I think it’s fair to say I have the energy of a classroom of first graders hopped up on jellybeans. I was fortunate to inherit this overabundance of pep from my recently deceased 76-year-old father, Ronald Wayne Stein, who meant the world to me.
Unfortunately for my active dad, he had a stroke five years ago while caring for my mother who had early onset Alzheimer’s. Both my father and I learned how detrimental losing the full use of one side of one’s body along with visual perception could be for someone used to being independent and constantly on the go.
In addition to losing part of his motor skills and visual capacity, it was extraordinarily saddening for my dad to watch the woman he loved, my exuberant 75-year mother, slowly lose her mind and body due to her cruel disease. Watching my dad struggle was excruciatingly painful for me. Despite talking to him daily on the phone and traveling from Duluth, Minnesota, to Arizona where he lived as often as I could afford still didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
But thanks to an organization founded by Ronald Robb, called myTeam Triumph, I was finally able to spend the most priceless, quality time of my life with my father.
I was already running a trail half marathon every weekend Of October 2011 when I started looking for races I could do in Arizona while visiting my parents. Not only did I find a race, I found the Mount Lemmon Half Marathon, billed as the “world’s toughest road marathon.”
Not expecting to have time to acclimate to the altitude, I figured I’d end up walking most of it anyway. And since I’d be walking, it occurred to me I could push my outdoors-loving dad.
My dad was thrilled with the idea, so I got to work. First, I asked the race director if it was even possible, and he was very receptive to the idea. Next, I asked my dad’s doctor if he thought it was a good idea, and he gave a definite yes.
In my search for a chair, I emailed Team Hoyt, the father-son duo who compete in marathons and triathlons across the country, to see if they could assist me in my quest to find a proper chair. They led me to myTeam Triumph, which helps children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities experience endurance events. This incredible organization provides all the equipment needed to allow “captains,” those in the chairs, to participate. This includes boats and harnesses for the swim portion of triathlons, pull-behind bike trailers and stroller for running events. The term “angels” is used for those who power the captains.
Ronald Robb, founder of myTeam Triumph, and Steve King of the Tucson, Arizona, chapter helped make my idea become a reality by relocating a chair from Utah to Oro Valley where both King and my father lived.
The half marathon
Apparently it is newsworthy to push someone 13 miles up a mountain. We were greeted at the start by a TV news crew and chased by yet another station during our journey up the beautiful mountain and to the finish.
Excitement at the prospect of spending a long time with my dad seeing such stunning scenery relieved me of any second thoughts. When the gun went off, I realized that this race was more than just starting at 6,500 feet of altitude and peaking at 8,200 feet.
One woman asked if she could “help out” for a bit, but she gave up her stint of pushing rather swiftly. Two women tried pushing him at the same time and also soon surrendered.
At 5-foot 4-inches, the chair hit me at chest level, which meant the two short downhills sections were quite tricky. Lucky for me, Steve King appeared at the beginning of the second steep descent to ensure that my father made it down safely.
When we made it to the finale of our voyage, the cheering was astonishing and overwhelming. Unexpected tears streamed down the faces of the race director and many others.
For me, myTeam Triumph provided an opportunity to create an indelible memory of a time spent with my father near the end of his life.
myTeam Triumph also helped me push my father through a 5K last November, just a month prior to his death.
Last April I returned to the Mount Lemmon Half Marathon in my father’s memory. I was flooded with emotion as I started up the mountain without my dad. It amazed me to learn how many people were impacted by my previous trip up the mountain, including firefighters, park rangers and the race director. My second time was an hour and a half faster, but I’d take a chance to push my dad up that mountain again over speed any day.
Advice for would-be angels
Mark Brunsvold, of Edina, Minnesota, pushes his daughter, Amanda, in many races and gave me some good advice I will combine with some things I learned.
* Always ask the race director prior to signing up if you want to push someone. Grandma’s Marathon is one event that does not allow strollers of any type.
* Line up towards the back. I forgot to do this in the 5K and was caught behind people and in the way of others.
* Make sure the person is healthy enough to be pushed in a race and that there are wheelchair accessible restrooms for them on the course.
* Have the person in the chair dressed for the weather.
* Arrive at the starting line early with time to park, set up the chair and use the restrooms.
* Bring fuel for the rider if the event is a long one.
* Test the chair with the rider in it prior to the event to make sure it’s comfortable with cushions in the correct places and to make sure you can push it.
* It’s easier to push with one hand and swing the other one while running but harder to control where the chair is going.
* Attach a safety strap to your wrist as soon as you put the person in the chair.
* Be aware of the person in the chair’s needs at all times to keep them safe and comfortable.
* Strap you captain’s feet in so they don’t drag.
myTeam Triumph has chapters across the United States, including a chapter in Green Bay led by Christian Jensen, (www.myteamtriumph-wi.org), the Chicago area (www.mttchi-town.org) and three chapters in lower Michigan (www.mtt-lakeshore.org for Grand Haven; www.mttwestmichigan.org in East Grand Rapids; and www.mtt-wolverine.org for Ann Arbor). myTeam Triumph is funded through donations to each chapter.
Eve Graves, formerly Eve Stein, is an avid trail runner, mountain biker, Nordic skier, paddler and skijorer. She coaches newcomers to running and skiing, lives in Duluth, Minnesota.