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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!

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I’ve returned from a fantastic trip to Los Angeles! Driving on the freeways, eating in fabulous restaurants and strolling along Santa Monica Pier brought me back to twenty years ago when L.A. was my home.

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What a weekend! Arielle and I completed a 15K!

Gasp 2015 Arielle First

My head is still spinning from all the excitement. My legs are happy I’m taking the day off from running. My stomach’s happy because I’ve been celebrating since the 15K and making up for all the calories I burned. And my heart is very happy that I was able to share in a memorable weekend with my daughter.

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ELLE & BUDDY will be out in March and I’m very fortunate to have a team of people working with me to help get  ELLE & BUDDY into the hands of children. For years we’ve traveled with the racing wheelchair and I’ve watched kids and adults gaze at its bright colors, giant wheels, and sleek body. Muza and I have had a lot of fun creating ELLE & BUDDY in hopes of entertaining everyone and giving some information on the history of racing wheelchairs. Of course Muza has also added an extra exciting element to the story. Search for all the geckos and see how many you can find. She’s hid them well.

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Little did I know in 2009 when I was advocating for my daughter, Arielle, to be a member of her high school track team that I would eventually write a picture book about racing wheelchairs and a big slobbery dog. Back then, I had one goal, make it possible for young wheelchair athletes to become a member of their high school track team. In 2010 it happened! An adaptive track program was added to Florida high schools and Arielle officially became a member of her team.

I knew little about racing wheelchairs and soon came to discover that was true for most everyone who saw Arielle’s chair. People were fascinated. Everywhere we went, young kids stopped to gaze and adults asked questions; people were curious. My cousin asked me to recommend a book about racing wheelchairs to read to her son’s elementary class. I couldn’t find one. That’s when the seed was planted to write my own story.

In the spring of 2012 Arielle graduated and my first book, MYSTIC, was in the publishing process. We adopted a six year old shelter dog named Buddy. I fell in love instantly. Buddy traveled with me in the car, sat at my side for hours while I wrote and followed me everywhere. His presence brought me peace. I had never met a dog like Buddy. I knew he had to be in my book. The very first draft of my story was titled Saylor & Buddy.

Not having a talent for illustration, I had to find the perfect illustrator. I came across a picture book with a stunning cover: I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I CAN’T SEE YOU by Sandra Horn Illustrated by Muza Ulasowski. I knew Muza was the one I wanted to illustrate my story. Her work was brilliant! I sent Muza an email query all the way across the world to Brisbane, Australia. Lucky for me, she agreed illustrate Saylor & Buddy, suggesting that the title be changed to ELLE & BUDDY after my daughter.

Two years, and many, many emails, later ELLE & BUDDY is ready to go out into the world. It’s my hope that it will inspire differently abled children to try wheelchair racing. Collaborating with Muza has been a wonderful experience. Perhaps if I’m lucky one day we’ll work together again.

Gasparilla 15K!

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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.

Before The Race

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.

Race Day

Without a sip of coffee, I was snapping pictures of Arielle and Eric as they prepared for the race.
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Kai and I were the helpers…OK mostly Kai. He was in charge of keeping track of Arielle’s everyday wheelchair.
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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!
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Gasparilla lost their sponsor for the wheelchair division last year. Numbers dwindled. The starting line looked very different this year. 2014!
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There she goes!
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Kai and I searched for the finish line and found some runners. Many, many, many, runners!
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And medals! Many, many… well, you get the idea.
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When we arrived, Arielle, was the second person to cross.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Follow Arielle and 7 other runners on NPR as they prepare for the  2014 Boston Marathon!