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updated: 11/4/2013 7:34 PM

Naperville charity runners to raise funds to battle spinal cord injuries

Spinal cord injuries: Naperville harity runners have a word for them

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  • Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn and her teammates are running the Naperville Half Marathon to support Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, a charity her son, Geoff, started.

       Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn and her teammates are running the Naperville Half Marathon to support Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, a charity her son, Geoff, started.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn gathered a team of friends to compete as charity runners in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Half Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 10, raising money for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks.

       Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn gathered a team of friends to compete as charity runners in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Half Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 10, raising money for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn trains for her first half marathon along the Illinois Prairie Path in Wheaton. She is running to support Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, which her son, Geoff, started after being paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.

       Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn trains for her first half marathon along the Illinois Prairie Path in Wheaton. She is running to support Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, which her son, Geoff, started after being paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Geoff Kent, 34, races in a previous Chicago Marathon to raise funds for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, which he started after being paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.

      Geoff Kent, 34, races in a previous Chicago Marathon to raise funds for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, which he started after being paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.
    Courtesy of Ginni Kent

  • Geoff Kent, seen here racing in a Chicago Marathon, started his charity after he was paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.

      Geoff Kent, seen here racing in a Chicago Marathon, started his charity after he was paralyzed from the chest down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident.
    Courtesy of Ginni Kent

  • The Kent family of Glen Ellyn -- Ginni, Gary, Geoff, Garrett and Graham -- all participate in distance races for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, the charity Geoff founded after becoming paralyzed from the neck down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident. Ginni's first race will be Sunday, in the half marathon division of the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon.

       The Kent family of Glen Ellyn -- Ginni, Gary, Geoff, Garrett and Graham -- all participate in distance races for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, the charity Geoff founded after becoming paralyzed from the neck down in a 2007 downhill skiing accident. Ginni's first race will be Sunday, in the half marathon division of the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Ginni Kent: Racing for charity

 
 

It isn't a common word in the lexicon of acronyms for nonprofit organizations.

Names of diseases, descriptors such as "association," "foundation" and "society," and idealized terms like "independence" are common enough.

But "sucks?" It's plain unheard of.

The word made Ginni Kent of Glen Ellyn uncomfortable when her son chose to include it in the name of the organization he founded a year after suffering a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

Spinal Cord Injury Sucks.

The name Geoff Kent, now 34, chose six years ago when he was learning to live without use of his legs was the harsh truth -- nothing less, nothing more.

"That's what my son felt post-injury, that his life sucked," Ginni Kent said. "When he came out with that name, I had a hard time with it."

The word isn't considered as vulgar as it once was, said Kent, 63. But it's not immediately inspiring, either. It's just real.

"That word, as sometimes offensive as it could be, is powerful in that it helps others realize, 'Yeah, we're all in this together, and it does suck, and how can we get through it?'" Kent said. "In the past six years, we've had so much positive feedback, not only from the spinal cord injury community but from anybody who knows what life is like for a spinal cord injury person. … It's just a condition you really would rather not live with."

The name still raises eyebrows among those hearing it for the first time, but Kent said she has warmed enough to the moniker that she'll be wearing it proudly across her chest as she completes her first half marathon Sunday, Nov. 10, in Naperville.

Kent and a team of 19 others will be jogging and walking the 13.1-mile distance at the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon, raising money throughout their racing journey for the spinal cord injury research and treatment her son's charity supports.

"If you're going to do it," Kent said about the race, "you can do it for yourself. But why not do it for a greater good as well? Doing it for a cause just inspires you so much more that you push harder, you push farther."

Pushing for life

Geoff Kent knows a lot about pushing.

It's how he liked to live his life before his 2007 downhill skiing accident, pushing his body athletically in sports and pushing off-course on a mountain in Colorado until he ran into a tree, crushing his spinal cord midway down his back.

Pushing is how he gets around by wheelchair, spinning the rims around over and over again, creating forward motion during his days as a trader working and living in Chicago. It's how he's raced in nearly 20 marathons since 2008, pushing his arm strength to its limits in a special "push-rim" racing wheelchair.

He's pushing for those whose spinal cord injuries occurred further up their back, closer to their neck. Because as quadriplegics, they can't push at all.

"Those are the people who urgently need some sort of curative therapy to reverse paralysis," he said. "They're so significantly and severely disabled that their lives are not normal and it's permanent."

Spinal Cord Injury Sucks has raised more than $600,000 since 2008 for research that looks to make direct improvements in the lives of people whose injuries left them paralyzed, he said. Much of that money has been raised through growing teams of wheelchair racers and runners participating in marathons in Chicago, Los Angeles and, now, Naperville.

"Not only does he raise money for spinal cord injury research, but he also reaches out to those that are newly injured and he mentors them," Ginni Kent said about her son's work with patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he recovered after his injury. "A lot of times they are young men who have been very active and athletic, and that's often why they have a spinal cord injury."

Geoff's mom says she's grateful for the opportunity to push herself physically for her son in the half marathon race at the first Naperville Marathon. She is, after all, the only member of their immediate family who hasn't taken on a distance racing challenge in his name. Kent's husband, Gary, along with the couple's other sons, Graham and Garrett, all have run the Chicago Marathon for Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, following in the wake of Geoff and his fellow wheelchair racers.

"It was only Mom who said, 'I can't run a marathon,'" said Gary Kent, a retired teacher who spent 20 years in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. "Last November, I read in the Daily Herald about the Naperville Marathon and they had a half marathon division. It was one of those things, I said, 'That's for me.'"

Charitable causes

Kent contacted Craig Bixler, one of the race's directors, and registered Spinal Cord Injury Sucks as one of 16 "participating charities."

Bixler said these charities, which also include Ups for Downs, Oswego-based Celebrate Differences, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation and Cancer Free Kids, mainly are organizations with experience fundraising through distance races.

Marathon organizers left 600 slots available for charity runners when online registration went live Jan. 28, and so far 495 have signed up to raise money as they race. Organizers set the charity program's goal at $10,000, and nearly three weeks before the race, more than $147,000 already had been raised.

Kent said she's eager to run and walk her way through the half marathon course, making months of training along the Illinois Prairie Path with her teammates worthwhile by gaining extra exposure and recognition for the spinal cord group.

Because spinal cord injury still does suck.

Even for Geoff, who considers himself one of the "lucky ones" because he has a job, lives independently and can get around via wheelchair and hand-operated car. Whether caused by disease or accident, it sucks.

There's still no other way to put it, the Kents say. So Geoff and the rest of the family will spend Sunday supporting Ginni as she races in Naperville, a town where she has longtime friends, a town that's home to one of three Front Street Cantina locations the family owns and operates, a town where Geoff gladly would race if a wheelchair division were available.

"The name resonates with people who have been touched by this because spinal cord injury does really suck. It's a dramatic change to your life," Geoff said. "It does permanently destroy lives with no real happy ending."

Word: Spinal injury charity blows away fundraising goal

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