On day 38 of his 60-day jog from Seattle to New York this summer, Shaun Evans pulled into Elkader, Iowa. Evans’ journey was to increase awareness that children with physical and mental challenges love to be outside, feeling the wind in their face, “running” like able-bodied children. From the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast, Evans pushed his 9-year-old son Shamus, who battles cerebral palsy.
At an Elkader camping site, Evans met Jill Lacina, whose 10-year-old son, Lucas, also fights cerebral palsy. Shaun offered Lucas a ride and Lucas accepted.
“Lucas was squealing, he was so excited,” Jill recalls. “He kept saying, ‘Fast, fast.’ He just loved it.”
Later that evening, Shaun gave the Lucina family a chair Lucas could call his own.
“It’s awesome,” says Jill, who lives in Iowa City. “We know so many families [with children battling disabilities] who don’t even leave the house because of all the work. It’s so neat they [Shaun and Shamus] are getting the word out that people need to get out and do these things that are fun and live. Kids with special needs deserve to be included.”
Shaun and Shamus touched down in New York City’s Bronx on Monday, Aug. 31, and then the next day Shamus, using a walker, waded into the Atlantic Ocean, completing the 60-day trip that covered more than 3,200 miles. But their journey didn’t stop there. The following Sunday during Labor Day weekend, they lined up at the start of the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon.
There to meet them was Kim “Rooster” Rossiter, the brainchild behind Ainsley’s Angels, a nonprofit that has donated more than 500 chairs to families who have children with special needs.
Rossiter, a major in the Marine Corps, has an 11-year-old daughter, Ainsley, who has a progressive genetic disorder that attacks her nervous system. Rossiter and Ainsley also ran their 96th race and their 16th half marathon at Virginia Beach.
In 2013, after Shamus had outgrown the chair he used when he was younger, Shamus rode with his father for a 4-mile run. Soon after that Shaun was planning to run a six-hour ultramarathon around a .355-mile cinder track. Shamus wanted to tag along.
“I figured he would get bored and bail out after a couple of laps,” says Shaun, who covered 45 miles in the six hours. “Not only did he have a blast, he motivated me to a victory.”
After the ultramarathon, Shamus posed a question to his father. “How far could we make it if we ran that far every day during summer vacation?”
“I thought he’d forget about it,” Shaun recalls. “But he kept persisting, asking about it every night.”
From Seattle to New York, with the help of Ainsley’s Angels, Shaun and Shamus gave away 27 chairs. Shaun trained two years for the event. He suffered some bruised toenails, blisters and tendinitis.
“It’s more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge, like running past hundreds of miles of Iowa corn fields,” he says.
What kept him motivated, though, was the mission.
“We’ve seen a lot of great things, like Yellowstone Park, Mount Rushmore, the Field of Dreams,” he told the Chicago Tribune during a chair donation. “But this is our favorite part, giving away these chairs so other kids can also feel what it’s like to run with the wind.”
Meanwhile, back in Iowa City, Lucas Lucina still loves being outside, sitting in his chair as his mother pushes him about.
“He says he wants to run as fast as Shaun,” Jill says. “I tell him I’m not quite that fast. He tells me I can practice.”