State-Based Organization Helps Those with Disabilities Run Races

Posted on:

< < Back to

by Bharbi Hazarika


Jill Watson wasn’t able to tie the laces of her white canvas running shoes, but that didn’t deter her from taking part in Ohio University’s Race for a Reason last month.

Watson, 33, has developmental disabilities, which makes mobility and speech a challenge. However, she has been taking part in the 5k segment of the Race for a Reason consecutively for three years through an organization called Team Heart and Sole, which helps people with disabilities participate in races across Ohio.

The organization labels the differently abled participants as “champions.” For every race, each champion is assigned an able volunteer or a teammate who pay to participate. The organization pays the registration fee for those who are disabled making the experience free for the champions. Before the race, the champions are strapped on to their respective running karts. The running karts are specially designed wheelchairs for athletic purposes. Once the race begins, the Heart and Sole teammates push the adaptive racing karts until the finish line.

Watson’s mother explained that her speech problems do not reflect Watson’s extrovert personality that enjoys the race.

“She loves it (the race),” Marianne Watson, a retired elementary school teacher, said while tying her daughter’s shoelaces. “You can see it from her giggles.”

Teammate Kevin Davis likes to spend his weekends pushing racing karts and laughing with Watson while she presses him to “hurry.” Davis, superintendent of Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said as a citizen he feels responsible for helping integrate those with disabilities into the community, and the organization gives him a chance to do just that.

In fact, Autumn Brown, co-chairman of Team Heart and Sole, said the organization’s primary intention is to give disabled persons an opportunity to interact with other people to form connections within the community.

During the summer, the organization collaborates with OU and its international Fulbright scholars. They arrange interactive sessions between the “champions” and the international students. Brown hopes that these opportunities will give disabled community members global exposure that they may not have access to otherwise.

Watson was one of 14 participants from Heart and Sole who took part in this year’s Race for a Reason.

Hosted on April 21, 2018, Race for a Reason is an annual fundraising marathon in Athens. The race has five parts: College of Health Sciences and Professionals Triathlon/Duathlon, Quidel 5K run, OU ROTC mud run, Power 105.5 3K Walk and the OU Alumni Association Remote Race. Its unique quality stems from the fact that volunteers are free to contribute to their choice of non-profit organization.

Brown said the funds raised by their volunteers and champions in the marathon are donated to the namesake organization to help keep it running.

The Athens chapter is an offshoot of the Columbus based organization, which began in 2011. They have previously run the Athens Marathon as well as the OU sponsored Race for a Cure and are currently preparing for the Mother’s Day 5K Inclusion Revolution walk/run on May 13, 2018.

Brown expressed that often people who are differently abled don’t get the chance to attempt activities that non-disabled individuals may take for granted. Team Heart and Sole gears toward helping them engage in community activities and feel like “everybody else,” she added.

“Having access to an event where they can compete like everybody else is really important to a lot of people,” Brown said. “We aim to make that happen.”