My Experience Racing at the Semper Fi 5K With The Help of Ainsley’s Angels

Dear Readers,

If you are familiar with my blog, you may remember how I first mentioned my encounter with Ainsley’s Angels at the 2016 Ability Expo in Virginia. As well as offering information, they allowed me to “test ride,” one of their actual chairs. While my runner and I took a short jog around the building, I felt free. If you’ve been in a wheelchair for a considerable amount of time, you may understand what I mean- always having something up against your back to support you. Though I was supported in the race chair, I was able to feel the air against my face and back. For just a moment, I felt like a runner with the wind of against my face; albeit, my partner. I was borrowing my partner’s legs. But I wasn’t just a person with a disability anymore; I wanted more of this feeling..

So I signed up on a email list to be notified about upcoming races

It wasn’t until this April that the races happened to be in our area. It was then that I contacted the event organizer for our area (Katy). Unfortunately, she was unable to get a runner for this race, but she would definitely have a chair for the next race. In the meantime, she wanted to learn more about me and my disability to properly  match me with a team. My dad emailed her the specifics of my disability as well as other info.

Now we waited.

Finally, Katy emailed us back and said there was a chair available for me in the next race. She said it would be slightly more tilted than the other chair I had been in so I would be able to see more of the race. I was ecstatic. But how was I going to record the race for my friends who were unable to attend. It was then that I looked into getting a GoPro; for those of you unfamiliar with GoPro, this is a very small camera able to record or take pictures of action events, such as surfing, etc.. It can be attached to one’s body and left running to record the actual event itself. What’s unique about the GoPro is that it can be remotely controlled by a cell phone using Bluetooth interface. In other words, those that are disabled and unable to press buttons on a camera can control a camera just as easily through a app.

But that’s another story for another time.

So it was a go. I was set to race in the Semper Fi 5K. This race was in an effort to raise money for a fund in the same name, which supports those who are wounded during the war and need help adjusting when they return home as a civilian. So, on Saturday, my parents and I got up at 5 AM in order to drive and meet the group at East Potomac Park by 715 a.m. In all there were 12 teams, one for each disabled person, and 22 runners that pushed the racing chairs. My chair had a flag that said “Team Debbie” and my team runners were Amy and Jackie. Amy is a schoolteacher and Jackie is a Intel analyst and retired from the Army. Before the race started, every chair was tested and taken for a test run. They secured me with a chest strap and I was ready to go. As it turned out, this was Jackie’s first race with the Angels as well as mine; we both had to get used to how Phoenix (our chair) moved as well as felt. When everyone arrived, we decided to take a picture around the Reflection Pool by the Lincoln Memorial. (See below)

As our team arrived at the starting line, I was filled with anticipation. Would I get that feeling again? Would I temporarily forget about my spasms and remember who I was doing this for? Not only to feel that freedom without my wheelchair, but to support those wounded in war. After all, they sometimes find themselves in similar circumstances- in wheelchairs, wearing prosthetics and coping with their new circumstances. As I listened to the Star-Spangled banner, I thought about this and became deeply moved. Thanks to their sacrifice, I live in a country where I have my freedom. I’m not just talking about physical freedom here, but religious freedom as well.

But I digress.

I don’t remember if there was a gun to signal the beginning of the race, but next thing I know we were off. Amy decided to run first pushing my wheelchair along as Jackie ran beside me. A gentle breeze kept me cool as the pavement pounded beneath my chair; even though I was sitting down, I felt like I was running. I tried my best to take in the scenery, but we were going pretty. During the race, I heard an occasional spectator yell “Go Team Debbie” as we sped past. Occasionally, I had the opportunity to speak to Jackie about my future plans as she ran beside me. (see below)

At around Mile #1, a motorcycle policeman passed us; they were there with Park officials to make sure all the runners were safe.I believe it was then that Jackie took over for Amy and Amy walked beside me. I was quiet for a bit as I tried to take in the scenery around me. As we reached the turn around point, I was surprised as a man with racing prostatics sped past. “That’s who I’m doing this for people like him- injured in war.” I thought. Whoever this man was, he was not letting anything stop them.

Reaching the final lap, Amy and Jackie decided to swap over bridge. (My apologies if you guys swapped more and I didn’t notice. I was just trying to enjoy the scenery and take it all in). Another thing I really liked about racing with the Angels is that fellow racers didn’t look at me as someone with a disability, they looked at me as a fellow runner and cheered me on! There was a camaraderie there. We crossed the finish line in record time about 25 minutes as the song “The Eye of the Tiger” played. (See below)

As we waited for the others to finish, I took a lot of pictures to memorialize my first race. I got my team’s phone numbers and email addresses so that I would be able to keep contact with them in the future. Not only did I have the opportunity to participate in my first 5K race, but I have developed so many friends in the process. The first being that of Katy (the event coordinator); without her, none of this would have been possible. Thank you Katy for your tireless work on our behalf making sure that we have every opportunity to participate and gain a new sense of freedom in these events. (See below)
Another big round of applause goes to the many volunteers that offer to race in these events. Without them, people like me would not be able to participate in these events. To my team (Amy and Jackie), thanks for letting me borrow your legs for the day; you will never know what it meant to me being able to feel that air in my face as you raced your hearts out. For once, I didn’t have to worry about being seen as a person in a wheelchair, I was just a person. Even though we just met, you took time to get to know me and treated me like a friend. Your friendship means the world to me.I know I can only speak on my experience, but I’m sure other participants may have similar experiences that they can’t always express. Just know we appreciate your time and effort trying to make it the best experience for all of us.

Thank you everyone! 

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