By Kyle Thomas
In 2005, I graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a business degree and great job lined up in Dallas. The future looked to be planning itself and I thought I had everything figured out. However, I had one more thing to do before joining the corporate world and it would prove to be a life-changing experience.
Earlier in the year, I had signed up to ride my bike across the country with a charity I was affiliated with through my fraternity. Push America is a nonprofit located in Charlotte dedicated to raising funds and awareness for people with disabilities. As part of my commitment, I raised more than $5,000 for the organization and was set to depart in June from the West Coast with 100 other fraternity brothers from across the country. My plan was to knock out the ride, arrive in Washington, D.C., in August and begin climbing the corporate ladder upon my return home. Little did I know that one person could derail my plans and change everything.
I met Jason in Atlanta as we arrived at North Metro Miracle League Field to play baseball. Our team was two weeks from D.C., we had seen and met so many great people along the way, but we eagerly awaited the steps of the Capitol. North Metro Miracle League is a fully accessible baseball league in which team members are partnered with volunteers to assist in running the bases or swinging the bat. Jason was my partner. To say I was exhausted would be an understatement and I honestly just wanted a nap when we showed up. But, Jason’s smile and pure energy changed everything for me.
Jason lives with cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, but that does not slow him down. He loves baseball and recites home run derby champions from the 1950s. But most importantly, his love for life is contagious and his laugh is infectious. I remember leaving that visit thinking how amazing that little kid was and my perspective on my life had changed.
I went on to finish the trip and return to Dallas, but it didn’t last long. My experience with Jason had left a fire in my heart to keep serving a cause greater than myself. I resigned from my corporate job to continue serving people with disabilities, both in my career and my personal pursuits. I began competing in endurance sports to help raise funds and awareness. For five years, I competed in marathons and triathlons raising a good amount of funds for Push America. However, every finish line felt as if something was missing. While the funds were being disbursed to a great cause, my completion of these events still felt a bit selfish. I could talk all day about the abilities of people with disabilities, but I couldn’t show them.
In 2010, five years from my last encounter with Jason, I tracked down his family’s information and composed a simple email. I explained to them the impact Jason had on my life and that the memory of playing baseball that day had lived with me for the last five years. I ended the email by asking if Jason wanted to show 60,000 people that he can run a marathon just like everyone else. Keeping in mind I had not seen or talked to Jason or his family for five years, my email was more than a shock.
On Oct. 31, 2010, Jason and I laced up our shoes to run 26.2 miles. The trust his family put in me was an honor and the joy on his faced powered us the entire way. The most amazing part of running that marathon was the relationship and bond that had formed. We were in it together. We crossed the finish line that day and it was one of the most amazing moments of our lives. It didn’t matter that anyone was around us; it was just fun hanging out.
Every moment I spend with Jason, I learn something new about him and about people with disabilities that I hope to share with others. Jason motivates me to be a better person. His outlook on life is so great and his joy puts everything in perspective. After that race, we decided to run a marathon every year to continue to spread awareness for the abilities of all people. In 2011, Jason brought his friend Victor and between the two of them, they raised almost $14,000 for people with disabilities. Not only are they planning for 2012, they are bringing more friends to step foot on the nation’s capital to promote abilities.
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For more information about Push America, please visit www.pushamerica.org.