There are so many things that 9-year-old Faith Clair can’t do because of her physical and mental limitations.
So when she rides a jogging wheelchair with other members of the Fredericksburg chapter of Ainsley’s Angels—and completes a 5K race as the group will do on Sunday—the joy spreads from the little girl’s face to her mother’s—and beyond.
“I mean, there’s nothing like it,” said Jessica Clair, who lives in Stafford County. “It’s very heartwarming to see my child participate in something that normal people can do.”
Ainsley’s Angels started locally in 2016 to get people in wheelchairs off the sidelines and into the races. Headed by Michele Tritt of King George County, the group offers “inclusive” running events to people of all ages who have special needs. Since its inception, the Ainsley’s Angels Race Series has grown along with its fleet of “chariots,” the specially designed chairs built for jogging.
Sunday’s race, the annual Haunted Hopyard 5K at Hopyard Farm in King George, is a prime example. It started with 20 riders and 40 runners and has grown to 45 riders and 220 runners, Tritt said.
“Being kind and including others is the right thing to do,” Tritt said. “I believe people see the joy and feel the love and they want to be part of it.”
Parent Erica Noe also credits the community for support, from businesses and clubs that sponsor races and donate money for chairs to individuals who run along with the riders.
“They lift up the athlete riders and provide all the encouragement and support the teams need from the start to the finish,” Noe said.
The races are particularly poignant for the Cusack family, who live across the Harry Nice Bridge in Maryland. Parents Pete and Jenna have two children, Noah, 14, and Lily, 10.
Noah is the president of the National Junior Honor Society at Piccowaxen Middle School in Charles County. For two years, the chapter has focused on Ainsley’s Angels, raising enough money to buy one of the adaptive wheelchairs used in races. (Each one costs about $1,300.)
When Jenna Cusack sees her children enjoy an outdoor activity together—something they could never do before because of Lily’s physical limitations—she’s grateful for the opportunities Ainsley’s Angels provides.
“I cry every time I see them cross the finish line,” Cusack said.
Sunday’s event, the fourth annual Haunted Hopyard 5K, will be held at Hopyard Farm in King George and was rescheduled from an earlier date because of bad weather. The event includes a 5K and 1-mile fun run for kids as well as carnival games, which start at 2 p.m., followed by the race at 3 p.m.
Jessica Clair looks forward to the interaction, not just among the runners and riders, but also those at the subdivision. On Sunday, residents will be cheering and handing out candy as Faith Clair rides along in her adaptive chair, surrounded by three or four runners who will encourage her the whole time.
“It creates a camaraderie among us all,” Jessica Clair said, “the feeling that you’re not in this alone.”
More information is on Facebook, under Ainsley’s Angels of Fredericksburg, Va., online at ainsleysangels.org/category/virginia/fredericksburg/ or by calling 540/760-8260.
It creates a camaraderie ... the feeling that you’re not in this alone. —JESSICA CLAIR
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425