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Team of special athletes to run Fox Valley Marathon

What started as a Walk 2 Run program in fall 2017 has turned into training for a 26.2-mile marathon for 25 residents of the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association.

“We contacted the Fox Valley Marathon and created a Progressive Marathon for our group – and others – to participate in,” said Glen Kamps of Dick Ponds Athletics in St. Charles.

The Progressive Marathon participants will complete 25 miles at their own pace, then complete the last 1.2 miles on Fox Valley Marathon race day Sept. 16.

Participants will receive a race bib and marathon T-shirt, and will cross the finish line with hundreds of other runners to receive a marathon medal.

“We are so excited that they’ll be able to say they ran a marathon,” Kamps said. “This is something they never thought they should, could, or would ever be able to do, and they’re going to do it.”

Two groups from Fox Valley Special Recreational Association have been working hard toward their 25 miles all summer.

“We run about two miles per week … taking turns tracking our miles on the GPS watch each week,” said volunteer coach Sherman Jensen of St. Charles.

Participants range in age from 22 to 57 years old. The two groups that participate in Dick Ponds Athletics Walk 2 Run program from FVSRA include Day Break One and the STARS program. Day Break One program is an adult day program with participants from ages 22 to 35. The group focuses on three main components: fitness, community integration and volunteering.

“This consistent schedule and fitness training program at Dick’s every Thursday has been great for our guys,” Day Break One leader Ryan Fleck said. “I can’t say enough about all the volunteers and how much they seem to truly enjoy being with my group each and every week.”

The STARS (Structured Therapeutic Adults Recreational Services) Program is an adult day program that focuses on community service, entertainment and social awareness for ages 22 and up.

“This program every Tuesday has been such a positive experience for my group,” said John Ramos, STARS Program rehab manager. “There are so many people on the outside that say the STARS adults are only capable of doing so many things, and they are proving them wrong – and Dick Pond Athletics is helping them with that.”

FVRSA adult day programs not only provide entertainment for the participants, but help master daily living skills such as grocery shopping, money handling, learning phone numbers, cooking and interacting with the public.

“Another reason why this Walk 2 Run program has been so great,” Ramos said. “It’s provided them with additional social situations and the opportunity to meet new people and gain respect for each other as they go through the process of working toward the same goal.”

Ramos is encouraged by the motivation factor the program has given each of the participants. “It has proven that they can be more than what other people believe them to be,” he said.

“These kids have come a long way in a year,” Jensen said. “Some of them didn’t even want to participate or know how to run when they started the Walk 2 Run program a year ago. Today, they are excited to see us each week and can’t wait for the timer to get started.”

Many of the participants didn’t even have running shoes when they first started the Walk 2 Run program. Kamps went through the donated shoe inventory at the store and fitted each participant with a “new” pair of shoes. Jensen’s wife cleaned each pair of shoes, so each runner then had a real pair of running shoes.

The Walk 2 Run partnership between FVSRA and Dick Pond’s initially got started with Phillis Nowicki’s help. Nowicki was looking to get her special needs daughter additional exercise.

Nowicki brought the idea to FVSRA and it just took off.

Even though Nowicki’s daughter doesn’t participate in the program, she still volunteers each week.

“It’s so much fun to see them get excited to be a part of something,” Nowicki said. “Belonging to this ‘club’ means the world to them. I am so excited for them to participate in the Marathon.”

Volunteers helping with the Walk 2 Run program said they are amazed at how the program has changed their lives and also said helping with the program makes them feel better about themselves.

“They’re helping us more than we’re helping them,” volunteer Tristi Matzuka said. “Seeing them accomplish things they never thought were possible is amazing. Plus they’re losing weight, having fun, living a healthier lifestyle and giving back to the community.”

Holly Noble-Zoch agreed.

“It’s so joyful to watch them come out of their shell. Many of them were complaining at the beginning, but now they just love it and take it so seriously. I am thankful to be a part of it,” Noble-Zoch said.

To learn about the Progressive Marathon, visit www.progressivemarathon.com. To participate in a Dick Pond’s Walk 2 Run program, visit www.dickpondathletics.com. To learn about the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, visit www.fvsra.org.