Push to the finish: Runners and athletes work together to reach the finish line
Frederick News-Post - 5/6/2019
May 06-- May 6--Savannah Hinegardner, 22, is a nut job and she's proud of it.
The nut job title is awarded to any runner at the Frederick Running Festival, who completes the Twilight 5K on Saturday and wakes up the next morning to complete the 13.1 mile half-marathon. Savannah, who was born with cerebral palsy, was among the nuts runners to complete both races this weekend.
Savannah finished the 5K -- 3.1 miles -- in 50 minutes on her own, and joined a team of Athletes Serving Athletes on Sunday for the half-marathon. Four runners worked together to push Savannah in an adult jogging chair, while she acted as DJ with her iPad and bluetooth speaker.
"For any runner, how lucky would it be to have a team to run for?" asked Sarah Slomkowski, director of operations for Athletes Serving Athletes.
Athletes Serving Athletes is a volunteer running group that works with mobility limited individuals in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania to allow runners of all abilities to participate and complete more than 90 running events a year.
Savannah was Frederick County's first athlete to participate in Athletes Serving Athletes, and she has completed the Frederick half-marathon four times now. She was joined this year by six other participants in Athletes Serving Athletes in the 2019 half-marathon.
Heather Fox-Brashears, Hannah Cocchiaro and Sylvana Foreman worked together to get their athlete, Braxton, across the finish line on Sunday.
"A couple years ago, I saw them running and I thought it looked like a lot of fun," Fox-Brashears said after the race, which was her second time completing a half-marathon with Athletes Serving Athletes.
The team of women traded off Braxton's chair every mile, which means each of them pushed him for at least 4 miles. They said it was a good run, but the hills in the final few miles of the race were grueling.
Each member of the team wears a "wingman" shirt in honor of their support role in getting athletes to the finish.
One of the most rewarding parts of the race is hearing the spectators cheer for the athletes, Foreman said. Parents will call out their child's name as they pass them on the course. Braxton too was yelling, clapping and shaking his hands with excitement throughout the race, Fox-Brashears said. He was cheering on himself, Cocchiaro said.
"His excitement, you can feel it," Fox-Brashears said.
Savannah pumped up her team of runners with the Spotify playlist "Just Get Going" (a name she picked) with songs like "Mirror" by Justin Timberlake and, her favorite, "Pump It" by The Black Eyed Peas.
When asked why she liked participating in Athletes Serving Athletes, Savannah said, "Just feel like party," who uses an iPad to communicate.
Running is an activity the entire Hinegardner family enjoys, but before finding Athletes Serving Athletes Savannah wasn't able to participate, said Riley Hinegardner, 18, who is Savannah's younger sister.
Their mom and dad, Susan and Sheldon, run as well, and all four members of the family completed the half-marathon on Sunday.
"We just all like to run and she always felt left out. And then she found ASA and we found out we could all do this together," Susan said.
Athletes Serving Athletes has a waitlist of athletes who would like to participate in running events, Slomkowski said. The organization is limited in the number of athletes it can host based on the number of volunteers it can find to run, she said. Typically, it takes three runners per athlete to complete an event such as a half-marathon.
The only qualification needed to volunteer is the ability to run a 5K at any pace. Runners can sign-up to be a volunteer at the organization's website asa.run.
The Frederick County chapter of Athletes Serving Athletes also meets in Baker Park at 8 a.m. on the first and third Saturday or 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month to train. Trainings are open to all runners.
"We're all about connecting in our community," Slomkowski said.
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