Teens run to support Down syndrome siblings
Brittany and Lindsey Nolan of Elk Grove Village have performed with their sister, Kelsey, in smash hit musicals, from "High School Musical" to "Grease."
Kelsey has Down syndrome and she has inspired her older sisters to major in special education in college.
Still, on Sunday, they went the extra mile: Brittany and Lindsey Nolan were among seven siblings of teens with Down syndrome to run in the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll half marathon.
"I've never even run a mile before," concedes Lindsey, 19, before she started training.
Her sister nods in agreement, adding that they encouraged each other and the other siblings to keep up with their workouts.
"I just want to finish," said Brittany, 21.
They were among 23 runners in all who competed as part of the Angel Endurance Team, raising money for the Schaumburg-based United Parents Support for Down syndrome, or "UPS for DownS."
The organization offers support, education and encouragement for families that have children with Down syndrome. Their mission is to share their potential and abilities to the wider community.
Other siblings who ran included Adam Reninger, 19, of Schaumburg; Carlos Santillan, 19 of Palatine; Frank Cassata, 17 of Arlington Heights; Samantha Shimanek, 19, of Wood Dale; and Kate Ford, 16, of Orland Park.
When asked if they had ever run a half-marathon before, or even a race, they answer with a resounding, "no."
Yet, just as resolved were they in pointing to the motivating factor that pushed them to train since last January: their love and admiration for siblings with Down syndrome.
"Our siblings have over come a lot of challenges and obstacles in their lives," Frank Cassata said. "If they can handle that, we can handle 13 miles. No problem."
They gathered Friday night with well-wishers at a special pre-race pasta party at the Belvedere Banquets in Elk Grove Village.
During an introduction, each runner was awarded a medal and goody bag from their siblings with Down syndrome: Kelsey Nolan, 17; Allie Reninger, 17; Stephanie Santillan, 11; Cristina Cassata, 15; Jacob Shimanek, 15; and Jack Ford, 18.
All of the teen runners said they had watched other participants honored at previous pasta dinners. This year, they resolved to get in the race themselves.
"I've done sibling workshops, volunteered at family events and attended lots of other events with UPS for DownS," Samantha Shimanek said. "But I've never done the endurance team. My goal is to run the whole thing."
Carlos Santillan, who played soccer at Fremd High School before attending Harper College and now DePaul University, said he never ran more than four or five miles during high school practices.
He and Adam Reninger served as counselors over the summer at Camp Soar, or Special Outdoor Adaptive Recreational experience in Williams Bay, Wis. Together, they ran in the mornings to train for their endurance run.
"I've only been a member of UPS for DownS for the last five years," he said. "But I love what they do and I try to participate in as many things as I can.
"But more than that, I wanted to help out," he adds. "And this was one thing I could do."