Being a Ragnarian means more than crossing the finish line of a 200-mile running relay race. It’s about being a part of a supportive, inspiring, active community. When you’re cheering on a runner, you’re doing more than encouraging them to finish their leg. You’re giving them hoots and hollers to keep living life to the fullest.
One team that got many cheers at Ragnar Florida Keys last weekend was team ThumbsUp. The team pushed two of their adaptive teammates in running wheelchairs throughout the course, while wearing blue wigs and smiling the entire time.
By running Ragnar, the team is one step closer to their mission of ‘changing attitudes about limitations by embracing life’s challenges.’
“My personal mission is to show others that there are no limits out there and there are always possibilities,” said Juan Carlos Gil, an adaptive athlete who is legally blind and has cerebral palsy. “I never thought I was going to be able to run such an amazing race, and now it’s great. This is my amazing race.”
Kerry Gruson, another member of Team ThumbsUp, who is paralyzed from the neck down after being strangled while covering the end of the Vietnam War for the NY Times, is the co-founder of the ThumbsUp organization. Gruson would prefer if conclusions about “abled” and “disabled” athletes weren’t made.
“Everyone has things that we have to overcome in our lives,” Gruson said. “No one is perfect. We all have limitations. We are all disabled.”
For someone who is unable to project her voice, Gruson has a lot to say. While out on the course with her team and the other Ragnarians, she had a bit of a spiritual experience.
“I feel the synchronicity with the runner (who is pushing me),” she said. “I feel their breath, their energy. I try to breathe with the runner to feel what they are going through. Breath is the source of life.”
Besides just her teammates, Gruson also felt a strong connection to the other runners on the course.
“I could not see the runners passing by but I could hear them,” she said. “Their heels hitting the pavement sounded like a drumbeat.”
Shortly after the race, Gruson told her teammates that she feels like she’s been training for Ragnar her whole life.
“Asking for help is the best gift you can give somebody else because you give them the potential to feel helpful,” she said. “Without giving there is no receiving. All of my experiences in my life came together in these two days.”
Ragnarians are in on a little secret; making the most of life isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.