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.
Parents know the feeling well. When someone is mean to your child there is a rage that ignites in your heart and explodes throughout your body. I’ve had to deal with this incredibly strong, mama bear emotion, many times since my daughter became paralyzed at the age of ten. Most people, especially friends and family, have always been caring and supportive, however, throughout the years we’ve had our run-ins especially when it came to traveling. My daughter, Arielle, witnessed on many occasions me turning from quiet, peaceful, please don’t draw attention to me, mom, to the Incredible Hulk Mama Bear when someone treated her in an unkind way.
Over the years I’ve mellowed a bit. With experience came an understanding that most people who, let’s say made bad choices in behavior, when around Arielle were simply ignorant of the correct behavior. Arielle is on her own now, traveling without me, yet still when she tells me things like, “The stewardess asked me if she should drag me to the exit in an emergency.” I cringe. Oh, she did not just say–drag her!
Well, get ready to be shocked because here are some of the things Arielle has had to endure since trying to ride the CUMTD buses in order to get to class at the University of Illinois. It took some time before Arielle told me the busses were leaving her behind. She’s a patient young woman and really likes people so nothing was said to me until it became very obvious that the wheelchair was the reason bus drivers were not allowing her on.
Before I get into the awful choices some drivers made I want to say that there were drivers who went out of their way to help Arielle when the ramp was too steep or slick for her to get up. And there was one driver who asked people to make room for her wheelchair. To them, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are special people.
The first time Arielle told me bus drivers were closing their doors on her the familiar rage surged through me. If I had been in Urbana I would have knocked on their door. I was furious but had hoped it was just one angry old man who was having a bad day. I told Arielle to let me know if it happens again.
Sure enough, the next time she called there was another story of a bus driver leaving her behind. Being so far away, the only thing I could do was call CUMTD. I was forwarded to a supervisor. I told her of the issue and of my concern for Arielle being left out in freezing temperatures. The woman told me that there was not much she could do because they rely on the kindness of individuals to move out of the handicap section and if they don’t move there’s nothing drivers can do. Suppressing everything I really wanted to say to her about that statement, I asked her if it was true that the bus ramps cannot be lowered in cold temperatures. She said yes. So, what she was telling me was that the busses are not accessible in winter. I asked her if that’s legal. She didn’t know. I tried one more time to explain my concern and I told her where my daughter lived hoping that the supervisor would have a chat with the drivers that stopped outside Arielle’s dorm. As a last resort, the woman told me that if Arielle can’t get on the bus she can call (she didn’t give me a number) and another bus will come pick Arielle up. Really? Did she expect me to believe that they would actually send another bus after she just told me that bus drivers can’t make people move out of handicapped sections? And wasn’t she concerned at all that someone in a wheelchair was stuck outside in the cold? OK, let’s take all the able bodied people who can get through the snow if they miss the bus and leave the person using a wheelchair out there to freeze. How does that even make sense to a supervisor? When it comes to idiotic policies like this I have trouble staying calm, but I did. I thanked her and had hopes of something getting done.
Not too long after, I received a text and then a phone call from Arielle. When I picked up the phone she was bawling. My first fear was that she was out in the cold. Luckily, she had made it back to her dorm. Arielle had gone out to catch the bus early. She was the first person at the stop waiting. When the bus came the driver let the others on and then refused to even open the accessible door or talk to Arielle and explain why he wasn’t letting her on. He shrugged and drove away. What makes someone do that? Why didn’t anyone else on the bus stand up for Arielle? My heart broke from 1,700 miles away.
During our conversation Arielle told me about yet another time– the driver who upon seeing her, sighed loudly. When the ramp was too slippery the driver slowly took her time taking off her seatbelt and getting out of her seat. Then she complained loudly while trying to help Arielle up the ramp. She said she didn’t know what to do. Arielle asked her to push the back of the wheelchair and the woman pushed on Arielle’s back…. Again I ask, what makes a person behave in such a way?
Well, I had had it. I sent an email to the news. Within a few hours they were interviewing Arielle. Thank you, New Channel 15! I put a message on Facebook and so many people responded, shared my message and called CUMTD to tell them they need to train their drivers to be leaders of their busses and kindly ask people to make way for a wheelchair, fix their ramps, and not leave students in wheelchairs out in freezing temperatures. They cannot easily run inside for warmth like able bodied people can. Snow, ice, snow piled high, and wheels do not go together. It’s tough! There’s no reason anyone should make it harder for students who use wheelchairs.
There are many more of us in this world who know the right thing to do. There are many more compassionate souls and I’ve witnessed it with all of the support we received since this incident. It’s up to us to speak out. Whether we’re on a bus and we see someone being treated poorly or whether it’s a huge company which has insensitive procedures and bus drivers that haven’t received sensitivity training. Perhaps they’ve been doing the wrong thing for so long they’ve become blind to what’s right.
Here’s the News Interview:
Thank you to everyone who shared Arielle’s story on Facebook and called CUMTD asking for a change in their procedures toward those who uses wheelchairs. And thank you to the Reeve Foundation who also shared Arielle’s story.
Even though Arielle was unable to get to practice when the bus driver left her behind she is still training hard for the Boston Marathon and writing all about it! Check out her post on NPR! She’s adorable on the rollers! That’s my girl!
Featured Image From: Survive a Minnesota winter from your wheelchair: EasyStand Blog
The letter that made me cry
When I have author visits with schools I tell the students my inspiration behind writing MYSTIC. Arielle. Before I knew I was going to write a fantasy, I knew I would have a protagonist who used a wheelchair. Arielle was reading many books as a fourth grader in the Accelerated Reader program and not one of them had characters using a wheelchair. Meanwhile, I watched as Arielle’s life changed and she had to persevere through many obstacles while surrounded by able bodied people who she continually had to educate about these obstacles. Kids as well as adults could behave in ways that were insensitive. Playgrounds were not accessible and often her friends would run off and leave her. Sometimes things were said that were not appropriate like: “So if I shoot you in the leg, you wouldn’t feel it?” And then there was the substitute teacher in 5th grade that yelled at her for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. Arielle had transferred to her desk and he didn’t notice the wheelchair in the back of the room.
I wanted to write a book that showed the inner and outer struggles of a child using a wheelchair. After six years, many edits and seven full rewrites, MYSTIC was published January 5, 2013. Since then, I’ve received many letters and emails from children telling me how much they enjoyed MYSTIC and asking when the next book will be out. I love hearing from kids and I’ve kept all of the letters and emails they sent. Yesterday, a letter came addressed to Krista Rausin from Illinois. I was very curious because I write under the name K.D. Rausin and it was an adult’s handwriting on the envelope. I opened the letter and read it out loud to Eric. Tears streamed down both our faces. The words told of three young girls who read MYSTIC. All three used wheelchairs and lived in small towns where they were the only ones using wheelchairs. They were, “SO excited to read a story about a girl who uses a wheelchair ‘just like them.'”
Suddenly, a sense of closure came over me. After a year of worrying about how many books I sold, whether I was doing enough marketing, and whether or not I was taken seriously as a writer since I published MYSTIC myself, I let it go. MYSTIC made a difference. Three girls that may be feeling the same things Arielle felt at their age had the chance to read about a young girl “just like them.”Disability Resources and Educational Services
Scuba Diving in the Cayman Islands
I’m back! Well, I’m home but today’s post isn’t from me. It’s from someone very dear to my heart. Introducing my daughter Arielle Rausin and her new blog: The Adventures of Rain Dance REL
Arielle had an opportunity to learn how to scuba dive thanks to the incredible organization Stay Focused! Check out her underwater pictures and her beautiful poem. I’m a proud mom! Thank you, Stay Focused for teaching my daughter to scuba dive and giving her an amazing time in the Cayman Islands. I’d also like to thank JenFu Cheng Photography for capturing and sharing the awesome photos of Arielle’s adventure.
Love this kid… Arielle Rausin! Click on the link: The Adventures of Rain Dance REL
Let me introduce you to an incredible young man! Ryan Chalmers is a wheelchair athlete at the University of Illinois. I’m very partial to the University of Illinois because my beautiful daughter, Arielle, goes there and is also a member of the team. Ryan is pushing across America using his racing wheelchair. He began yesterday in Los Angeles and will finish in New York. Check him out here on Good Morning America: Click on the picture to see the interview.
Teachers this is a great opportunity to talk to your class about disabilities and the importance of determination and hard work. Hey, why not follow Ryan on his journey? Here’s the map: Ryan’s journey
As a class you can use math to calculate the amount of miles Ryan pushes daily and how far he has to go.
For social studies you can have students research each state Ryan will travel through.
History and reading can be incorporated by researching the history of the racing wheelchair.
Those are just some ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure you can think of more. This is very exciting because Ryan is bringing awareness to wheelchair athletics along with breaking down barriers between the able-bodied and disabled. We all face challenges in our lives and that is the common thread that ties us together.
If you have more ideas for lessons please post them in the comments section or on Facebook. I love it when teachers inspire teachers!
I have had several people ask me why Arielle went to the University of Illinois. Wouldn’t I rather have her close? Of course! USF, Florida State, or the University of Florida would’ve been nice. We toured all their beautiful campuses. But none of those universities have a wheelchair track and field team.
Arielle made the decision to leave her home state and all her friends to pursue wheelchair track. It was a difficult decision. Illinois is far from Florida and gets very cold in the winter!
We are very proud of her for having the courage to follow her heart and say so many good-byes to those she loves while forging her own path.
Since moving into her dorm Arielle has met lots of new friends from all over the world. Signed up for about twenty clubs, shucked corn, and become a member of the best wheelchair Track and Field team in the world! Go Illini!
Even if sports are not really your thing please support the Paralympic athletes. There might be a young boy or girl out there listening who needs to know that sports can change their life. Thank you!
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