Aerin Amelia Marx turned 10 on September 12, 2015. She was born 14 weeks early and weighed only 1 pound, 12 ounces. She had a rough time during the 92 days she spent in the hospital before coming home on her due date. She spent the next 2 years coping with complications from her extreme prematurity and a tumor called a hemangioma. She had the hemangioma removed during a major surgery in 2007 and was diagnosed with Autism the year after that. While she is nonverbal and autistic, she has been blessed with a strong spirit and feisty humor.
Our family struggled to find activities we could do together - many things other families enjoy were out of reach for us. When someone suggested that we look into United Athletics, we had no idea that it would change our lives. Aerin loves being a rider athlete. She is accepted and celebrated for who she is and absolutely showered with love at every single race. Her little sisters and brother love to cheer for her and are looking forward to the day when they are tall enough to push her in the racing chair. Her mom has rediscovered a love of running, as well. Race days are something the entire family looks forward to!
Alexander's name means warrior of men, and it couldn't be more fitting. Alex has been a fighter since before he was even born! When I was about five months pregnant we found out through an ultrasound that our baby boy had something called a cystic hygroma (which is a build up of lymphatic fluid on the back of his neck) and that this condition is usually fatal for a fetus. We were told that even if he survived the pregnancy he would face many challenges both health wise and concerning his development.
He was born early and was almost eight pounds! It was obvious that he had some 'differences' such as low set ears, wide set eyes and several other indicators of a generic abnormality. Five years later we are no closer to an official diagnosis but he is thriving. He is significantly mentally and physically delayed, non-verbal, epileptic, and has a sensory processing disorder. Despite all of this he is a happy, loving and inspiring little boy.
At three years old, we were told he would never walk but just this past Saturday I watched him RUN across the finish line of his first 5K with United Athletics. There are no words to describe the gratitude we have for the volunteers of this program that encouraged him to get out of his stroller and finish that race on his own two feet! It was truly a miraculous thing to watch. I will never forget that moment and the pride I saw all over his face tells me that there will be many races in our future with UA!
Ben is a veteran racer and Rock Star! After dabbling in soccer and baseball, neither of which Ben seemed to really enjoy, he began racing as an Athlete with UA in January 2013. It was love at first race! Ben is doesn’t use spoken words, but says everything with his smiles and obvious excitement while he's racing. He will jump into any stroller, trailer or raft as soon as he sees it, then gives the "let's go" look. Racing with UA has become a huge part of Ben's life and his mother has competed in triathlon and several road races with her son.
Ben has a diagnosis of Down syndrome and hypermobility affects his coordination and ability to run, so being an assisted athlete is just perfect for him!
For more information visit:
National Association for Down syndrome: http://www.nads.org
National Down syndrome Society, http://www.ndss.org
Casey is from Colonial Heights, VA and is 12 years old. Three years ago, his sister’s middle school band teacher sent home a note stating Casey might enjoy being an Athlete with United Athletics. His family got in touch with UA and his first race was the Westchester Shamrock 5K in 2012, with a group of friends forming Team Casey. He loved it and since then he has raced in several 5K’s, 10K’s and 3 Half Marathons. He loves going to the different races, meeting new people and discovering who will be the next Team Casey. As Casey states, “It’s fun to go Fast!” Those who have raced with Casey love his laughter and being told to go faster. While the team races, Casey takes time to sight see on the course, letting the team know where dogs, potholes and mud puddles are located. Casey has his own Facebook page “TEAM CASEY” that is shared with the community in hopes of letting others with disabilities know that there is a place for them in the running world. Casey loves racing season and wearing his race shirts to school to let them know that he is an athlete too!
Casey was born with Hydrocephalus that means his brain produces too much spinal fluid. In order for his brain to develop, Casey had a shunt placed in his brain to siphon out the excess fluid. He has had 2 brain surgeries and one orthopedic surgery to correct his feet so that he can walk without assistive devices (leg braces and crutches). There is currently no cure for Hydrocephalus. Casey’s intellectual disabilities and his hypotonia (low muscle tone) is a byproduct of this condition.
For more information on Hydrocephalus please visit the Hydrocephalus Association
Baseball has always been Colleen’s favorite sport. She is a seasoned veteran of Challenger Baseball and loves attending the Richmond Flying Squirrel games. One day, John Howe from United Athletics came up to Colleen at a Squirrels game and encouraged her to give UA a try. Colleen ran her first 5K with John and Jennifer in October of 2014 and she is hooked! Now, baseball and racing are Colleen’s favorite sports and race mementos are starting to take over her bulletin board at home. Colleen may not be able to walk or run but she loves to talk. She keeps up a steady conversation with her team members during races and at the recent Toys for Tots 5K she was heard wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” as she passed them on the course. Colleen is so excited to be running races just like her older brother and she is even starting to get her father back into running.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a general term for a group of permanent, non-progressive movement disorders that cause physical disability, mainly in the areas of body movement. There may also be problems with sensation, depth perception, and communication ability. For more information visit, http://ucp.org
Danny has the most beautiful smile, he loves being around people, is VERY excited about racing and he has cerebral palsy. Danny has a twin brother named Jason and an older brother named Kyle.
Danny currently lives in the Virginia Home. This happened in 2013, about the same time, Danny’s twin brother graduated from Virginia Tech and also moved out of the family home. Danny’s mother stated, “This has been a very hard process for me, especially letting go and trusting others to care for Danny. I love the fact that Danny wants to become more independent and try new things. Racing with UA has been a very positive experience for Danny and for the whole family. Thanks so much for including us!” Danny was able to run the Monument Ave 10k in 2015 with his twin brother and high school buddies!
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a general term for a group of permanent, non-progressive movement disorders that cause physical disability, mainly in the areas of body movement. There may also be problems with sensation, depth perception, and communication ability.
UA Williamsburg is proud to introduce Gemma Ayles. Her first race was the Sentara Sleigh Bell 5K and she had a blast! Gemma has multiple disabilities including deafness and cognitive delays but she loves to go fast and often signs “1-2-3…GO!” when pushed in her own stroller with her family, so having someone run a race with her in a racing stroller was the perfect fit!
Gemma loves to swim in the pool and in the ocean. She likes to ride the rollercoasters at Busch Gardens and she has been taking therapeutic horseback riding lessons for about 10 years. She is an avid Three Stooges Fan, both the new version and the old black and white shows and she also loves to paint!
Her family says, “Gemma is a rare soul, she has absolutely no malice in her,” but they also caution, “She understands MUCH more about the world than what she typically reveals. She’s not nearly as delayed as she would like you to think.”
Sarah Sams, Williamsburg Race Director had this to say about Gemma’s first race, “Gemma was adorable and she finished the Sleigh Bell pretty quickly. She then sat on the curb and watched 100's of other runners finish the race with a huge smile on her face!”
For a better understanding of advocacy for the deaf and hard of hearing, please visit the National Association of the Deaf
Meet George. George began racing with United Athletics this summer in the Cul de Sac 5K series. He loves to ride and watch the other runners. His mother said that after we got home from our first race, he took his shirt off and walked around the house shirtless like some of the elite runners. Since starting, he has participated in 7 events with UA including a 30-mile bike ride and a sprint triathlon! When his Mom gets out the bright green UA shirts before an event, he gets a big smile on his face.
George loves the water, playing outside, going fast and being sneaky. He is taking soccer and learning how to swim. George has Down Syndrome, which means he has an extra 21st chromosome. Like many people with DS, he has low muscle tone, loose joints and some difficulty with coordinating his muscles. Long walks and other activities requiring stamina are hard for him but he is working hard to strengthen his muscles and learn new skills each day.
For more information on Down Syndrome, please visit http://www.ndss.org
Heather is a veteran racer with UA. Her favorite sport is NASCAR and "She has a need for speed." When she and her running partner race you can just feel her joy as she passes other competitors. She and her father can often be seen on the race course together. They even participated in a triathlon together!
Heather is diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, which is a post-natal neurological disorder that impacts her communication skills and makes it difficult for her to be mobile. Heather loves competing and hopes to participate in more road races and Open Water Swim triathlons in 2014.
For more information visit the International Rett Syndrome Foundation here.
On April 12th, Isabella Wilson and her twin Alannah participated in their first 5K races with UA, at the IRON 5k located in in Amherst, Virginia.
Isabella is a fun, smart, and caring 14-year-old young lady. She loves her family and friends and playing the trumpet in the band. When she is not at school, she enjoys being involved in church activities and going outside. Isabella doesn't let her Cerebral Palsy (CP) slow her down and is looking forward to getting a mobility/service dog in June so she can be even more independent. Isabella's wish is to participate in a triathlon race in the near future.
CP impacts the control of motor function (the ability to move and control movements) and is due to a brain lesion that is non-progressive.
For more information regarding Cerebral Palsy, please visit: http://ucp.org
Jasmine and Joel Hoglund began racing with UA in 2013, in Lynchburg, VA. They are both adopted from Hong Kong and have Down syndrome, which they are very proud to educate people about
Each has gained invaluable confidence from participating with UA in road races and triathlons. In 2014 Angel’s Triathlon Race, Jasmine and Joel were fiercely competitive telling their partner athletes to “Go Faster!” They enjoy the thrill of the race and the acceptance they’ve found from other athletes cheering them on. Jasmine even worked up enough confidence to participate in Girls on the Run and finished her first 5K in November 2013 without assistance. Joel thrives on the triathlon and says the swim is his favorite because he loves the water.
Jasmine and Joel can’t wait to race again in 2015! Watch out triathlon world, Jasmine and Joel received adaptive equipment from the United Athletics Medical Fund in 2015, and soon will compete in their first triathlon independently!
For more information on Down syndrome, please visit http://www.ndss.org
Jenna is a veteran racer with United Athletics. She has participated in 5k to 1/2 marathon running races, Sprint/Olympic Triathlons, Bike Races, and Open Water Swimming Races. The joy that Jenna receives from these events is so obvious in the smile on her face and the sound of her laughter. Jenna has made many new friends in the Richmond Community. She and her mother compete often together, and Jenna participated in the United States Marine Corps Marathon in 2015.
Jenna is diagnosed with a metabolic disorder called Cerebral Folate Deficiency Syndrome. She has a difficult time breaking down folic acid, which has resulted in multiple physical and intellectual hurdles for her. But these challenges have not stopped her from loving life!
For additional information, please visit the LiveStrong website.
Josh began racing with United Athletics in the Fall of 2014 and he loved it! Of course running with speedy Karl Cover appeals to an extrovert like Josh. Josh is quite the ladies man and his mother calls him a "hopeless flirt". On the course he can be seen smiling and waving and he definitely enjoys the company of females. Josh attends high school in Chesterfield County and lives with his mother/stepfather in the community.
Josh has many physical hurdles, which make it quite a challenge for him to participate in the UA races. Those challenges include Crohn’s disease, sleep apnea, seizures, neuropathy, hearing impairment, hip dysplasia, food allergies and reflux. However, don’t let any of that fool you into thinking that he doesn’t keep his family very busy and laughing at all of his antics.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. For additional information, please visit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America
This is Justin’s has a blast participating in races with UA! Justin Duval works as a greeter at Panera Bread in Colonial Heights where he met UA volunteer John Howe who asked if he would like to do a race. He did the Colonial Heights Turkey Trot in 2013 and fell in love with running! He even got his boss Tony to come out and run with him who hadn’t run in years!
His Mom said, ”Some mornings it’s hard to get Justin up but on race mornings he is raring to go!” In 2015, Team Justin has participated in the Monument Avenue 10K, the Deltaville 5K, the Pony Pasture 5K and the Anthem Moonlight bicycle ride.
Justin is participating in the HCA 8K on 11/15, his first Tri on 10/6 and the Wicked 10K in Virginia Beach on 10/25.
If you are in Colonial Heights, please stop by Panera Bread and say Hi to Justin and Tony.
Justin is a victim of Shaken baby syndrome.
For more information, please go to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes here.
Kimberly is a lovely young woman who lives in the community with her family. She is so sweet and kind, with a smile that lights up the room. Kimberly is typically described as a social butterfly; however, she is very active in the community with different organizations. Kimberly began racing with United Athletics in the Fall of 2013 and is looking forward to many more racing events.
Kimberly has a moderate intellectual disability, a seizure disorder, and apraxia. None of that seems to slow her down. Kimberly is on the go from the moment she wakes up until she falls asleep. She is quiet but she effectively communicates with her iPad and her smile.
Apraxia (called "dyspraxia" if mild) is a neurological disorder characterized by loss of the ability to execute or carry out skilled movements and gestures, despite having the desire and the physical ability to perform them. For additional information, please visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/apraxia/apraxia.htm
This is Ms. Leilani Pope, our newest United Athletics Athlete. Leilani was scheduled to walk the Eagles Challenge 5K with her mother, her Aunt and her cousin (who also has special needs). This would have been their first race with us.
Unfortunately, the morning of the race, Leilani had a terrible seizure and was not well enough to attend the race. She stayed at home with her father while her mother came and walked with her sister/nephew to support them in their first race with United Athletics. Leilani and her mother raced together with UA on 11/7/15 for the St, Francis 5K. Be sure and look for more pictures then! Welcome to the UA family Leilani!
Leilani has faced a number of hurdles during her short two years of life. She has a genetic disorder called Neutropenia. She is also diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, asthma, GERD, and anaphylactic allergy to peanuts.
For more information about Neutropenia, please visit the National Neutropenia Network
Madison is a beautiful young woman who loves life regardless of its’ challenges. Madison has raced in multiple 5K’s and has completed 2 triathlons. Her parents think that the best part of UA is either participating with Madison or watching as other athletes do the work. UA is and will always be part of Madison’s family and now they have an activity that the entire family can participate in!
Madison was diagnosed with Lissencephaly when she was 3 months old, a grim prognosis with a life expectancy of 2 years. Madison's family has decided to focus on Madison's life and not her diagnosis giving her love, laughter and happiness every day of her life.
Click Here for more information visit the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD):
This is Taylor, a sweet, fearless young girl with an “I can do it!” attitude. We like to call her our little firecracker. She has a confidence and love for life that is astounding. Most often you will find her with a big smile on her face - regardless of the many daily obstacles she faces. She’s a social little girl who loves the colors pink and purple and anything Taylor Swift. She also loves to sing, enjoys competitive cheer, Miracle League Soccer and Baseball, playing in the pool, and of course, United Athletics races. She recently moved back to Richmond, VA from Texas, and has participated in the Shamrock 5k and the Monument 10k. She is also quickly becoming a seasoned triathlete
Taylor has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, an autosomal recessive genetic disorder that affects the control of muscle movement. She drives her power chair faster than some drive their cars, and has been doing so since just before the age of two. She looks forward to meeting you and be sure to say “hello when she passes you on the course.
For more information on Spinal Muscular Atrophy, please visit: