Running program for athletes with disabilities successful

Running program for athletes with disabilities successful

A program created almost two years ago to introduce athletes with disabilities to running has been successful enough to add a spring training session this year.

The running program, through Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation, helped train eight athletes for a 5K this spring. They ran at the Kirby Derby in Monticello last weekend.

The running program started in the fall of 2009 as a partnership between C-U Special Recreation and the Second Wind Running Club. Runners from the club and community members volunteered to train with the Special Recreation runners twice a week, and they ran a 5K race in Mahomet at the end of the program.

C-U Special Recreation repeated the program last fall, with runners participating in the Rattlesnake Master 5K at the end of the season.

This spring Hannah Sheets, sports and fitness coordinator for C-U Special Recreation, decided to gauge the response to a spring training program.

“The spring is really busy with other (sports) programs, but the people who like to run fit it in, so we’ll do it again next year,” Sheets said.

This spring’s training program had eight athletes with disabilities and 12 volunteer runners, several of whom have participated from the start, Sheets said.

“We’ve had volunteers who’ve done it for every 5K we’ve done. They’ve established a relationship with their running parnters. That really helps,” she said.

There are a few new runners this year, but many of the athletes started running when the program was first offered and discovered they really liked running, Sheets said.

“They’re dedicated to running. They look forward to it,” she said, adding that several keep up their training even after the C-U Special Recreation program ends for the season. One runner joined his high school cross-country team last fall.

“We’ve gotten more spread out in our running ability. Some people have gotten to be really good runners,” Sheets said.

The fall running program will start shortly after Labor Day.


The following is a story about the Special Recreation running program I wrote in December 2009.

"Winning Combination"

Patrick Rietz was looking to do some volunteering.

Daniel Krein had never run a 5K race before and needed help training to run that distance.

The two were paired up for a training program in which experienced runners helped introduce athletes with disabilities to running.

The partnership between Champaign-Urbana Special Recreation and Second Wind Running Club began in September and culminated with the participants running the Mahomet Run for the Library 5K on Nov. 21. Rietz, who is out of work, wanted to do something productive with his time. He loves both running and volunteering, and when he heard about the training program, he thought it was an ideal way to combine his interests.

He was one of two volunteers paired with Daniel, a 17-year-old junior at Central High School.

“I really, really enjoyed it,” Rietz said. “He´s 17 and he´s healthy. I knew that he could do it. It was getting him to believe he could do it by continuing at a certain pace.”

Rietz said the biggest challenge was for the two of them to learn how to communicate effectively with each other. Daniel wouldn´t tell him if the pace was too fast. Rietz learned to ask more open-ended questions and to pay closer attention to Daniel to get cues as to how he was feeling physically.

 Daniel said he enjoyed the training as well. He pronounced it “cool.”

“I like Patrick,” he said. “He runs with you.”

Daniel´s parents, Philip and Sheila Krein, were pleased the program gave Daniel a chance to get in shape, get involved in a new sport, interact with new people, and accomplish something he hasn´t done before.

He and Patrick finished the race in 25:53 and the Kreins are looking for other running partners for Daniel so he can continue his training.

It was the kind of success story Hannah Sheets, sports and fitness coordinator for C-U Special Recreation, was looking for.

“I´m very, very happy and very proud of two or three of our athletes in particular who aren´t long-distance runners and were not in our track and field program,” Sheets said. “They are really self-motivated, working hard to get the training plans done each week.

“Socially, I´m really happy with the relationships they´ve made with our volunteers,” she continued. “I think they definitely formed some friendships, as well as helped people with their physical fitness.”

 Lucia Alzaga of Second Wind Running Club, who pitched the idea of the training program to Sheets this past summer, was also pleased with how it went. She said the only problem was rain on some of the training days.

 Sheets said the program had nine participants from C-U Special Recreation and 11 volunteers, about half from Second Wind and half from the community. They met twice a week to run together, and the runners were divided into two groups according to speed and experience.

Stan Shobe of Second Wind spent some time running with one of the participants, 18-year-old Travis Stearns. But, Shobe said, “Recently they retired me. I was a little slow.”

Travis improved his running speed considerably during the program, so he kept getting a faster training partner. Bill Dey of Second Wind ran with him as well, until he was “fired.”

Dey volunteered for the program because he is good friends with Alzaga and because of the influence of his wife Becky, a special education teacher who also volunteered. Like Rietz, Dey found communicating with Travis was his biggest challenge.

“I could tell he was having a good time,” Dey said. “He just doesn´t talk much.”

Travis was easily doing 7-minute miles during training runs, Dey said, but he didn´t run as fast on race day as his training partners thought he could. “But things happen for all runners” that affect their performance, he said. It might have been the hilly course.

 “It was a very good experience, both with the participants from Special Recreation and with the other runners from the club and the volunteers,” Dey said.

 Sheets said some of the athletes plan to continue running with the volunteers on their own, and one athlete wants to train for a Special Olympics 10K. Sheets is planning to do the training program again next fall.

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