COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just by its name, a four-mile run isn’t a walk in the park, but for those with physical disabilities, calling themselves an athlete can be just as much of a stretch.
- Ainsley’s Angels of America has 25,000 members in 60 cities, including ambassadors in Northeast and Southern Ohio
- The organization was inspired by the late Ainsley Renee Rossiter, of Virginia Beach, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic nerve condition that causes paralysis
- Fundraising and donation efforts go toward specialized racing wheelchairs for those taking part
A non-profit organization, though, is working to spread awareness and celebrate what is possible for those with disabilities.
Among the 15,000 people taking part in this year's 4-miler run at Ohio State University is the Styer family from Tennessee.
They have Ohio roots, and on this day, they represent the organization Ainsley's Angels of America, a non-profit with 25,000 members in 60 cities in 32 states, that aims to ensure everyone is included, especially those with disabilities.
Fundraising and donation efforts go toward specialized racing wheelchairs for those taking part.
“So, we advocate for kids with disabilities, with adults with disabilities, we educate others about that, and we empower them to be all they can be, reach for the stars,” said Ainsley’s Angels Ambassador Jessica Styer.
For husband and wife Sean and Jessica Styer, their shining star is 30-year-old Bradley, Sean's younger brother.
He has cerebral palsy, making it difficult for him to walk, but that hasn't held him back from experiencing life to its fullest.
“Bradley is a joy of anyone that he's around. He's just the happiest kid I know. He's emotional, but he just loves everyone, loves people,” said Sean Styer.
Jessica is special education teacher and decided to become involved with the organization after finding out about it last year at Cincinnati's Flying Pig Marathon.
“It's just great to see inclusion happening all across the United States. I love getting to see the smile on Bradley's face. He can just walk into any room and light anybody up, it’s just amazing,” said Jessica Styer.
The organization was inspired by the late Ainsley Renee Rossiter, of Virginia Beach, who was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, a genetic nerve condition that causes paralysis.
Her memory lives on through the organization that bears her name and this children's book written by Ainsley's sister Briley.
Bill Collins, another ambassador for Ainsley's Angels, met the organization's vice president while on a plane to Louisiana and became inspired to start a chapter in Northeastern Ohio.
“It struck my heart. Just seeing the smiles on the faces of those participating in races, the cheers and whoops and hollers, it's unbelievable,” says Collins.
And for Sean, Jessica and their brother Bradley — 4 miles later, and a shade under 50 minutes — the finish line, a memory they will cherish and take with them the rest of their lives.
“We believe together we can do anything, and I love getting to do this together with my brother,” said Jessica Styer.
For more information or to donate to Ainsley’s Angels of America, visit their website.