When the athletes take off Saturday at the Run Hard Marathon, two small groups of runners will stand out – for their spirit, generosity and the smiling person in the adaptive wheelchair they take turns pushing.
Ainsley’s Angels, a national nonprofit new to South Carolina, aims to provide a race experience for those who can’t navigate race courses on their own. Two Ainsley’s Angels teams are entered in Saturday’s race. Each team is made up of several “runner angels” who take turns pushing the wheelchair, “guardian angels” who maintain the needs of the team along the course and “rider athletes.”
Shelley and Mike Warner, who had experience in adaptive sports for people with physical disabilities, recently started the South Carolina chapter of Ainsley’s Angels in Horry County. Their first event was the Reindeer 5K in Conway in December. For the group’s second event, Shelley Warner loves the connection with the Run Hard organization, which promotes running programs for young children.
“We’re all trying to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
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The Warners know what recreational sports can mean to people with physical disabilities. Mike Warner suffered severe injuries in a car accident and was told he never would walk again. He has recovered enough to compete in tandem cycling events teamed with his wife.
The S.C. Angels group has raised enough money to pay for two of the special wheelchairs built for road courses, and two riders have been selected. They are searching for more “angels” to help with pushing and support. The initial plan was for the two teams to participate in the 5K event, though they might move up to the half marathon if they get enough volunteers.
While friends, family members, teachers and physical therapists often volunteer to push, sometimes the pushers haven’t met the riders before the race. By the end of the course, the spirit of the person in the chair is practically pulling the runners behind them to the finish line.
If you’re interested in volunteering, contact the Warners via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.