EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2014 on the Overbrook School Blog. It was written when I was serving as director of communications for Overbrook School and campus host facilitator for the first Achilles Hope & Possibility race in Nashville. The race continues this weekend, Oct. 21, 2017, on The Dominican Campus. Join me there again this year.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” For those involved with Achilles International Nashville Hope and Possibility race, words were not necessary. The gospel was living, breathing and, in hundreds of cases, running a five miler.
Melanie Yappen was one of the original founders of the Achilles International Nashville chapter, an organization that pairs able-bodied athletes with disabled athletes for weekly runs and road races, and the first race thre years ago. Mrs. Yappen said nearly 700 runners ran the first race with 10% being disabled. The disabled runners ranged from blind runners to amputees. Some completed the race in wheel chairs and on hand-pedal bikes while still others were pushed.
“It was truly an inspirational celebration of running by athletes of all abilities,” said Mrs. Yappen, that first year as she stood at the finish line cheering on all athletes and giving out as many hugs and high-fives as she did medals. “We hope on a broader scope that our community-unifying event will paint a brighter horizon for healthier lifestyles for people with disabilities and an increased acceptance of people with disabilities.”
The race begins on The Dominican Campus on West End Avenue as runners journey through the neighborhoods surrounding campus, a journey that for many was a first: the first time they were able to participate in a race and the first time they accomplished such a feat. For Anthony Spellman, brother to Overbrook students Michael and Jack, it was his first race on foot in 2014.
“Well, he finished the race on foot and was exhausted,” his mother Lisa said following that first race. “He took a three-hour nap afterward!”
Achilles International founder Dick Traum, the “Central Park jogger” Tricia Meili, and the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sports Kids of the Year 2012, Connor and Cayden Long participated in the event the first year as well.
- Dick Traum is the first amputee to compete in the New York City Marathon. He did so in 1976 after having one leg amputated above the knee. He competed in Saturday’s race as well.
- Tricia Meili ran the race Saturday morning as a guide to another amputee. Mrs. Meili spoke the night before the race at Montgomery Bell Academy. She is the “Central Park jogger,” who in 1989 was attacked while running in Central Park, savagely beaten and left for dead. She spoke Friday night about her recovery with elegance and encouragement. She said the three things that helped her recover from the attack were her support system of friends and family, the fact that she found hope in the future and living in the moment. Mrs. Meili is a member of the Achilles International board and continues to run today (including completing the New York City Marathon after her recovery).
- Coming across the finish line, drenched from sweat but still smiling, was Conner and Cayden Long, the Sports Illustrated Sports Kids of the Year 2012. The brothers from White House, Tenn., ran the race – Conner pushing Cayden, who has cerebral palsy. It was hard not to tear up when the two got their medals. When Conner was called up as the winner of the push-chair division for the race, he quickly corrected the announcer that the winners were Conner and Cayden. The brothers have completed many races together, always Conner pushing Cayden.
Witnessing these athletes and many others race each year is a rare opportunity to see the gospel in living action. Jesus showed us in His life through His actions the importance and dignity of every person, no matter how different. He stopped to heal the blind beggar and his touch allowed a crippled man to walk. He noticed each person’s needs when others did not. Although we did not get to see Jesus perform those miracles, for hundreds of people who have gathered for each of the Achilles races, they witnessed people taking others by the hand and leading them to a tiny miracle. You could feel the hope and possibility rushing over the road as each competitor crossed the finish line.
Join the race again this year on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Even if you don’t run, just come and cheer on the athletes.