I’ve told Kerry Gruson’s story hundreds of times and it doesn’t get any easier. In our #ThumbsUp campaign we want the world to know what happened to her. But we want you to focus on how she chose to take life by the horns instead of remaining a victim. You can read about Kerry’s story here.
Therefore on April 6 Kerry, who is quadriplegic, will add “triathlon” to her long list of life experiences. I will act as her able body, and as part of our training we raced the Carnaval Miami 5k this past Sunday where we learned a few things.
We use a special needs carrier called WIKE that one of our sponsors, Ultrabikex, purchased for us. It arrived at the store, and since I don’t trust myself I asked if we could build together.
We had our first practice on Friday. I wanted to make sure the WIKE worked and we knew what we were doing before race morning. I met Kerry and her friend JT, and we got to work.
JT taught me how to hold Kerry and get her off the wheelchair. She is sturdy! For some reason I thought she would be “floppy” but even so, I was nervous. I am always afraid I will hurt her … it’s a common theme in our conversations!
The WIKE fit perfectly and once settled we played around with different pillow combinations until we got Kerry’s Thumbs Up. And off we went.
When both of my kids were really young, I would take them out for a walk on a double stroller. That thing was heavy where you had to push it with some force for it to move.
The WIKE is different. It’s light and it flies. I was pushing too hard and all of a sudden we were going too fast. I couldn’t keep the pace and ended up chasing it. Fortunately, I had a safety strap on my wrist attached to the WIKE. This way, if something went wrong and I let go Kerry wouldn’t roll aimlessly into traffic. Being so light, any pulling down on the handlebar causes the front wheel to lift. Kerry said it was comfortable, and I was doing wheelies at every turn. The WIKE is simply awesome.
We ran about a mile and half, and both felt ready for the Carnaval 5k.
My kids have met Kerry before, and are not phased by her disability. Instead, they want to be a part of ThumbsUp and I thought this was a great opportunity for Joe and the boys to join us in a race. Except Fearless wanted to push the WIKE. He would slip in front of me causing us to stumble. I was getting flustered telling him to stop and move to my side when I noticed Kerry wanted to tell me something. I leaned over and she said “when you feel comfortable, let him push me.”
I smiled because I realized Kerry is an extraordinary observer. She could tell I was anxious and gave me the space I needed to feel comfortable, but she also gently let me know that she would love it if Fearless pushed her. I told her “but he may pull on the handlebars by accident.”
“What would happen?” Kerry asked.
“The front wheel would come off the ground and tip you backwards,” I answered.
“The handlebars would break my fall,” Kerry replied.
Fair enough, but I still wasn’t ready.
We made several mistakes during the race; after all learning was one of our main objectives here. Our first one was placing ourselves at the back of the start line. I thought since we took so much space, and were running with the boys, we should be conservative. Except that as the start gun went off, we were behind all the walkers and couldn’t move. Joe took over as announcer and would call out to people “carrier on the left” to make way for us. There was a lot of human traffic, and I almost ran over several people. I can only imagine how those near misses felt for Kerry.
Soon we found our rhythm, but got separated from Joe and Dreamer. Kerry, Fearless and I continued together and realized our second mistake: we forgot a whistle.
I can’t see or hear Kerry on the WIKE. She is not able to raise her arms high enough over the carrier for me to know she needs something. We realized she needed a system to call out to me, and we decided on a whistle, which we then forgot. Fearless became our spotter checking in with Kerry, and reporting back “yep, still thumbs up.”
We stopped at the water station, one of Fearless’ favorite things about running a 5k. He guzzled two cups, and I drank some too. I asked Kerry if she needed water and she said no. She might have been okay, but we learned mistake number 3: we must bring our own hydration.
Kerry uses a straw to help her reach the water, and we didn’t have one. If she had needed it, without the straw she would not have been able to drink independently. The WIKE has plenty of space and it will be easier to give her a prepped water bottle she can have access to whenever she wants.
The water station break also gave us an opportunity to walk, and that’s when I let Fearless push Kerry. He was careful, cautious, and proud. From then on, we ran for a good amount of time with me pushing Kerry, and then had a short walk break so Fearless could have a turn.
Our race continued without any hiccups, and the strangest part for me was how people looked at us. I am not used to it.
Granted, the whole point of our doing ThumbsUp is for people to see Kerry, find out about her story and be inspired. So in that sense, we were meeting our goal.
I began smiling back, and do what I usually do when I am not struggling in a race. I cheer others on: “looking good, looking strong, you go girl,” as appropriate. It’s so much fun to see people respond to a cheer, I can’t help myself.
In the last quarter mile, I told Kerry to get ready because pretty soon she was going to cross her first finish line and there would never be another first. And with the counter at 41:45 we crossed it.
Only to find there were no medals.
I was slightly disappointed, not for me but for her. Yet what I know about Kerry is that she is not easily disappointed. She might have liked a medal, but I knew she felt like a winner. And so did Fearless even if he didn’t PR, as did Joe and Dreamer who crossed a little behind us, as did I.
Our first ThumbsUp challenge was accomplished.
I asked Kerry how she felt and this is what she wrote:
We did it!! We can do it! We are on our way! In two months I will be a triathlete! As we crossed my first 5K finish line both Cristina and I knew that this was only a beginning and that together there will be more moments of triumph…many more! Who knows where we will take ThumbsUp? The tears trickling down my cheeks throughout the race, and especially at race end, weren’t from the sun screen in my eyes. I was overwhelmed by gratitude and joyful excitement. These feelings remain. I have a new family – my wonderful Ramirez’s and ALL the other runners walkers and helpers. It is a very large, warm and encouraging family. Cristina’s “GREAT JOB!” to friends and strangers alike, as we passed them or they passed us, still rings in my ears. It’s not that you aren’t competitive, but the competition is with yourself…. I have been a competitor all my life but I have a renewed understanding that the greatest feeling of satisfaction comes from doing my personal best, always with THUMBS UP!
That’s right Kerry … this is just the beginning.
We are grateful to Ultrabikex Key Biscayne, and See Me In The Dark for their sponsorships and continue to look for brands who would like to join the #ThumbsUp campaign. If interested please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What inspires you to keep going?