Anyone who works out knows how hard it is to keep going, to keep pushing, to finish the last mile of the marathon. And it can be especially hard for a first time runner like northern Minnesota’s Tim Boyle.
“I had quit smoking and just started running and I was looking for some motivation to run in the cold. I found a little sign that said, ‘I run because I can and when I get tired I remember those that can’t and what they wouldn’t give for this simple gift that we take for granted. So I run harder for them knowing they would do the same thing for me.’ I posted that on my Facebook page and a guy that I’d never met commented on it, saying that I could run for him anytime. His name was Michael Wasserman. He’s 52 years old, he has Down syndrome and he’s in a wheelchair. So I thought, well that’s a pretty good idea. I think I’ll do that. I think I’ll run this 5K in his honor.”
Tim started sending Michael photos of him running, and messages dedicating those runs to him. Michael’s family was thrilled.
“They absolutely love it. They couldn’t be happier. The joy that all of us get from it is just incredible.”
So Tim thought, if this works for him and Michael, what about the rest of the world? So he started IRun4, connecting runners and athletes with disabled children and adults, thinking he’d top out at about 500 members.
“You know, I started it a year and four months ago and here we are, 17,000 members. We’re in all 50 states and 28 different countries.”
One of those runners is Kent’s Katie Knutzen. She wanted to get back in shape after her second baby and a friend with a disabled child told her about IRun4. She was randomly matched with Knox Cloes, a nine month old in southern California who has Apert syndrome.
“When I started I couldn’t even run a mile,” Katie said. “Within the first month I was able to run a mile without stopping. I was so surprised how this person, who I’ve never even met, and it was a little baby, could inspire me. I would be running and I’d be like, I’m tired, I want to stop and go get a latte. And then I’d think about it. No, this little boy has all these surgeries that he has to go through and he fights through it. Why can’t I just run a mile? So now I’m running 5Ks and I’m training to do a 10K in October.”
Now, at 15 months old, Knox has already had four surgeries and has to wear braces to walk. His mom, Sarah Cloes, says Katie is a special part of their lives.
“I show him pictures when she’s running,” Sarah said. “He’s such a friendly little boy so he loves looking at all her pictures that she posts and even her daughters.”
Katie says her family is forever changed by Knox.
“It changed my life emotionally and it’s changed my entire family’s life. My oldest daughter is four and a half. We talk about him a lot at home. We pick out gifts to give him. We like to send him things for holidays. She says, ‘Knox is my superhero. He’s a superhero.’ So we’ve started calling him Super Knox around the house. His mom will send some videos of him learning how to walk and my daughter Ava will say, ‘Go Super Knox, go!’ But it’s taught her that there are kids out there with differences but they’re all superheros too.”
Knox has also taught Katie some things.
“There are moments before I started this program that I was thinking sad thoughts. You know, this is my life, I’m a stay-at-home mom and this is all I have? Just my kids and my husband? But now it’s like: These are my kids and this is my husband and I’ve learned to not take them for granted. It’s made me such a more positive person.”
Tim has started arranging meet-ups, so groups of runners and buddies can meet.
“One really cool thing that we’ve got coming up is I’ll be going out to Salem, Oregon, not this weekend but the following weekend. One of our buddies, they were granted a wish through Make A Wish. Their wish was to meet their runner. Out of all the things that they wished, they wanted to meet their buddy.”
Katie has never met Knox, but she expects the families will always stay connected.
“No doubt in my mind I will do this forever,” Katie said. “I’m actually, in two years, planning my first Mount Rainier climb. So hopefully I can summit Mount Rainier and have a big flag up there for Knox, with his name on it, and take a picture so he can see it.”
If you’re disabled, or the parent of a disabled child, IRun4 would love you to join up.
“We have 2,600 runners waiting for a buddy. We’ve got a real, real big need for children and adults with special needs. Right now the wait list is about 14 weeks along so we’re really, really looking for buddies.”