On two legs or three wheels
Everyone crosses the finish line at inclusion race
One delighted in seeing the police officers stationed throughout the race course. Another jokingly “trash-talked” the women pushing him. Another couldn’t stop smiling as her grandson pushed her in the race.
But despite their special needs, all eight got to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line of the Fusion 5 and Dime race, thanks to special racing chairs unveiled Saturday by the newly created Fusion Inclusion organization.
An offshoot of the Main Street gym Fusion Fitness, the organization works to promote making exercise and athletics accessible to all.
“The idea is to give everyone the chance to participate,” said Steve Sinko, a personal trainer and the president of Fusion Inclusion. “It’s totally rewarding on both sides.”
The group has three adaptive racing chairs, which are specially designed wheelchairs with three wheels. Two more are on the way. The chairs cost approximately $4,600 and have been paid for by sponsors and individual donations.
“To see this grow and people in Delaware accept it is incredible,” said Deb Buenaga, who has been championing
inclusion since 2012 when she took up running as a way to be active with her son, Preston, who has mitochondrial disease. She has run numerous races in several states while pushing Preston, now 17, in an adaptive chair.
“I let him pull me,” Buenaga said. “I just run with my heart.”
Their biggest running achievement came in March when they completed a marathon in Virginia Beach, Va., during a raging nor’easter.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “But when I came to a hill, he looked up and said, ‘Mommy, you can do it.’ That made me run faster.”
Her push to increase inclusion locally came after a Delaware race denied her request to run with Preston’s chair. She contacted Fusion owner Nic DeCaire, who she knew from a previous charitable endeavor. DeCaire has since organized two Inclusion Means Everyone 5Ks.
However, the mission of Fusion Inclusion is to incorporate inclusion into all races, not just special ones intended for that purpose. Every race sponsored by Fusion includes categories for adaptive racing chairs and strollers.
“I don’t want anyone to ever be turned down,” Buenaga said.
On Saturday, approximately 300 runners braved oppressive heat and humidity for the inaugural Fusion 5 and Dime race, which raised money for the inclusive Preston’s Playground being built at the Newark Reservoir. Eight adaptive athletes were pushed by family members or volunteers, and two people competed in hand cycles. The Fusion Inclusion chairs were supplemented by adaptive chairs borrowed from other groups.
The race – which had a 5-mile and 10-mile course – started on Main Street, snaked its way through Devon and the Binns and utilized the Hall and Pomeroy trails before ending on Academy Street. The race coincided with Newark’s Food and Brew Festival, and DeCaire hopes it eventually becomes a destination race attracting out-of-town runners to Newark for the weekend.
One runner who traveled for the race was Bart Yasso, a Bethlehem, Pa., man who serves as “Chief Running Officer” for Runner’s World magazine. Yasso travels all over the world to run and is known for having completed a marathon on every continent, including Antarctica.
He pushed Hayden Schlenner, 8, in an adaptive racing chair and called the experience “fulfilling.”
“It’s one thing to go after your own dream, but when you’re pushing someone, you’re doing it through someone else’s eyes,” Yasso said. “It reminds you how lucky we are to do what we want to do physically.”
He said Hayden enjoyed interacting with the police officers blocking traffic for the race.
“We went from one police car to the next,” he said, laughing.
Yasso’s friend, Mike Con- nelly, pushed Nick Scarberry, 21, in the race. Connelly’s two late children had special needs, and he said he wishes he’d been able to run a race with them. The experience was inspirational, he said.
“You feel like you’re part of them and see why they’re so excited to be moving like that,” Connelly said.
Michael Smith pushed his grandmother, Barbara, who was an avid runner and walker before several strokes left her in a wheelchair.
“It was definitely amazing,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen her smile like that in a long time.”
Friends Ashley Barnas and Kelly Bothum teamed up to push Will Logan along the 10-mile course. They met the “sassy” 9-year-old at a previous race and knew they wanted to volunteer to push him.
“We love Will. He really trash-talked us,” Bothum said, laughing, mentioning one-liners like “Are we running or walking?”
“We would not have done 10 miles if not for him,” she added. “He’s the motivator.”
Barnas said pushing Will made the race more enjoyable.
“We can’t stop smiling through the sweat and tears,” she said.
Michael Smith pushes his grandmother, Barbara Smith, in the Fusion Five and Dime race on Saturday morning.
James Beardsley and Debbie Walsh head toward the finish line of the Fusion 5 and Dime race.
Mike Connelly and Bart Yasso push riders down Main Street in adaptive running chairs.
State Sen. Nicole Poore pushes her son, Michael, who has cerebral palsy.