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updated: 7/18/2013 10:05 AM

Down syndrome no barrier to running Sunday's half-marathon

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  • From left, Krissy Altersohn, of Geneva, Ashley McLeod, of St. Charles, and Lindsey Pazerunas, of Inverness, show each other some love before their final practice.

       From left, Krissy Altersohn, of Geneva, Ashley McLeod, of St. Charles, and Lindsey Pazerunas, of Inverness, show each other some love before their final practice.
    Dave Dvorak | Staff Photographer

  • Deb Hawney, of West Chicago, left, slaps hands with Allie Reninger, of Schaumburg. Hawney is one of the Dick Pond Athletics athletics who has been helping train the athletes.

       Deb Hawney, of West Chicago, left, slaps hands with Allie Reninger, of Schaumburg. Hawney is one of the Dick Pond Athletics athletics who has been helping train the athletes.
    Dave Dvorak | Staff Photographer

  • Athletes and their mentors pose for a photo, cheering "UPS for DownS!," before their final practice.

       Athletes and their mentors pose for a photo, cheering "UPS for DownS!," before their final practice.
    Dave Dvorak | Staff Photographer

  • Mike Reninger, of Schaumburg, addresses UPS for DownS members.

       Mike Reninger, of Schaumburg, addresses UPS for DownS members.
    Dave Dvorak | Staff Photographer

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent

Team members wearing yellow shirts swarmed the Dick Pond's Athletics store in Schaumburg last week.

They met for their last team practice before Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon and the 3-mile mini-marathon, at Grant Park in Chicago.

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What makes this team remarkable is that it includes 20 young adults with Down syndrome, who trained all summer with family, friends and mentors. On Sunday, they will line up with 20,000 runners -- from elite to recreational -- from all over the world.

"This is my first race," says Allie Reninger, 19, of Schaumburg, proudly. She has endured multiple surgeries, including repairs to her knees, hips and even her spine, and didn't walk until she turned 5.

She points to her mentor, 19-year-old Aubrey Lopshire, who lives next door and has been inspired by Allie to want to go to medical school.

"She supports me," Allie said of her mentor. "She keeps me going."

Stories like that resonate throughout the team, which includes 92 athletes overall including 81 planning to run the mini-marathon and 11 doing the full, 13-mile half marathon.

The Schaumburg-based UPS for DownS support organization sponsors the team. On Friday, they will send off their runners with a pasta party at Belvedere Banquets in Elk Grove Village.

For the last six years, UPS for DownS has been an official charity of the Chicago Marathon, and its members always work a water station along the course. When the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon series added a mini-marathon last year, UPS for DownS officials saw an opportunity.

"We saw it as an excellent way to promote physical fitness among individuals with disabilities," says Mike Reninger, Allie's dad and an UPS for DownS board member, "and to showcase what these young people are capable of accomplishing.

"Three miles may not seem like a lot," he adds, "but it's a marathon for some of these young people."

They already were in the habit of training every week. For the last five years, UPS for DownS has sponsored a walking club for its young adults and their friends and family members. They always meet at Dick Pond's and start out on a trek through the surrounding neighborhood.

"This summer, we did a gradual buildup to running," says Deb Hawney, manager of the Schaumburg Dick Pond's location, who designed the training regimen. "The mentors really helped in pushing them for that second and third mile.

"Having a goal this year, of doing the race," Hawney adds, "really helped."

Allison Fogarty, 22, of Roselle, uses a tracheostomy tube to help her breathing. Although she admits she will have to walk some of the route, she remains determined.

"I like to win all the time," Allison says.

Likewise, Ashley McCloud of St. Charles, is ready to go. Although she has never run before, she was hooked after this summer's training. With her ear buds in place, and listening to everything from country to hip-hop, the music keeps her moving.

"I love it," Ashley said of running. "I'm thinking of doing a full marathon."

Vicki Kirkpatrick of Crystal Lake took over this year as chairwoman. At the team practice, she held her 3-year-old daughter, Mady, who has Down syndrome.

"This is amazing," Kirkpatrick said, looking at all the runners. "This gives me hope. This is our future."

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