My daughter Jillian, 17 and with a cerebral palsy diagnosis, is a runner. She runs because she gets deep satisfaction from being a member of the running community.
At NTSOC, Jillian receives physical therapy twice per week with Kerry Wright. The two of them do their stretches and strengthening routines, and then they hit the trail and run. On good days, they run about 2 miles. Along the way, they have fun listening to music, often silly songs like the Chipmunks singing modern tunes.
After Jillian and Kerry started making progress, Jillian joined the Cross Country team at Air Academy High School. Much to my surprise, she lettered in track her sophomore year. She took a break from the session last year due to COVID-19, but she plans on running again on the team for her senior year.
Monday nights, Jillian also joins a running group called Achilles Pikes Peak. The group meets at the Colorado Running Company’s location, and they head out for a three-mile jog. Achilles teams non-disabled runners with disabled runners. I usually take a walk while Jillian enjoys the company of friends.
Jillian runs because she enjoys the community aspect of socializing with others. She is not the fastest runner, but she is totally fine with that. One of her friends who has Cerebral Palsy sent her a shirt once that had a note that said, “Remember, if you come in the last place, you are ahead of all the people who aren’t participating.”
Jillian’s road to becoming a runner was a long one.
When she was almost three, she started walking with a bright red walker. At that time, I figured she might need some assisted device to ambulate. She also had a wide variety of AFOs that she was fitted in throughout her life.
When we lived in San Diego, our family was involved with the Team Hoyt movement. I met many runners who did the push-assist type of race. I always thought this might be a way for Jillian to get involved with running. But she had other plans.
Jillian ran a few one-mile races that were kid’s races before marathons. She would continuously get pumped up before the race. She was thrilled seeing all the posters, cowbells, and floods of people cheering on the runners. When she was in the race, she would take the time to slap people’s hands, and she thrived with all the positive comments people would shout.
We moved to Colorado three years ago. Jillian immediately started doing her therapies through NTSOC. She met Kerry, and the two of them started running in her sessions.
I’ve learned a lot through watching Jillian run. I know that participating is often better than winning. That having fun while staying fit is a big positive. But mostly, I have learned that therapy can and should be fun.