Ross Medical Education in Kokomo recently came together to show support for Ainsley’s Angels of America, a nationwide nonprofit whose main goal is to increase awareness about America’s special needs community. The organization helps raise money to fund wheelchairs for their athletes to be able to use when participating in 5Ks and triathlons. These wheelchairs are used solely for participation in the races as they are uniquely made for racing. Athlete riders can be anywhere from three years old to adults with any kind of disability that prohibits them from participating without support. Folks volunteer and lend their legs to push the riders.
Kristina, an ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels, has a really special connection with the organization. Her daughter Kendal is one of the riders. Back in 2016, the family discovered the organization’s Facebook page and traveled down south to Lake Charles, Louisiana to meet Kendal’s “I run for” runner. The runner wanted to push Kendal in her very first race, and he also just happened to be the president and co-founder of Ainsley’s Angels of America.
The whole experience was really memorable for the entire family. Kristina stated, “Everyone was so welcoming and accepting, and it was just a really powerful moment for us. When you take care of someone with special needs, you mourn the loss of a lot of things, like the fact that they may never walk or talk again, or be able to live independently. Some things are really painful and obvious. Other things kinda slip by and you don’t even realize that you’ve let them go. When we did this race, we all shared some very emotional moments together.”
For Kristina, a simple race such as this one was much more than just a race. It helped her gain something back. “During the race, I sort of had an “a-ha” moment. I was able to reclaim something I didn’t even realize I lost. And that was the fact that my daughter could be an athlete. Being able to reclaim her as an athlete when I never had even imagined it as a possibility, is very special for us,” she stated.
Having the opportunity to participate in this race was life-changing for Kristina and her family. On their way back from Lake Charles, all they could talk about was how they needed to bring this home to Indiana. They experienced something wonderful and they wanted other families to have the ability to experience this feeling as well. The race kind of served as an outlet for them. So in order to bring Ainsley’s Angels to their area in Indiana, they reached out the organization and expressed their interest. Once they applied and were accepted, they joined the Ambassador in Training program, which provides support and guidance as your work your way through milestones in building your ambassadorship. Fundraising, recruiting members, local education opportunities, conversing with race directors, and securing your first event are the main steps to becoming a full-fledged ambassador. As a result of their hard work and precise planning, the community was extremely receptive to their first event.
When asked how she thinks this race impacted her daughter, Kristina said, “One of our phrases in this family is ‘ask me to tell you a story.’ Everybody has a story even when they can’t speak like you and me. Kendal is non-verbal, but she has found so much joy in racing. She always lights up and is so excited on race day. We will get in the van and she’ll start laughing and dancing.”
Kendal is not the only who has found joy in doing these races. Other riders have as well. Kristina stated, “I know one of the riders loves fire trucks, but other than that, he hasn’t shown much interest in anything, really. His mom finally brought him to an event to participate, and now he loves racing. He knows it’s race day if she gets his pink shirt out, and he’s really disappointed if he’s sick and can’t come.”
Ross Medical has shown their support for Ainsley’s Angels of America for the past three years. This year, the campus took part in the Rudolph 5K run/walk which took place in Kokomo, Indiana. Campus director Shannon Spencer pushed a boy named Justin in his wheelchair. With a time of 33 minutes, they ran up and down some hills while listening to Michael Jackson, who is Justin’s favorite singer.
The first part of the event was the walk, and then there was a chili pepper sale afterward. All of the money from the sale will go toward purchasing special wheelchairs for the participants to use in future races. The campus also helped raise money by putting together a basket to be auctioned off. Staff and faculty donated items to be put in the basket.
Shannon stated, “The walk was meaningful to me because my husband is a special education school teacher, and he has worked with underdeveloped children for years. So this was a nice way for us to be able to give back to the community. I’m also a runner myself, so I enjoyed being able to do something that I love.”
Ainsley’s Angels of America has given the families of disabled individuals a purpose; a chance to be part of something greater than themselves. Creating that safe place where families are able to see their loved ones accepted is something really special. Some people feel like it’s mostly about the riders, but it’s also about the runners as well. A lot of the runners feel more energized about their running. They love the opportunity to do this for someone else and to help them experience the same feeling they have when running.
More information on Ainsley’s Angels of America can be found at https://ainsleysangels.org/.