OCT 2015 - POWER TO PUSH
Ainsley’s Angels Power to Push
Evans Family Completes Run Across America!
"The only disability in life is a bad attitude"
By Laura Clark
Spy a pink T-shirt, pink ribbon or pink cap in October and we automatically make the connection with the annual ‘fight to end breast cancer’ campaign. But there is another pink that is making its journey into the Capital Region – the bright pink of the Ainsley’s Angels Chariot brigade.
For pink is Ainsley Rossiter’s favorite color and Ainsley, a young girl with Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, is the inspiration behind Ainsley’s Angels (ainsleysangels.org), a nationwide organization that supplies running chariots so that wheelchair-bound athletes can feel the wind in their face. I must admit it. I had my doubts. I could readily picture how including a child with mobility issues in normal family activities would be therapeutic, but I didn’t appreciate the physical sensations involved. Not until I started training to become an Ainsley’s Angel and took my turn riding in a chariot. I felt the texture of the road conveyed from the wheels up through my bones. The world passed by quickly, with me a part of it.
My instructor was Marcelo Arruda, a Saratoga Stryder who currently has use of a loaner chariot from the newly formed Adirondacks/Albany branch of Ainsley’s Angels. Marcelo was a pusher this June in the chapter’s first race at the Charlton Heritage 5K. His athlete-rider was Lauren Szczepaniak, a high school student who was absolutely thrilled to be ‘running’ alongside her friends, and even passing a few, after spending prior races cheering from the sidelines. This was an eye-opening experience for Marcelo, as he fully comprehended the push/pull concept. He lined up right behind Sean Evans and his nine-year-old son Shamus, who live in nearby Galway, and copied every move they made. Despite being a strong runner, the tandem experience was something new, and Marcelo emphasized that “Without Lauren to pull me I would have walked much more – especially pushing up the hills.”
Just a month later, on July 4th, Sean and Shamus, who has cerebral palsy, toed off from Seattle’s Puget Sound coastline and embarked on their 3,186-mile “Power to Push” journey – running an average of 50 to 60 miles per day! After pushing Shamus and occasionally younger brother Simon, Shaun rejoined the family for some sightseeing. What a Dad! I can’t imagine wanting to do anything other than taking a nap, but as Shaun explains, “My greatest gift is my ability to recover quickly.” As for Mom, Nichole, she drove the Ansley’s Angels RV and trailer like a pro and handled all the day to day details, and eight-year-old brother, Simon, was in charge of navigation
Just as daunting were the two years of planning that went into this effort – what route to select, where to stay, what sights to see, how to attract the necessary funding… And the knowledge that you can never be sure you have touched all the bases. Unlike running a 100-mile ultra, you’re not going to get another chance in a few months. This is it. But the family attacked the pressure head-on, powered by Shamus’ training philosophy: “Run far… and if you don’t have the time to run far, run FAST.”
It all started in 2013 after Sean and Shamus ran the Firecracker 4 in Saratoga Springs, and then a six-hour ultramarathon in Pittsfield, Mass. – and won! Shamus, with the eternal optimism of youth, sliced through all the obstacles and thought how neat it would be if other kids like him could roll with the wind. As parents, we all know how much we would do anything in our power to help our kids reach their goals. Credit goes to Shaun and Nichole for embracing their son’s impossible cross-country BIG dream. They turned it into a two-month reality that inspired many across the nation, raised more than $100,000 for Ainsley’s Angels, and gave the gift of mobility to 27 families who were presented with a running chair in each of the 15 states they visited!
But Shamus and his seven-year-old brother Simon are kids after all and in true family vacation tradition, each got to pick a “must see.” For Shamus it was the looming presidential figures of Mt. Rushmore and for Simon it was a visit to the Field of Dreams in Iowa here he searched the cornfield to commune with the ghost players of bygone eras. For Shaun and Nichole, the most memorable times were when their fundraising efforts enabled them to grant the gift of mobility to other families like themselves. The nimble, versatile Freedom Chairs which cost around $1,000 and easily accommodate adult sizes, take over when the rider outgrows the standard jogging stroller – securing its place in family activities.
Like all family vacations, however, this one had its National Lampoon moments, the scariest being in Idaho when Shaun missed a turn on what should have been an easy bike path segment, earning eight bonus miles, and causing the crew to panic. Ironically, Shaun had realized almost immediately that he had forgotten his cell, but decided not to backtrack on this “foolproof” section. Still, they all came through and instead of overdosing on togetherness, thrived on their single-purposed family time.
When their trek ended on September 1, as Shamus used his walker to sink his toes into the water at Orchard Beach in New York City, there were the anticipated shouts of joy. But there were also tears. According to Jill Burwell, the ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels of the Adirondack/Albany chapter (firstname.lastname@example.org), “Simon was sobbing with the sheer fact that his journey was going to end. Shamus remained stoic but he absolutely wanted to continue on, and I believe he plans on living in a motor home when he grows up.”
To cushion the transition, that evening the New York Mets baseball team graciously hosted the Evans’ entourage at Citi Field. Then, they were off to a half marathon in Virginia Beach, Va., where Shaun and Shamus paced Ainsley and her father, Kim “Rooster” Rossiter to a half marathon PR! But Shamus’ vision will not end – as they plan on conquering an Ironman in 2016, and then in 2017 undertaking a North to South trek following the Mississippi River. As Shaun states, “We feel now that we are built to do this…if we were financially able to homeschool the boys and travel around and donate gifts of mobility to families across the country or across the world, we would do that.”
Rules of the Road – The stars aligned at the Capital District YMCA’s Brenda Deer 5K in Guilderland, where not only did I meet Nick Mykytyn, who had received the final donated chariot at Orchard Beach, but I learned I would be pushing Lauren. Not only that but another newbie Kristen Zielinski, would be my co-pusher! Best of all, I would be pushing an actual person and not the money bag of 1,000 silver dimes that Marcelo had insisted on during our training runs. A person provides a sense of mission and is certainly preferable to running around looking as if I had just robbed a bank!
Since Kristen wasn’t fortunate enough to have had her own personal trainer, I demoed the three main rules of the road: lift the front wheels up to turn, keeping your arms close together; spread your arms farther apart to cruise; and always lean in toward the handlebars. Sounds simple, but caught up in the moment, I often lost concentration and lapsed into single runner stance. Had I been running on my own, I would have perceived the road as being fairly straight forward, but with Lauren in the chariot, I was surprised at how many adjustments I needed to make to keep us headed forward on this “straight” road.
While a race technically involves a group of people, most discover themselves running “alone” lost in their individual efforts. But not when you are pushing. Not only do you have a companion, but you also have all those friendly comments from other runners. The day was hot, so I tucked a water bottle in the chariot, not sure if I would be able to swing a quick turn into a needed water stop. But this was a smaller race so that was not a problem. I also wore bike gloves to lend a steadier grip and was glad I did, especially on the downhills when it felt as if my legs were running away from me. As for the ups, Kristen and I learned that it is not a good move to trade positions mid-hill, no matter how much your partner is struggling. Restarting is rather like heading into a brick wall.
While chasing individual goals is all well and good, sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves, and lend our legs to help others enjoy our sport. I am so looking forward to my next Ainsley’s Angels adventure at The Great Pumpkin Challenge!
You can meet the Evans Family and Ainsley’s Angels at The Great Pumpkin Challenge 5K/10K in Saratoga Spa State Park on Saturday, October 17. They’ll also be running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, on October 25. For more information, visit ainsleysangels.org.
Laura Clark (email@example.com) of Saratoga Springs is an avid trail runner and ultramarathoner, snowshoer and cross-country skier. She is a children’s librarian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.