Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes run races with the dis­abled

Event first by group in South­ern Mary­land

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

De­spite the im­pend­ing threat of rain, sleet and snow on Satur­day morn­ing, noth­ing was go­ing to stop the wing­men vol­un­teer­ing for Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes to as­sist those with spe­cial needs from run­ning in the St. Charles Run­ning Fes­ti­val.

Satur­day’s race was the first race for the South­ern Mary­land Chap­ter of Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes. The run­ning fes­ti­val had a 5k run, a 10 mile run and a kids “fun run.” Three spe­cial needs ath­letes as­sisted by 20 “wing­men” par­tic­i­pated in the races.

Corey Ward, a dis­abled ath­lete par­tic­i­pat­ing in the race, said she had a “great” time run­ning with her wing­men.

“It was fun,” Ward said, as she held her thumb high in the air. De­spite the cold weather, Ward said she had a great time and en­joyed run­ning the race.

For Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes, it’s not about win­ning or los­ing, Monet Ouwinga, one of two com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ers for the Souther Mary­land chap­ter of Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes, said.

“Our motto is we only go as fast as the last per­son,” Ouwinga said.

“We’re out here to have a good time. We just want our ath­letes to en­joy them­selves and have an ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Conor Joyce, one of Ward’s wing­men, said he runs fre­quently and en­joys help­ing the ath­letes en­joy them­selves and ac­com­plish new goals. Corey her­self, Joyce said, was “phe­nom­e­nal” and is al­ways ex­cited to run when­ever she gets the chance.

“It’s a lot of fun be­ing able to run with Corey,” Joyce said. “The weather was nice, not too bad. It was a light group and we got set­tled eas­ily. And we just had fun run­ning to­gether as a group.”

Joyce said when he runs, he does his best to en­cour­age other run­ners who have not heard of Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes to join the group and run in fu­ture races along with them as wing­men.

Peo­ple are al­ways in­ter­ested in the cause, Joyce said, and al­ways want to know what Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes does.

“I al­ways say, ‘Why don’t you come out and join us for our next run? I’ll ex­plain it to you over this next mile,” Joyce said.

Robin Ward, Corey’s mother, said she loves Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes be­cause the group does not “iso­late” spe­cial needs ath­letes from every­one else. Ev­ery race they par­tic­i­pate in, she said, is a race any­one can at­tend and par­tic­i­pate in.

Ouwinga, along with John Sprague, are co-co­or­di­na­tors for the South­ern Mary­land chap­ter. Sprague is a run­ner and he reg­u­larly runs in races with his son Jack.

The rac­ers are paired with “wing­men,” vol­un­teer run­ners who must train with co­or­di­na­tors from Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes to en­sure they are in shape to fin­ish the races. Ath­letes are pushed by wing­men in “jog­ger” carts ca­pa­ble of hold­ing a full-sized adult.

Wing­men raise money for the carts made avail­able to carry the ath­letes in. Spon­sor­ships are also ac­cepted, Ouwinga said.

This time around, Calvert Me­mo­rial Hos­pi­tal, John Parker, the owner of World Gym, Leigh Falk­ler who served as a race di­rec­tor for Satur­day’s event, and Strong is Beau­ti­ful in La Plata do­nated four chairs.

“Each chair costs about $1,010,” Ouwinga said. “With­out these peo­ple, this wouldn’t be pos­si­ble. It’s a great cause and we’re thank­ful for it.

There is no age-limit to the ath­letes that can run, Ouwinga said. They ac­cept chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties and the ath­letes grow into young adults. Ath­letes are al­ways ac­cepted and the op­por­tu­nity will al­ways be there.

“This is a pos­i­tive thing. They don’t have to sit and watch TV all day. They can get out and get ac­tive,” Ouwinga said.

Sprague, who has worked with Ouwinga to bring Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes to South­ern Mary­land, said this is a way he and his son Jack, 18, can spend time to­gether.

“You al­ways have to find stim­u­lus for him and its very dif­fi­cult for a par­ent to do that. It’s tough,” Sprague said.

Sprague said he “stum­bled upon” Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes while run­ning a 10-mile race in An­napo­lis. He joined the or­ga­ni­za­tion soon af­ter.

Sprague said get­ting out and get­ting ac­tive is what Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes is all about. Jack en­joys run­ning with Sprague, he said, and en­joys par­tic­i­pat­ing in the races.

“Some of them just like to feel the wind on the face and the feet thump­ing be­hind them,” Sprague said. “That’s the moment we’re all here for.”

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

On Satur­day, April 9, de­spite re­ports of bad weather, Corey Ward (cen­ter) and her team of wing­men pre­pare to run in the St. Charles Run­ning Fes­ti­val at Re­gency Fur­ni­ture Sta­dium.

On Satur­day, April 9, de­spite re­ports of bad weather, Corey Ward and her team of wing­men em­bark on their jour­ney to com­plete a 5k race in St. Charles as part of the St. Charles Run­ning Fes­ti­val.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY MICHAEL SYKES II

On Satur­day, April 9, John Parker, cen­ter of the cir­cle, helped par­tic­i­pants of Ath­letes Serv­ing Ath­letes stretch in prepa­ra­tion for the St. Charles Run­ning Fes­ti­val at Re­gency Fur­ni­ture Sta­dium.

On Satur­day, April 9, Jack Sprague, cen­ter, and his team of wing­men, in­clud­ing, his fa­ther, John Sprague, right, fin­ish their 10 mile run de­spite the snow as part of the St. Charles Run­ning Fes­ti­val.

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