Thursday, January 16, 2014

Achilles International

Some of the best things about a Run Disney event is the fellowship, friendship and inspiration you receive from your fellow runners and their families. This past weekend May and I were blessed with the opportunity to participate in the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. May completed her first marathon and I completed the inaugural Dopey Challenge.  We had a great time and more on those races and a recap of our week in a later post.
During this year’s events I noticed several people in yellow shirts representing Achilles International. At first glance I figured there were simply one more team that had come to Disney for some fun, exercise and racing. I could not have been more wrong.  These people representing Achilles International were volunteers that dedicated their time and their races to assisting runners with disabilities participate in the various events of the weekend.
While waiting in our corral for the 10K I had the absolute pleasure of talking to one volunteer and his athlete who was blind.  We had a great conversation, shared some laughs and the nervous energy that everyone feels before a race.  It was an incredibly inspiring experience for me to see the trust both individuals had in each other and the partnership and friendship that ensued. It’s tough enough to run a 10K, even harder to run a 10K with 10,000 participants and I can’t begin to imagine running one with my eyes shut and trusting another individual to guide me safely through the event.
Achilles International is special organization that focuses on assisting disabled athletes compete in competitions worldwide. Here is a description from their website.
In 1976, Dick Traum, an above the knee amputee, found himself approaching middle age and out of shape. After joining a local YMCA, Dick began running – small distances at first and then, eventually several miles. Within a year, Dick became the first amputee to run the New York City Marathon. The experience was life changing, bringing a powerful sense of achievement and self-esteem. In 1983, seeking to provide that same opportunity to other people with disabilities, Dick created the Achilles Track Club, now called Achilles International.
Today, this non-profit organization has chapters and members in over 65 locations within the United States and abroad. Every day, in parks, gyms, and tracks all over the world, Achilles provides athletes with disabilities with a community of support. Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners come together to train in an environment of support and community. Within this community, runners gain measurable physical strength and build confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often transfers to other parts of their life.
Over the years, Achilles has also developed specialized programs for children and war veterans. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities, while our Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans program brings running programs and marathon opportunities to disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
While our programs focus on athletics, the truth is, sports are simply the tool for accomplishing our main objective: to bring hope, inspiration and the joys of achievement to people with disabilities. Nothing illustrates this more than our signature event, the Hope and Possibility Five-Miler. In this race, able-bodied and disabled athletes participate side-by-side and, with several disabled award categories, it puts a first place win within the grasp of all runners.
During the half marathon on Saturday I encountered another tandem of runners with Achilles International and was inspired to tears by their dedication, fun, friendship and success.  This left me feeling called to participate in this fine organization.  Running and triathlon has given so much to me, I feel it’s time to give back and I have registered to be a volunteer with Achilles International and look forward to participating. While there is not currently a chapter in South Carolina, I am also giving consideration to seeing if there is an interest in starting a chapter in Columbia.
Take a few minutes and check out Achilles International. Your participation can make a huge difference in someone’s life and quite possibly your own as well.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

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