Miles & Smiles: Runners Get In Shape, Find A Goal With Athletes Serving Athletes
In a 2014 Baltimore 10K race, runner Teresa Meskey witnessed “two guys in kilt” pushing a child in a wheelchair. They wore T-shirts with “Wingman” on the back.
Curious, she investigated and discovered Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA), an organization dedicated to giving people with reduced mobility the pleasure of running.
“We hope we can give them the same running experiences and the joy of being a part of a race,” said Meskey, now ASA community coordinator in Dauphin County. “Crossing the finish line is something that should be possible for everyone to experience, regardless of their physical abilities or limitations. “
In 2007, ASA was born out of admiration for Rick and Dick Hoyt, the father-son racing team. Dick Hoyt ran with his son, unable to move himself due to spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy.
Today, the organization serves 10 communities in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
The ASA allows athletes “to meet people outside of their social circle, to be outside and to see the trees go by,” said Founder and Executive Director David Slomkowski.
The racing experience includes practice, as well as races.
One December night, in the freezing darkness of City Island, four runners stretched and jumped to warm up. They were the wingers of the ASA athletes that they would push five miles that night.
One of those athletes was Kyle Weaver. Before the race, Weaver sat in his car with his plush friend, Christmas Sloth, under his coat until it was time to load up in the racing chair. When asked if it was too cold to run, he answered “no” with an incredulous smile and an inflection that indicated it was never too cold to run.
“He loves being with everyone and running through the crowd,” said Wendy Brown, Weaver’s mother.
Leah Borian, 12, of Reading, was equally excited about the practice. While she can’t verbalize the feeling, her infectious smile and the sparkle in her eyes speak volumes.
“A woman of few words but a lot of smiles,” said Christina Beaverson, ASA winger.
Parents also benefit from the program, which allows them to run with their children and connect with other parents and runners. Leah’s father, Peter Borian, runs with her.
“It’s another way to bond with her,” Borian said.
He said his two other kids play sports, and it’s nice to be able to do that with Leah.
“Parents see that their children have no limits,” Meskey said. “Like these kids doing things their parents never thought possible.”
The only requirement for the participation of ASA athletes is limited mobility. The ASA provides specialized equipment and all race fees for the athletes.
You might think that it would be difficult for a parent to allow their child to “run away” with people. Not so, says Borian
“It’s a great organization, the volunteers are passionate and genuine,” he said.
Volunteers say they get more from the ASA experience than they give, for several reasons. First, it gives their operation another more important purpose.
“It’s not about me,” Meskey said. “It’s about my team and helping others. “
Slomkowski added that acting as a winger makes the race more enjoyable.
“It makes him come alive,” he said.
These dedicated runners aren’t immune to the call of the warm and comfy sofa. But ASA’s devotion to athletes – knowing the athletes rely on them – pushes wingers through temptation and into their running shoes.
The peculiarity of running with ASA athletes can also be emotional.
“I actually cried when we crossed the finish line,” Mesky said. “Really, it was a very powerful experience. And it wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the only time.
Any runner, at any skill level, can act as a winger for the ASA. Teams usually consist of three wingers, with a captain who is in charge of the athlete’s needs and stays in contact with the parents during the race. The teammates share the push and the team only runs as fast as the slowest runner.
“If you’re ready to run with us then you can do it,” Meskey said.
The experience of participating and finishing is the purpose of ASA, not the competition.
“We don’t care what pace we’re going,” Meskey said. “We just care about getting our team to the finish line safely.”
According to Weaver’s mother, participating in the ASA makes him feel great, but he also enjoys receiving the bling bling of the race. He ran for 10 years, so he racked up a lot. Recently, he was unable to participate in a race because he was hospitalized, but his main concern was to participate in the race and to collect his medal. Weaver also likes to give bling. He makes holiday-themed beaded keychains that he gives out at every race.
Talking to a reporter was nice and all, but there was a sure feeling there was more business to be done: run!
Borian was exuding excitement as she was strapped to her chair. Weaver was ready too, but Christmas Sloth had to get out of the jacket so they had room to buckle up Weaver.
“Ready to fly,” said one of the wingers.
After a photoshoot, they left with the wind in their heads, the smell of the off-season in the air and a feeling of freedom over five wonderful miles.
For more information on Athletes Serving Athletes, visit www.asa.run.
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