Athletes Serving Athletes run races with the disabled
Event first by group in Southern Maryland
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.”
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.
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.