When Justin Wann and John McNail rounded the last corner of the Roots ‘N Blues BBQ half-marathon pushing their friend Tucker Johnson in a wheelchair, there was only one thing on their minds – getting 18-year-old Tucker on his feet and crossing the finish line together.
Confused, the crowd fell silent as Justin and John stopped the wheelchair and lifted Tucker from his seat and onto his wobbly feet. But when the trio locked arms and walked ahead, the onlookers roared, recognizing a moment of triumph.
As they slowly crossed the finish line of the 13.1-mile race, Tucker looked from his feet into the smiling faces of Justin and John.
“You did it, man!” Justin said. “Do you hear all of these people? They are all cheering for you.”
Tucker was among six people with developmental disabilities who were inspired by John and Justin to participate in the 10k and half-marathon races, which took place September 10 in downtown Columbia. As Supported Living Assistants at Boone County Family Resources, John and Justin had been working for months with adults with developmental disabilities, helping them with on-the-job training among other things. The friends had already started training for the half-marathon when they hatched an idea to run for a cause.
“We started talking about how cool it would be if we ran for ‘disability awareness,’” Justin said. Before long, they had recruited more than 25 staff, clients and friends to join them. They even designed and sold white and blue t-shirts that read “Destroying limitations one stride at a time.”
Most of the participants with developmental disabilities had never trained for a long-distance race, including Ricky, 47, and Shaina, 25, who ran the 10K. When Ricky crossed the finish line, he smiled widely, dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. The crowd cheered.
“I wasn’t sure I could do it,” said Ricky, who lost 11 pounds and started eat healthier after he began training for the race. “I ran every day for a month and a half.” Shaina, who also lost weight and sprinted to the finish line, inspired several BCFR staff to join her at the race.
“This was all her idea,” said Maggie Ivich, a Support Living Assistant at BCFR. “Shaina was our motivation.”
John believes runners like Ricky and Shaina experienced “a better sense of being” because of their training. “Running isn’t just a physical exercise, but also a mental exercise. It soothes the soul, and I think our clients have experienced this,” he said.
For Justin, witnessing the perseverance of runners like Ricky and Shaina was an unforgettable experience. “They are showing the world that they belong in the community and can compete at the same level,” he said. “My hat goes off to them and everything they are standing for.”