by Anna Ferraro
Yes, it’s happening. Thanks to the work of Ainsley’s Angels, a national not-for-profit organization that reaches out to individuals with limited mobility or disabilities, kids of all ages are participating in races – 5Ks and more.
According to Rachel Antle, the leader of the Jacksonville chapter, “Our mission is to spread the word of inclusion through running.” Since starting the Jacksonville chapter in summer 2015, Antle and her family are delighted with the amazing support they have received for the cause, as well as the incredible connections they have made within the community.
As Antle is a special education teacher, and also a runner, she says, “This is pretty much the perfect match for me.” And not just for her – her husband and children are runners, as well. Together, the Antle family is on a mission to help as many kids as possible have participate in races, despite their disabilities.
Here’s how it works. Through connecting with their local chapter of Ainsley’s Angels, kids with disabilities or any kind of limited mobility can team up with a runner. At the designated race, the runner takes the “kiddo” (as Antle calls them) through the race in a specially designed jogger chair. And as they do, Antle shares, “It’s amazing the joy that we can bring to these kids’ lives.”
Even the kids with mental handicaps understand the excitement of participating in a race – and they love it. As they race, these kids feel important and fulfilled as they are able to participate in events that they would not be able to do independently – because of Ainsley’s Angels. While they have raced with a wide range of ages, from kids to adults, Antle shares, “We usually try to aim for younger kids … We also love to have parents race with their kids, if desired.”
Antle and her team recently purchased a “blade chair” to use in races. For more severe disabilities, this chair affords a more reclining position to the rider. Antle stated, “We want them to have the best race experience possible.” In addition, this type of chair can be attached to a bicycle, allowing riders to participate in biathlons, as well – a future goal for the Jacksonville chapter. Unfortunately, it costs $4,200. But through the donations and supporters, by early 2017, they hope to make another purchase of this type of chair so that they can offer more options to their “kiddos.”
Looking ahead, Antle is excited about their work, and continues to go after it with all of her heart. She shared that they hope to branch into longer races soon – 10Ks or even half marathons.
In closing, she shared, “So many people come up to us and tell us what a great thing we’re doing for these kids. Parents thank me profusely for what I am teaching. But I tell them, ‘These kids have taught me to be such a better person – way more than what I can do for your child.’” She continued, “It’s a humbling experience. We’ve received nothing but positive feedback from everyone. And we’ve gotten such amazing support from the community – if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.”
To connect with the Jacksonville chapter of Ainsley’s Angels, contact Rachel Antle at 217-491-0802 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you can visit them online at www.facebook.com/AAinIllinois/ or www.ainsleysangels.org.