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New to the 2019 PSF 5K Race for Education: Ainsley’s Angels Offer New Opportunities for Participants

This year’s annual 5K Race for Education took place on March 16, with more than 1,100 runners, walkers and riders taking off from UNC’s McCorkle Place. A great Public School Foundation (PSF) community builder and major fundraiser to support the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the 5K Race showcased an exciting new collaboration with the non-profit organization, Ainsley’s Angels. Ten rider-athletes benefited from the support of Ainsley’s Angels, riding in “chariots,” or adaptive wheelchairs; most were pushed by family members, but some were pushed by volunteer Angels. Angel participants set off five minutes before the rest of the runners, and those chariots sped through the course.

5K A's Angels start race The introduction of adaptive wheelchairs to the 5K Race came together from the passion and organizational skills of many, including: CHCCS parent Lindsay Bedford, PSF 5K Race Chair Christine Cotton, Executive Director of Exceptional Children, Lessley Saenz-Mader, and Ainsley’s Angels’ Ambassador, Caitlin Espy, who  serves as the Triangle Ambassador. “We were so very grateful to be included in this race for the first time ever,” said Espy.  “Ainsley's Angels is an organization which promotes inclusion of our special needs community through endurance events. This organization locally is made up of all volunteers who donate their time, runners who lend their legs to our rider athletes, and most importantly, our rider athletes who pull our runners along the course.”

Bedford, a former Ephesus Elementary School teacher, and 2009 Autism Society’s North Carolina Teacher of the Year, acknowledged she served as a primary organizer, pulling together the pieces of the collaboration. “But the job was handed to me by Margarita Escaler. Margarita's daughter, Maddie, is an Ainsley's Angels Athlete and CHCCS student at Rashkis. Margarita was the person who came up with this idea and got in touch with Christine [Cotton]. Unfortunately, Maddie became quite ill over the holidays and Margarita entrusted me with carrying the partnership through. ” As so often happens, it took a village.

5K Ainsley's Angels Maddie Saenz-Mader ran as part of Maddie’s Team, the runners who helped Maddie Harrison’s chariot win among the Angels. “It was an honor to run with Ainsley’s Angels. Such a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate inclusive opportunities for individuals with disabilities and mobility needs. Thank you to our families and Caitlin, the Central Carolina Ambassador, for Ainsley’s Angels, and for the organization at the 5K. We look forward to future runs!”

Cotton said, “PSF was thrilled that the 2019 5K Race for Education was truly an inclusive event. Through our partnership with Ainsley's Angels, the support of Lessley Saenz-Mader, and the dedication of PSF volunteer Lindsay Bedford, 10 rider athletes and their pushers were able to participate in the Public School Foundation's annual community event. As the 5K Event Chair and parent of a child who was not able to participate in events like this when he was younger, adding the chairs was especially important to me. The partnership is the beginning of an ongoing relationship that will allow more children and families to participate in an event that celebrates our schools and our teachers and we are already looking forward to more rider athletes at the 2020 5K.”

The Central NC group of Ainsley’s Angels typically participates in 10 or more races a year, 5K’s and longer. Espy said their rider athletes are the center of their teams. “As an organization, we provide a trailer and racing chairs to our rider athletes to use on race day. The smiles of the riders and family Ainsley's Angels creates is something incredibly special. If anyone would like to join us, we would love to have you come run or roll with us.”

A national organization with chapters in 30 states, Ainsley’s Angels is dedicated to ensuring everyone can experience endurance events by providing adaptive wheelchairs, built for safety to rider and pusher to endure distances as far as ultra-marathons. According to their website, “Ainsley's Angels of America aims to build awareness about America's special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life. Serving as advocates to providing education and participating as active members in local communities, their core belief is that everyone deserves to be included.”