky (she has spina-bifida), Jennifer pushed Abby (a 6 year old CP), I pushed my 10 year old son Rhys (CP) and Howard pushed his 17 year old step daughter Emily (CP).
Dennis and Becky finished so fast that she won overall female. The race organizers had us register the kids as individuals, but hat back fired when Becky won as some people grumbled that she shouldn’t have been awarded a prize as she didn’t actually run. So to solve this problem, in the future we are registering just one bib number an giving the kids any swag that comes along with it. Oh well haters are gonna hate right? Here are Becky and Dennis finishing. Obviously Becky had a ball and it was worth any grief we were given. She is doing a race with us again this weekend with Jennifer pushing her. Becky is so inspired by Dennis that she is started to try and walk further and wants to finish the last half mile of this weekend’s race on her own. She needs to hold onto the jogger for balance, but she wants to finish on her own and we are all for that – love that it may inspire more independence in her life!
Howard and Emily finished in 27:38 – a very respectable time! Then they turned around and raced again the next morning in the half marathon. We stopped at several points along the race route and Emily had the same smile from start to finish – that was two hours of smiling! This is the two of them in the half:
Jen/Abby and me/Rhys finished together in 37:07 – first time Rhys and I ever finished in less than a 12:00 minute mile so I was excited. My husband told me that there was a guy who saw us coming around the corner at the finish and yelled out “here come the wheelchair people…. everybody yell” and I can tell you they did. It was amazing the cheering and Jen and I both choked up as we crossed the line. It was so emotional to push him across that line because all of our friends and family were there waiting. All of his grandparents were there cheering for him – just priceless.
Here are the photos of Jen I and finishing with our kiddos you can see when we realized how many people are cheering and we tried to kick it up.
The next morning was the half marathon and Dennis pushed Rhys and Howard again pushed Emily. These guys were amazing! The 5K was at 5 pm on Saturday and the half was the next morning at 8am. I barely can finish a 5k and then to turn around and do a half (13.1 miles!) pushing someone else – just amazing. Even more amazing is the woman who stopped me in the parking garage for the 5k ended up pushing Abby in the 10k on Sunday morning. Again another amazing individual!
Rhys and Dennis at the start and finishing – check out his insane time they finished 31st!
My son’s general education teacher came up to us after the half as he had just finished. He said to Rhys – “well you and I are going to have a lot to tell the class on the first day of school this year! Be sure to bring in your race medals so we can show them off to the other kids!” So now Rhys has a “typical” thing to share with his classmates this year. We have at least 4 more races this year as long as he stays healthy. So nice to have things to look forward to that don’t involve doctors or therapy appointments. So nice to have my son get so excited about going out.
If you are interested in finding out more information about Athletes in Tandem please look them up on the web or on Facebook. You can also reach out to Dennis Vanderheiden at email@example.com or you can call (970) 217-6751.
Athletes in Tandem is a non-profit organization and donations are always welcome as the jogging strollers alone cost about $900 a piece.
Even if you don’t have an organization like this in your area I encourage you to get out there and do some kind of athletic activity with your child – you will both get a lot out of it!
We have done horseback riding, swimming, and snow tubing with our son and he loves all of it. If it has to do with the outdoors or some sort of physical activity he is all about it. What I have noticed is that in the first race we did people were amazed that we were out there doing this in the second race they cheered us on louder and smiled with us more and talked to us more. In the third race people started to ask more questions and show an interest in helping out. So the more you get out there, the more people will realize they can help make a difference. Dennis has no individuals with special needs in his family, but he saw a need that he knew he could help with. That is what it is all about!
and just because I think my family is beautiful – here is a recent family shot from our florida vacation at Gatorland
I think your family is beautiful too, both inside and out. Thanks for contributing and sharing this great information with us.