By Jill Schumacher
“I have two legs, two arms, a lot of grit, a big heart and yes, I run like a girl. That’s gotta be good for something right?”
I’d reached a point in my training where I felt like running was in vain. Having finished more than 100 races, 15 of which were marathons, still there was a feeling that something was missing. The question before me was, besides potentially destroying my joints, what was I doing, day after day, pounding away in these races? Running felt as though it had become meaningless. If I’m running, it should be for something or someone. My strides should be making a difference. True, running kept me fit and sane, afforded me the opportunity to travel to places I wouldn’t have otherwise gone, and to achieve personal goals but now, running needed to do more than that. My running needed to serve a purpose or serve someone. It needed to be for something bigger than myself. I have two legs (albeit short), two arms, a lot of grit, a big heart and yes, I run like a girl. That’s gotta be good for something right?
Staring at the finisher’s medal display nailed to my wall, with the words RUN LIKE A GIRL forged out of iron on top, I contemplated my accomplishments. Forty plus medals of all shapes and sizes, hung from vibrant colored ribbons, all byproducts of a fulfilled running pastime. Some medals were still shiny, some tarnished, all collecting dust and in need of polishing. Medals from London, Berlin and Tokyo, even one made by the Amish out of an actual horseshoe. The memories of each race, and the lasting friendships I made along the way, will forever be a part of me, readily recalling the tears of joy and pain each one brought. I remember the sting from chaffing and the throbbing black toenails, the awkward porta john stories or on-course mishaps. As proud as I was of my accomplishments, I knew it was time to do something different.
Weeks prior to my aforementioned epiphany, I ran the Baltimore Marathon, and recall struggling to run up one of the many hills along this difficult course. Slowing my pace a bit, a group of runners went by, all dressed in the same black T-shirts. Not able to discern what the front of their shirts said, on the back, in bold white lettering, I clearly saw the word WINGMEN as they flew passed me. They were pushing a disabled athlete in a wheelchair-like device with three wheels, later learning they’re called “joggers.” The name of the athlete was proudly displayed on the jogger. The crowd went crazy as the athlete and their team passed them by. I remember thinking, “Wow. How incredible is that! That athlete has a lot of athletic family members to push him in this race!” Assuming it was family, little did I know they were actually a group of volunteers who ran with an organization called Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA). After witnessing this “team” of athletes in action, I thought: “I’d love to do something like that! How wonderful would it be to lend my legs to help someone else feel the joy of competition and satisfaction of crossing the finish line?” And that was that. After the race, I researched ASA and signed up immediately!
Athletes Serving Athletes is a nonprofit, innovative program, empowering athletes living with disabilities to train and compete in mainstream running and multisport events. Joining ASA in 2014 has forever changed my running. In being a Wingman, I’ve met incredible athletes who have become more than mere running partners, but have become family to me. I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of being able to train and compete with some of the most inspiring individuals you’d ever want to meet. I couldn’t run without them. It might seem like as Wingmen we’re pushing them, but they’re pushing us by giving us the motivation we need to train and finish. When I’m running with them I feel as though I have a whole new motivation and passion. They give me incredible energy I wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about them. It’s about us finishing together. After all, isn’t that what makes running so beautiful? Individuals from all abilities and walks of life, coming together with a common goal, to challenge themselves and finish the race set before them.
Shortly after I started running with ASA I met a very special girl, Corey. Corey is like me in some ways and in some ways I wish I could be more like her. She’s one hundred percent tough, through and through, and doesn’t put limits on anything. She doesn’t see herself as someone with a disability. The world is full of possibilities and her dreams are endless. Everyone who meets her becomes an instant friend. She has a range of emotions, is quick witted, has lots of sass and upon occasion, can be quite the diva. Corey and I trained and competed in several races together. Every time I run with her, I laugh and cry, just as she does. She gives the warmest and most accepting hugs. I enjoy every moment I get to spend with her.
To know Corey is to know her backstory. Corey was born with a ventricular septal defect in her heart, as well as an interrupted aortic arch, requiring her first open-heart surgery when she was six days old. Successful repairs were made during surgery and afterwards, Corey thrived, meeting her developmental milestones. Weeks shy of her second birthday, Corey underwent her second open-heart surgery for sub-aortic stenosis during which time she suffered a brain injury, resulting in choreoathetosis/cerebral palsy, losing all abilities such as walking, talking, eating, sitting up. You name it and she no longer had the ability to do it. Unable to swallow, Corey had a PEG feeding tube in place for three years. To say Corey has come a long way is an understatement. Always determined, never deterred. Seventeen years later, she underwent her third open-heart surgery to again repair sub-aortic stenosis. Thankfully, the progress Corey had made in the years since the onset of her injury were not jeopardized nor compromised. In addition, she was diagnosed with Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS). Corey has not regained the ability to walk and though she is capable of maneuvering herself, she often requires the assistance of a wheelchair, hence the “quite the diva” comment.
Corey joined ASA in 2015 shortly I after I did. Since that time, she has since finished more than 30 races, an Irongirl triathlon, a half marathon and two 150-mile bike trips. I asked her what she likes most about racing and she said, “It makes me feel like I can do anything!”
"It makes me feel like I can do anything." - Corey Ward
Corey, myself and three other girls all ran the “Across the Bay 10k” race in Annapolis, Maryland in November of 2016. Corey was quick to point out we were an ALL GIRL team. I hadn’t thought about that until she made the observation. She said we ran on “girl power.” I loved how she was proud to be a girl and have an all-girl team and that got me thinking. Corey had completed a half marathon, but I wasn’t sure if she was ready for a longer race, and asked, “Are you ready to take on a marathon?” And without hesitation she said, “Yeah!” Hearing her response, I was on a mission. I wanted to make that possible for her and was determined to combine our girl power to make the most memorable marathon experience ever for her.
After months of planning and preparation, we formed an all-girl team and signed up to run the 2018 Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida in early January. Our “girl powered” team is Corey, our ASA area coordinator (and very close friend of Corey’s) Jennifer and myself. We are three unassuming, badass girls on a mission. Yes, we run like girls and yes, we are extremely proud of it!
Our primary goal is for Team Corey to finish the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon, but our mission extends way beyond that. We want to inspire others and show them, as Walt Disney himself said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” We want to inspire athletes with disabilities to look for opportunities and organizations like Athletes Serving Athletes. In addition, we want to encourage anyone training for his or her first marathon, or their 50th, that running is a gift and finishing together is the icing on the cake.
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." - Walt Disney
We’re asking for your help and we invite you to join us on our journey. You might not be in the same city, state or country as we are, but follow our training and let us know about yours. We want to encourage you, and we need your encouragement. Follow us on Facebook (Team Corey: Disney Marathon), give Corey a shout out on her page. If you ran and thought of Corey, let us know. If you’re also running the Disney Marathon tell us about it! We want to be a part of your journey just as much as we want you to be a part of ours! We’ve already started our training for the Disney Marathon. Head over to our Facebook page and see what we’ve been up to! We have pictures and video clips from training, like our latest training run with elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Mike Wardian. We were super excited for that opportunity!
In addition, if our story inspires you and you’d like to make a donation to Team Corey, we thank you in advanced for your thoughtfulness and kindness. Donations can be made by visiting http://bit.ly/2qssz9u. Monies raised not only go to make this trip possible for Corey but also to help other ASA athletes as well. We look forward to having you along with us on our journey and know we can’t do this without you!
Team Corey is thankful to have the support of Run Like a Girl and we’re proud to represent them. As Corey said, we are girl powered and proud of it! We are proud to show the world what it’s like to RUN LIKE A GIRL!
If you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com. You can comment below if you have a message for Team Corey as well!
Header image source: http://runlikeagirl.ca/]
A big thank you to Robin Ward for your contributions & edits!