Positive pushes: Program pairs runners with disabled children for unique racing experience

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 7:35 p.m. MDT

The fact that the children are running in charity races makes it even more meaningful for families.

“We feel like we’re giving back to another organization,” said Thorne.

Just about everything involved in Push to the Finish inspires the runners who volunteer their time — and their legs. Stoddard showed up at his first race — a 5K in Sandy — and was asked to push a disabled adult named Joe.

“They said he didn’t have a running wheelchair and asked if I was cool with that,” said Stoddard. “I’m game for pretty much anything, so I said yes.”

Joe turned out to be Stoddard’s size (5 foot 7 and 200 pounds), and pushing the regular wheelchair for 3.1 miles wasn’t easy.

“Joe was having a blast,” said Stoddard. “He was saying, 'Hi' to everyone, high-fiving them, and I just fell in love with it after that.”

Green got involved because she and her husband are co-race directors of the Purple Days 5K, a run that raises funds for and awareness about epilepsy. Their 12-year-old daughter Natalie had brain surgery two years ago to prevent epilepsy seizures, and she’s been seizure-free ever since. She has limited mobility due to a stroke she suffered in utero.

“To be able to push someone in that capacity, it’s amazing,” she said.

Green said one can’t help but feel gratitude, even when the pushing is difficult, because not only are runners bringing joy to others, they are reminded that even when it’s painful, they’re still blessed to be able to run.

Green has the unique experience of having her daughter participate, as well as running with someone else’s child. Natalie Green was pushed by Stoddard in a 5K at Sugarhouse Park a couple of weeks ago.

“She was able to run the last little bit, and she just loved it,” said Green. “I think she will probably do it again.”

Stoddard said his real passion is distance racing.

“I seek out marathons,” he said laughing. Unfortunately, most of the Push to the Finish races are 5Ks because most of the children can’t handle the longer distances. Thorne is an exception, which is why he volunteered to train with Stoddard to represent Push to the Finish in the new Deseret News Half Marathon (registration is available until July 23).

“We did a 10K in Riverton, and later that day, his mom texted me and said she still couldn’t wipe the smile off his face,” said Stoddard. “I thought finishing on the parade route would be a cool venue for Reese to experience.”

The duo will wear Push to the Finish gear hoping to raise money for the nonprofit, which covers the entry fees of other duos participating in other races. Donations can be made on the group’s website at pushtothefinish.org, McMahon said. It is also where runners and children sign up to participate in races.

“The thing that really gets me,” said Stoddard, “is that I have run a ton. I go out and run all the time. I’m a really social runner. I like to share my runs, and to be able to share the run with these kids and with people who enjoy the run on their own, that’s the thing that really gives me satisfaction. It’s the reason I keep doing it. I love being outside and giving them the chance to be outside, let them feel the wind in their face. It’s just a great feeling.”

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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