BALTIMORE - Thousands flock to Druid Hill Lake Park for the Baltimore 10-miler.
This fun, yet challenging course can be tough for even the most seasoned runners. But for some, this race represents something far more important. For individuals living with disabilities, it’s a chance to feel like everyone else.
When race day comes, you’ll find 11-year old Leah Street, with her cowbell in hand, cheering on her wingmen.
When asked what it means when she rings her bell, Leah says, “That means to go fast."
Leah and Joey Maranto are training for the Baltimore 10-miler, a race Leah has participated in before.
Leah excitedly says, "The 10-miler!"
The Street family adopted Leah from China at just 10-months old but quickly realized something wasn’t right. Mom, Terry Street, says when Leah wasn’t meeting all her developmental milestones, their pediatrician ordered an MRI.
Terry says, “We learned that she was missing her cerebellum which is the lower portion of your brain."
Upon further testing, doctors learned Leah has a mutation in one of her genes that causes her cells to have too much calcium causing extreme pain.
“The calcium comes out of the cell and then it constantly goes back in. So that gene associated with the missing cerebellum they diagnosed as Spinocerebellar ataxia 29,” says Terry.
Leah is on various medications and everything is given through a tube in her stomach. That is because her condition makes it difficult to swallow and talk.
She can’t do what most other kids her age can do, and that can be frustrating for Leah.
Leah’s mom says, “She wants to be like the other kids. She wants to run and she wants to play, but she gets very tired."
That’s where Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) comes in. It’s an organization that allows volunteers to use their athletic abilities to support individuals living with disabilities through racing events and gives other like Leah the chance to feel like a normal kid.
“To be out among people that are so caring and so loving and so willing to make them feel like they’re the athlete is amazing,” says Terry.
Sarah Slomkowski is the Director of Operations at Athletes Serving Athletes and says the organization currently has 115 active athletes across Maryland.
She says, “Since we focus on individuals with limited to no mobility, they are placed out of many activates, so we've provided a foundation that there’s that need in the community."
The need is great to help these athletes and ASA is always looking for volunteers.
Sarah says, “Right now we have a waiting list for our individuals living with disabilities our athletes, so wingmen are what we need and those are those individuals are willing to provide their legs and their hearts and their time.”
These wingmen and women will be the ones pushing the athletes through the races and across the finish line, just like Joey is doing here with Leah.
Joey says, “Having something to get me out of bed early in the morning, go for a training run, go for a race early in the morning, it’s been great for me. It’s given me a whole new perspective on life besides just running. It really makes me just grateful for what I have."
Athletes Serving Athletes is celebrating ten years. All programs are offered at no cost to the athletes or families. Throughout the year, athletes train and compete in over 90 running and triathlon events.