The July 4th weekend in Atlanta is always special and filled with traditions passed on for years. One of the best of these traditions being the AJC Peachtree Road Race. The race was started in 1970 with 110 runners and now has over 50,000 finishers. In 1982 The Shepard Center Wheelchair Division made its debut and continues to be the kickoff event even before the Elites make their way to Piedmont Park. This year, over 25 wheelchair athletes made the start! Along with the wheelchair athletes, this year the new Assisted Athlete Division had 5 teams line up in Buckhead.
The Kyle Pease Foundation, partnering with the Shepard Center, supplied the chairs and volunteers so that the athletes could feel the energy and support of the World’s Largest 10k . KPF has been working with local Atlanta families and athletes for over 4 years. Their mission of inclusion has spread amongst the endurance community rapidly. Last year, two assisted athletes finished the Peachtree, this year 5 teams flew down Peachtree sparking smiles and cheers for all 6.2 miles. It was a great moment in our community.
ITL’s Anthony Nasser was selected to assist athlete Cougar Clifford in his first Peachtree. They had met on Saturday night and were both excited about the race experience. Cougar had recently completed the Waterfront Triathlon in Chattanooga, and was eager to race again. It would be both Cougar’s and Anthony’s first race as partners and Anthony’s first in the Assisted Athlete Division. KPF has done such a great job with focusing on inclusion, all along, building strong bonds between the athlete and volunteer. It’s typical after the race for both to become close friends and race multiple times. What a gift for everyone involved.
Cougar was involved in an accident as a young boy. He was doing things that most boys would do during a snow storm, jumping into the snow drifts. On one jump, his depth perception was off and he landed incorrectly and broke his C5 vertebrae, leaving him instantly motionless. The weather conditions created a challenge to get him to the trauma center. Three helicopters attempted to evac Cougar, but the weather conditions and snow caused the blades to ice over leaving them unable to depart. Cougar remained conscious while all this was taking place. Eventually an ambulance was able to reach Cougar and transport him to a hospital.
Today Cougar works diligently in therapy to regain movement in his body. He was told he would not be mobile again. A young fighter, he didn’t accept it, he now has the ability to use his hands and arms and is building strength. His walking is assisted, but that is something he is working on as well. The Kyle Pease Foundation gives him a place to feed his competitive spirit and give him hope. He looks to do more on his own, soon.
Anthony and Cougar raced with the KPF on Monday and they represented hope and inclusion. Anthony rarely attends a race without volunteering, and many times it is two shifts. He is accomplished in life and athletics. He says it will be a race experience he will never forget. They are already talking about what could be next. Within ITL we teach accomplishment, never undermine what you have done. We are not fast or slow, we are athletes. Finish lines are places of excitement and emotions. Getting to them is what is important.