Written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
Five years ago when Gladys Rivera signed up her autistic son Adam for Achilles Kids athletes she had no idea it would lead to a trip to Walt Disney World. Like many moms of kids with autism, Gladys was looking for a recreational activity for Adam. With limited inclusive programs, Gladys was grateful when she heard about the free Achilles Kids program at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
Achilles International is a nonprofit organization founded in 1983 with chapters and members in over 65 locations within the United States and abroad. Every day, in parks, gyms, and tracks all over the world, Achilles provides athletes with disabilities with a community of support. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with all types of disabilities. Every other Saturday, Achilles Kids meet up at Central Park, where they run, walk or roll side by side with a partner. Parents are encouraged to join in but not required.
Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting thirteen-year old Adam and four other Achilles Kids with their parents and volunteers before a practice run. The kids – all boys – were focused and excited to start. And their parents and partners were patient, supportive and encouraging.
The five Achilles Kids were invited to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (Jan 11-13, 2013) Disney Family Fun Run 5K race. Members of the Cigna group had met The Achilles Kids earlier in 2012, and were so impressed by their dedication that Cigna fully sponsored the kids and their parents. For Adam, it would be his first trip to Walt Disney World.
As a mother to a seven-year old son with autism, I saw a lot of my son in Adam. Described as a “natural-born runner,” Adam looked extremely proud as he completed his first lap. And I’m both grateful and inspired by programs like Achilles for creating these opportunities for our kids.
To learn more about Achilles Kids, visit http://www.achillesinternational.org/
To learn more about Cigna®, visit www.cigna.com
To learn more about the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, visit http://www.rundisney.com/disneyworld-marathon/