I remember the morning I was driving over the Cape bridge into Ft. Myers where I worked as an elementary school teacher. I was listening to the radio. The DJ came on and began talking about a petition for a middle school girl who used a wheelchair who wanted to be on her track team. Suddenly, I realized they were talking about my daughter!
I had never heard about the petition and at that time I didn’t understand how important being on the track team was to my daughter. Perhaps because I was too wrapped up in my teaching world. I became uncomfortable. I wanted them to stop talking about my kid! Then the DJ allowed callers to give their opinions on the matter. Someone began spouting off reasons Arielle shouldn’t be allowed on the team. That was the moment my passion flared! My eyes opened to the situation, and I knew I had to become an advocate for my daughter–for other kids who used wheelchairs. The need to do what was right outweighed my need to be liked or accepted by everyone. Having been brought up always to consider others feelings first and worry about appearances, this was a huge transformation for me. One that took me way out of my comfort zone.
With the help of an equally passionate PE teacher Arielle was allowed on the team. Two years later we faced the same opposition when Arielle entered high school. Again with the help of a passionate track coach, the community and the FHSAA, Arielle spent four incredible years on her high school track team. She opened the doors for other high school students across Florida to race on their track teams too.
Back then every February we would travel to Tampa so Arielle could race in the Gasparilla 15K alongside the University of Illinois Racing Wheelchair team. They were fast! She was slow, but she had a dream to attend the University of Illinois, have Adam Bleakney as her coach, and be on the team.
In 2012, that dream came true. We moved her into her Illini dorm. Soon, Arielle learned that dreams require a tremendous amount of work! With a full class load, she also began practicing with her team two times a day. Arielle was among some of the fastest racers in the world. This meant she was consistently last in every practice and every race. I watched as she worked so hard and then felt defeated because even though her time was improving she wasn’t placing where she wanted in the races. I did all I could from a thousand miles away to lift her up and tell her that she was learning an incredible life lesson. I knew that her willingness to keep on, to keep going and working hard was not only going to help her as an athlete but also in life. Imagine what she could accomplish with such passion.
Then her Junior year it happened! She got fast! Her times at races significantly improved. Her hard work was paying off. She began to see the results from two years of consistently working towards her goal without giving up.
Usually, it’s the parents who teach the life lessons. In this case, it was my daughter teaching me. Arielle has inspired me to run a marathon. I’m getting a taste of just how difficult training to run 26.2 miles is. Every time I look at my schedule for my long run and wonder how I’m ever going to make it I think of Arielle. And then I usually text her messages like, “Ugh! No! 13.1 miles?” She replies with a, “You can do it!”
It’s been about nine years since that day driving over the bridge listening to people comment on whether or not they thought Arielle should be allowed to use a racing wheelchair and join her track team. What a journey it’s been. I’ve learned: