5K fun run supports special needs athletes and inclusion

CONTRIBUTED REPORT
Posted 8/13/21

The Katy Area Running Club’s Back to School 5K not only provides the local running community with a fun Labor Day event but supports a charity focused on including special needs children and …

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5K fun run supports special needs athletes and inclusion

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The Katy Area Running Club’s Back to School 5K not only provides the local running community with a fun Labor Day event but supports a charity focused on including special needs children and adults in running events.

The Back to School 5K will take place on Monday September 6 at 7 a.m. The racecourse will run on Peek Road, starting and finishing at the Villagio Town Center on Westheimer Parkway. Runners and walkers can sign up at https://runsignup.com/Race/TX/Katy/KatyBacktoSchool5K.

KARC was founded in 2016 to provide group running opportunities and social events for local runners. From the very beginning, the club also wanted to host a race for the general running community. KARC ultimately decided to donate the bib fees from the race to a local charity. Initially, the bib fees were donated to the Katy Students Run(KSR), a program in which local high school students learned to set goals through mentorship and training for a half-marathon. From 2016 to 2018, KARC donated a total of $19,000 to KSR. After that organization folded, KARC looked for a new charity to support.

Ainsley’s Angels, a group that provides opportunities for special needs children and young adults to participate in endurance events, came to KARC’s attention through KARC members Shawn and Paige Siemers. Shawn and his daughter had participated in races with Ainsley’s Angels, with Shawn pushing Anna in a specialized wheelchair. Over time, other KARC members became wheelchair pushers for other Ainsley’s Angels members.

The group was founded Major Kim “Rooster” Rossiter, who had a child with a disability. Rossiter and his wife noticed that, when they took her on walks in her wheelchair, her face would light up and she would smile. Rossiter decided to take her on a run, and the same thing happened.

Rossiter started running races with his daughter, and then got the idea to start an organization that would ensure everyone can experience an endurance event no matter what disability they have. He also wanted to build awareness of America’s special needs community through the inclusion of the disabled into local racing events.

Named for Rossiter’s daughter Ainsley, Rossiter started the first chapter in Louisiana. Today, more than 70 chapters exist throughout the country, said Tracey Finch, Southeast Texas ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels. Finch works with local race directors to provide entries for Ainsley’s Angels and recruits runners to push the riders.

Ainsley’s Angels participants have all kinds of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, and autism. “For the disabled, just signing up for a race is not that simple,” Finch explained. “Not all races are wheelchair friendly.”  

Making a race more accessible to wheelchair participants can include giving them a head start before other runners. This way, they can spread out across the course, giving space to other racers once they start. Since riders and their families often must pay for a custom-made wheelchair for races, Ainsley’s Angels ensures that their race entrance fees are comped.

A lot of work and coordination goes into allowing riders to participate. But once things are set in motion, it’s a lot of fun, Finch said.

Finch has been overwhelmed by the generosity of KARC, he said. At the 2019 race, Finch got to speak about the Ainsley’s Angels mission. “They really seemed to care about who we were,” Finch recalled of KARC’s reaction to Ainsley’s Angels. After the event, KARC contacted Finch and said they had decided to donate 100% of the race bib fees, $7,500, to Ainsley’s Angels. KARC donated the $6,000 in bib fees from the 2020 Back to School 5K to Ainsley’s Angels, and again will donate fees from this year’s race to the group.

“It was clear that KARC cares more about having a good time and pushing riders than they care about the time they get at a race,” said Finch. “To me that is extremely special.”

Ainsley’s Angels used the money donated from the 2019 Back to School 5K to purchase a 20-foot trailer to transport specialized running chairs. The money the group fundraises primarily goes to pay for these chairs, which can range in cost from $1,000 for smaller children to up to $6,000 for older participants.

“Because we have riders with all kinds of disabilities, the chairs won’t fit certain body types,” Finch said. “When a family decides they want to ride all the time but may not be comfortable in a chair because of legs or back, we hook them up with Rooster and his team and they work with designers to make custom chairs for the riders.”

Working with the riders and their families, Finch has seen the joy they get from participating in Ainsley’s Angels.  Her own life also has been enriched by pushing riders in races. “There’s just something about doing something for somebody else,” Finch said. “You realize that there are so many more important things in life than going to the mall.”

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