The Gasparilla 15K is a special race to us because it was there, years ago, where Arielle first met her coach Adam Bleakney and his University of Illinois wheelchair racing team. Arielle was in middle school, new to wheelchair racing, and suddenly she was meeting elite athletes. Arielle become inspired, set her sights on attending the University of Illinois, and to one day train with Adam. She achieved that goal and now she’s practicing twice a day to prepare for the Los Angeles and Boston Marathons.
I picked Arielle up at the airport on Friday evening and we drove straight to Tampa. She was happy to leave behind the freezing weather in Illinois for a sunny weekend in Florida! I’m sure she missed her family too. After a late dinner we all went right to bed. The 4:45 am. alarm came quickly.
Without a sip of coffee, I was snapping pictures of Arielle and Eric as they prepared for the race.
Kai and I were the helpers…OK mostly Kai. He was in charge of keeping track of Arielle’s everyday wheelchair.
We made it to the starting line with fifteen minutes to spare. When Arielle first began racing in the Gasparilla there were many wheelchair athletes. Flashback to 2009!
Gasparilla lost their sponsor for the wheelchair division last year. Numbers dwindled. The starting line looked very different this year. 2014!
There she goes!
Kai and I searched for the finish line and found some runners. Many, many, many, runners!
And medals! Many, many… well, you get the idea.
When we arrived, Arielle, was the second person to cross.
We all teased Eric because he did little to prepare for the race. Arielle, Kai, and I figured we’d go get a coffee while we waited.
Good thing we returned to the finish line earlier than planned because Eric crossed in just over ninety minutes. Smiling! He was happy the teasing stopped and I was happy because it was time for breakfast! Win-Win.
The best part of the day for me is watching my family as they encourage each other, laugh, and bond over exhaustion. I’m thankful for the joy and the inspiration the Gasparilla 15K has brought to our lives. Maybe one day I’ll even put down my camera and run myself. Maybe.