This weekend a very special race is happening in a small town near Nuremberg, Germany. This race is a marathon organized by Laufclub 21 (Running Club 21), a running club for athletes with Down Syndrome and other special needs. The club was started in 2007 by a passionate and dedicated mother of a young boy with Down Syndrome. She was inspired by the story of a man with Down Syndrome who completed a marathon and wanted to give others with special needs the chance to do the same thing! This club advocates full inclusion. The athletes participate in community races, open to participants of all abilities. Interestingly, this is intentionally in contrast to Special Olympics which tends to be a fairly independent athletic entity.
When I was in Nuremberg, I had the privilege of going on a training walk with a few of the amazing athletes that participate in Laufclub 21. I was amazed at their dedication and totally inspired when I learned that they had each participated in multiple marathons! Wow! I can barely run three miles these days... But I sure got some exercise on this training walk! We walked for 5 hours through some beautiful woods, fields, and neighborhoods outside Nuremberg, at a fairly brisk pace I might add. It was truly a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning!
One of the most endearing moments of my time in Germany happened during this walk. We were more than halfway through the walk and I was holding hands with a young man named Steffen for encouragement and stability as we hiked up a hill. I could tell he was quite tired, but I tried to encourage him to keep up with the group and increased my pace slightly. But Steffen wasn't too keen on going any faster. He tapped me on the shoulder and with very clear hand motions said, "Langsam." One word in German and I knew exactly what he meant, "Slow down, Hannah. I don't go any faster. Take it easy." It was great! I couldn't help but smile. So, I chilled out and we chit chatted about Michael Jackson (one of his favorite singers) and our favorite swimming strokes. Finally, at the end of the walk, we could see the parking lot: the finish line! At this point, Steffen threw his arms in the air, "Yay!" He clapped, kissed his fingers and held them to the sky, and then RAN the last 10 meters to the car! I don't know where that energy came from, but it was classic. Steffen was so proud of what he had accomplished and expressed his joy for us all to see. I went home that day full of fresh air, renewed perspective, inspiration, and memories of my time with Steffen that I will never forget.
|Me and my good buddy, Steffen. He rocks!|
|The woods. Very peaceful.|
|The whole group! We had a great time!|
Good luck to everyone running in the marathon tomorrow! I'm cheering for you all from Denmark!