You can’t miss the look on a racer’s face when she crosses the finish line, exhausted, proud and glowing.
On Patricia Efaw’s face as she crossed the Run Hard half-marathon finish line Saturday was a look of joy and of gratitude to the ones who got her there, her “runner angels.”
Efaw is still recovering from severe burns after a house fire a little over a year ago. Saturday’s race was a big step in her recovery, and one she didn’t have to take by herself.
A team of five volunteer runners pushed Efaw in an adaptive racing chair through the 13.1-mile Columbia course. Thanks to them, she could feel the pride of competing as a rider-athlete in her first running event and the confidence to meet new people as she puts herself out in the world.
“It’s hard to come out, being a burn victim with scars on your face and actually showing people what you look like now,” Efaw said. “What a nice community I’ve found the running community is, so friendly and so helpful.”
Her running team was one of two sponsored by Ainsley’s Angels, a national nonprofit new to South Carolina. Named for a Virginia girl with a rare, paralyzing disease, itaims to provide a race experience for those who can’t navigate courses on their own.
Mike and Shelly Warner recently started the South Carolina chapter in Horry County and put together a team for their first event in December, the Reindeer 5K in Conway.
“This program allows people with disabilities to get involved and participate in events with able-bodied individuals and be like one of the rest of the crowd,” Shelly Warner said. “The sheer joy and excitement, like we all have when we compete in any kind of event and accomplish it – it’s incredible to see the smiles on their faces.”
For the “runner angels,” as the team runners are called, volunteering with Ainsley’s Angels is a pleasure, said Curt Raylee, a first-time runner angel and 10-time marathoner who heard about the organization at last year’s Marine Corps Marathon.
“That’s what the running community is all about, the giving back to some that aren’t capable,” Raylee said. “It makes it all the more enjoyable.”
It’s a blessing for the runners to be able to lend their bodies and their talents, said Amanda Lindner, who was one of three runner angels pushing 7-year-old Lana Lowthian in Saturday’s 5K.
Lana, who has cerebral palsy, was all curiosity as the group ran – looking around and taking in the sights throughout the downtown course. Her mother, Daria Lowthian, said Lana is loves being around people.
“I definitely know that she will enjoy just to be part of something and not feel that she’s kind of different than anyone else,” Daria Lowthian said before Lana’s race.
Lindner and her fellow angels on Lana’s team, Ian Randolph and Mercedes Jeffords, had never met one another before Saturday. They were so touched by the opportunity to push Lana to a special achievement that they’re already planning to run together as a team in another Ainsley’s Angels event.
Efaw, too, hopes to be take part in future races with Ainsley’s Angels. And one day, she hopes to be on the other side of the chair, pushing someone else across the finish line.
“I’d like to go from one step to the other, helping someone else,” she said.