How in the world did people ever come to think that just because you have a disability you can’t have big dreams, high hopes, and great expectations? I often wonder about this when I see people make Facebook posts or make flippant statements that are judgmental and ignorant. It makes me wish that they would spend some time with one of my children just so they could see for themselves their lack of insight.
“People are people first,” says Kathie Snow, who has an extraordinary website of resources for understanding this concept. (I highly recommend her e-newsletter if you are passionate about inclusion and advocacy for people with disabilities.) Indeed. People are people first. Why do we limit each other by putting definitions on capabilities? How did we get so far away from presuming competence, FIRST?
It is so easy within families, among friends, and even in the community of supporters, to ensure that disability and differences are irrelevant. We don’t seek to work ON those with disabilities, but WITH them. We don’t do FOR them, but WITH them. This has been the impetus for a new venture I am taking on here in Lynchburg, VA where I live, and it started with a vibrant, always-smiling young woman named Jenna.
I first met Jenna at the Pink Power Triathlon in Midlothian, VA in August 2012. My first encounter with her was waiting in line to get my chip timer. I overheard the most-fun laughing and started searching for who it was and what was going on, because whoever it was, they were having a blast and I wanted in! As she passed by me in her green tie-dyed shirt, tears immediately started to well up. See, Jenna had a race bib pinned to her shirt. I realize looking back on this initial encounter that Jenna became my focus during my first sprint triathlon. Every time I got to spot her on the course, my smile got bigger. This was true evidence that someone along the way believed in big dreams, high hopes, and great expectations to enable her to be a triathlete.
I watched with excitement as she jumped inside the bike trailer for the bike, and then in her running chair for the run. I also paid close attention to her incredible helpers throughout, including her mom, Beth. I couldn’t move my body fast enough to the finish line to try to connect with Beth to hear her story and figure out how to make this happen in Lynchburg.
As I have grown up into personal weight loss and physical fitness over the past 2 years, my kids have watched my transformation. Jasmine, my 8 year old, has always been quick to ask when I was going running, or when was my next race. Then, it clicked. Like most kids when they express interest in an activity, us moms try our best to make it happen for them. I had always passed off the thought that she’d have ambitions for fitness. I mean, she loves to run, jump, swim, play, etc. But, I was putting limits on her because of her Down syndrome. How sad for me. I was that person that believed it wasn’t possible for her…until Jenna changed that for me.
Through a great encounter and conversation with Jeff Evans, it was the kick in the pants I needed to make this happen for her. I resolved to try. I had no idea where to start so I reached out to Beth in Richmond, who introduced me and enveloped me right in to the great work of United Athletics.
I was so nervous. I had never seen anyone in Central Virginia race with athletes needing assistance. I decided in October it was time. I talked with the organizers of the Poplar Forest 5K and asked if I could safely push Jasmine, as a registered participant. They said yes. I bundled her up good (it was cold!) and we set out. Even though she was excluded from age group awards, she was listed in the overall results. She said to me as we left, “When’s the next race?”
So I scrambled again and registered her for the Run 4 Their Lives 10K, after talking with the race director. He said “Absolutely, sign her up!” When we were done, she wanted to see her name on the results page that were posted. The smile on her face was brilliant! The encouragement that she (and I) received on the course was immeasurable and overwhelming. It felt so right and good. They didn’t see her disability – they saw her participation!
Winter has brought a lot of continued planning and organization. I woke up the Sunday after the Girls on the Run 5K (for which I was a Coach at R.S. Payne Elementary School) to read an inspiring article about Miss Trinity. This was the validation I needed to launch big in Central Virginia. I stayed up late, created a Facebook page, and started sharing the page with everyone I could. United Athletics Lynchburg was finally here. Following the launch, I met the selfless helpers — Susan and Jerry — that have continued to assist Trinity in competing in 3 additional races since the Girls on the Run 5K. They even started a fundraising page to help Trinity get a durable race chair (and they raised over $3000 in about a month’s time!).
The movement is growing. When people choose to listen with their ears, eyes, and most importantly, heart, nothing is impossible. Within families, among friends, and truly within community, disability is irrelevant. Michael and his son, Aaron, also got involved and participated in 2 races.
2013 holds new opportunity for a whole untapped portion of our region. This newly gained ground is creating an inclusive environment by pairing individuals who require physical assistance to participate in racing events with other local athletes, allowing these individuals and their families to experience the joys of racing.
Jasmine will participate in 3 (THREE!!) sprint triathlons this year: Angels Race (4/14), Richmond Tri (4/27), and Pink Power (8/18). A year ago, I would have thought this unfathomable. I will assist her in this by pulling her in a raft and bike trailer, and push her in her jogging chair as a REGISTERED participant. Her pleas to join in the fun are being answered. As she shouts often on a practice run, training swim, or race course, “Go faster, Mommy!,” I am praying I can keep up with her 🙂 LOL!
United Athletics Lynchburg is operating under the parent group, United Athletics. We are going to see where we can continue to enable big dreams, high hopes, and great expectations so that those whom so many people say, “but you have a disability,” finally awaken to the amazing inspiration of these opportunities. The number of community supporters have grown and each new day, someone steps forward, putting aside their notions of what is or isn’t possible, saying what can I do help?
Kathie Snow says that we are best to not only view people as people first, but to help others learn how to help themselves in their own way. This is what this dream is about. Uniting together in a common bond of struggle, challenge, and crossing the finish line – TOGETHER.
If you know of someone with a disability who would be interested in road races and triathlons, cycle rides and open water swims, please have them, their parent or guardian register them online here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/UnitedAthleticsReg.
Also, if you desire to be a helper, please click this link to sign up. All the best to you as your chase your dreams and help others do the same!