by Ann Allen
~The everyday kindness of the back roads, more than makes up for the agony of the headlines By Charles Kuralt
Life is beautiful. Ah, such a cliché, but sometimes it feels like that when people are put in your life at the right time, in the right place, and wearing running shoes. This is the story of how my family joined the running community.
On Sunday, April 14, 2013, a woman approached my husband and me and handed us a brochure, inviting my son, Eric, who has ATR-X syndrome, to participate in an organization I had never heard of, myTEAM Triumph, which partners mentor athletes and people with special needs. It looked interesting, but the brochure sat on our kitchen counter, without me giving it much thought.
The very next day, however, I heard the devastating news about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. That evening, my husband, Don, and I simultaneously decided to join the running community. The next thing I knew, I was filling out forms to enter the Oshkosh Half Marathon/5K for my husband Don, our 19-year old son, Eric, and me.
It was an emotional morning on race day from the moment we pulled into the parking lot that was reserved for mTT runners, volunteers, and the captains. I waited in the car with Eric, as Don went to check out the situation before we took Eric out of the warm car. Don came back to the car and could barely get his words out, as he struggled to fight back tears. “You just have to go in there and see it for yourself,” he was barely able to mutter. I walked out into the 40-degree cold and saw a mom and her 2 boys standing around an empty stroller as one of the boys tugged down his hat and looked at me with a big smile. I quickly turned around in order to take a minute to gain my composure, as I realized they were standing out in the frigid wind as the sun was barely rising, waiting for Eric. I turned around and saw a flurry of red, as workers and volunteers outfitted a group of “captains” in their running chairs, tugging on straps, tucking in blankets, and strapping down feet to ensure safety. The respect, love, and dedication that poured forth from the smiling team of workers was everywhere I turned. I introduced myself as Eric’s mom and met the volunteers that were assigned to take care of him. They got Eric into his running chair as he watched with interest, and once again, workers cinched straps, tucked in blankets, and spoke to us regarding what to expect.
Then we were escorted to the beginning of the starting line. The announcer welcomed myTEAM Triumph as cheers went up for our group. The mood quickly turned somber as the Star Spangled Banner was sung and words were spoken in memory of the runners and spectators injured or killed in Boston. The tragedy gripped our hearts as we listened to the stories from several runners who had been there the previous week.
Finally, the horn signaled the start of the race! As I ran, I heard words of encouragement for my son. Great job, Eric! Hi Captain Eric. You’re looking good, Eric!
Other mothers may have heard these words for their sons at Little League, soccer practice, or baseball games, but this was the first time for me! I wanted to stop every one of those people and give them a hug and tell them how much their words were like salve to wounds I didn’t even know existed in my heart. But I just smiled, high-fiving a few runners, thinking to myself how beautiful this sport was that allowed my son to feel the chilly breeze blow across his cheeks, hear the sound of tennis shoes pounding the pavement and watch the flurry of runners clad in colorful t-shirts bobbing up and down around him.
This encouragement continued throughout the race from fellow runners and spectators alike while Eric, our non-verbal little guy wore an expression on his face indicating that he knew EXACTLY what the other runners were saying to him.
The race ended as it had begun. More tears streamed from my face as we crossed the finish line. MyTEAM Triumph was waiting for us and congratulated us on the run. They bent down and gave Eric big, strong, sincere, congratulatory hugs. Parenting a child with special needs can be a lonely, even alienating role at times. However, now Eric was part of team, a team that “had his back” literally, and this outpouring of love and acceptance for our little guy, was indescribable. Although Eric may never take his first step like other children do, the running community facilitated him taking his first step into a new chapter of his life.
I know there are other couples out there who long for a faster pace, who watch their child sit in the same room, looking out the same window, and settle in to this new normal, reluctantly at first, and then blindly, too weary and beaten down to dare want for more. If you relate to these feelings, please find a chapter of myTEAM Triumph near you, or start one yourself. You don’t have to be a runner; just find runners who are compassionate and want to share their passion with people who will inspire them beyond measure.
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
By Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize, 1984
Ann is mother to two children, Tess, 25 and Eric 23. Eric was born with a rare syndrome, Alpha Thalassemia Mental Retardation syndrome (ATR-X). Ann was a teacher for 28 years while raising her family, and just recently retired so she could be at home to care for Eric. Ann and her family love nature and outdoor activities. In traveling the road of parenting a child with special needs, Ann and her husband, Don, have had to be very purposeful in finding activities that were inclusive for Eric. If they didn’t find them, they created them. She has a passion to share some ideas that worked for her family and may work for yours, as well.
Ann, her husband, Don, and their children began running with myTEAM Triumph in 2013. MyTEAM Triumph’s mission statement is to enrich the health and well being of individuals with disabilities by fostering lasting, authentic relationships through the teamwork environment of endurance athletics. To learn more about myTEAM Triumph check out their website. http://myteamtriumph.org/
To find out if there is a chapter near you, Ann recommends this site. http://www.myteamtriumph.org/chapters.html
Stay tuned for Ann’s next post about the physical and emotional benefits of running to Eric, her family, and their community.