Thank you FHSAA!

This journal is a peek into my crazy brain. You never know what I’m going to write about next. I never know. Every article deals with some aspect of my life. My family, Mystic, substituting, track, pursuing a writing career, exercising, spirituality and ducks, I have written about them all. I feel like a juggler with many balls up in the air. Each day one ball falls closer to me, I catch it and throw it back up and wait for the next one to fall. It’s all about balance.

Today’s ball-Wheelchair Racing- High School Track and How it all Began

My daughter Arielle joined PE in seventh grade. A wonderful teacher by the name of Ms. Black encouraged her to become active. Arielle had been paralyzed in a car accident in fourth grade and she was still dealing with her new limitations. Ms. Black treated her like everyone else and challenged her to strive beyond her limitations. Arielle decided to participate in 5K’s and middle school track and field.

I was a new teacher at the time and spent many hours in the classroom and at home working. Arielle came to me and wanted to join her middle school track team. I thought it was a good idea but it certainly was not my main focus. I was busy. She told me she needed special permission because she was in a wheelchair. I went to my principal and she told me whom I should talk to in the district. I called him and waited for his response.

Meanwhile…..

A few days later, I was driving over the Veterans Memorial Bridge to work listening to one of my favorite radio stations. The DJ came on and started talking about North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts and one of their students. This was my daughter’s school. Suddenly, I realized they were talking about my daughter, Arielle. A mom at her school had started a petition to allow Arielle to be on her middle school track team. She got the radio station involved and there I was in my car listening to people debate over whether or not my daughter should be allowed on the middle school track team. I was in shock and later in a bit of hot water because I worked for the school district.

All of this attention and commotion made me very uneasy. At the time, I am ashamed to say, I was thinking more about me than Arielle. They let her on the track team and I thought it was over.

Arielle and her dad decided to race in Disney’s 15K, Race for the Taste. We all went to Orlando and I watched on the side lines while she wheeled in and finished the race in her every day chair. It was amazing. They had DJ’s cheering all the runners as they came in and one DJ kept saying “Someone has to get this girl a racing wheelchair.” I had no idea what he was talking about.

Two days later we received a call from Robin, a representative of The Challenged Athletes Foundation. She explained to us that there are wheelchair athletes all over the world. They helped us get a racing wheelchair for Arielle. Arielle’s spark for racing became a raging fire. She loved her new racing wheelchair. I was finally realizing this was more than just a phase for Arielle and she needed my support.

I decided to slow down and pay attention to what was really important in my life. When Arielle entered high school, I left teaching. Track season came and I mistakenly thought that since her eighth grade year went so smoothly, so would her freshman year. Not so. This time, I was awake to the challenges and the importance racing held to my daughter and I became her advocate. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I have always wanted to get along with everyone and not make waves. I had to make waves. I had to speak up. I did and along the way upset some people. Luckily, I had other caring individuals speak up too.(Reeve Foundation!) I often think of the man who told me Arielle was not even allowed to wear her school track uniform. When he said that to me on the phone, I felt a fire within that fueled every email and meeting and phone call I made. Looking back, I suppose it was a good thing he said what he said. It ignited my passion. They let her on the team to race alone and compete against her own time. I watched my brave child take her racing wheelchair onto the track alone and wheel around in front of a crowd, most of whom had never seen a racing wheelchair. Suddenly I understood what bittersweet meant. Bitter because life was difficult for her and once again she was dealing with an obstacle and sweet because she was on the team and I knew she would be an inspiration to many. Sweet because she was so brave.

One school allowed Arielle to race on the track with other girls. Charlotte High. That was a day I will never forget. Most everyone cheered her on and supported her. Still Arielle overheard a girl say “She better not run over my toes!” I bring this up only because I want to show how difficult it can be to be different and to put yourself out there in front of others because you know in your heart what you are doing is right. Change takes bravery.

In the defense of everyone who stood in the way of Arielle being on the track team, they were simply following rules set out for them by the FHSAA. In the defense of the FHSAA, no one in a wheelchair had ever wanted to race on a high school track team. I believe there are only three states that allow wheelchair events in their track meets.

Why am I writing about all this on Thanksgiving? Because three days ago the FHSAA voted to allow the wheelchair 200, 800, and shot put in their track and field events in high school. I was told that it normally takes two years to add a new event and they did it in six months. I am very thankful for what they have done. Now, challenged teen athletes all over Florida will have the opportunity to be a member of their high school track team and compete. Why did this happen so quickly? I hold to my belief that people are good and compassionate. There may be times when we disagree but parents, teachers, principals, administrators, the FHSAA, we are all individuals who care about the future of our children. I believe what happened this past year with the FHSAA and track and field is a testimonial to how people can come together, create change, and help make our world better for our children. I encourage anyone reading this to see if their state allows challenged athletes on their high school track teams. Thank you FHSAA!

Happy Thanksgiving!
K.D.Rausin

http://communities.kintera.org/REEVE/blogs/daily_dose/archive/2009/11/24/67886.aspx

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