First, the Fredericksburg chapter of Ainsley’s Angels worked to get those in wheelchairs off the sidelines and into the races.
In the three years since King George County resident Michele Tritt started the local group, she and her cadre of volunteers have raised enough money to buy 18 wheelchairs for road races. Similar to jogging strollers, the chairs allow children and adults with disabilities to ride in 5Ks and half-marathons while their “angels” push them along tracks, roads and sidewalks.
From spring to the week before Christmas, local members of Ainsley’s Angels are scheduled to participate in 13 such “inclusion” events from Fredericksburg north to Manassas, south to Richmond and east to LaPlata, Md.
But the road races aren’t enough for Chris Chalkley, a King George resident who runs with Tritt and has helped organize events with Ainsley’s Angels. He likes getting away from the asphalt and figured those in chairs would want to do the same.
“I like the trails more, the mud and the nature,” Chalkley said.
But there was no way the skinny tires on the adaptive wheelchairs, also known as “Ainsley’s Angels Racing Chariots,” would work off road. Owned by the chapter and loaned out for events, the chairs cost $4,500 to $6,000 each.
Fat tires for off-road use are equally costly and add up to $800 per wheelchair.
Chalkley decided to let the air out of the expense.
Last year, he organized a run, just for fun, from the Sheetz on State Route 3 near King George Middle School to the Sheetz off U.S. 301 near Dahlgren. About two dozen participants ran along Route 3 to Comorn Road, then followed the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail to its end at the Dahlgren Sheetz.
“It was a great event. And fun,” Chalkley said, adding that people didn’t have to sign up or pay to participate. “There were no shirts, no registration, no timing, no pressure, no competition.”
Chalkley, a branch chief at the Navy base in Dahlgren, wanted to do the same this year, but add a little purpose to the fun. He asked if participants could donate to Ainsley’s Angels as part of the 2019 Sheetz-to-Sheetz Fun Run with the goal of buying one set of off-road tires.
There was so much interest that Chalkley took a leap of faith and bought an $800 set before the race. Stafford County rider Matt Hoioos, a 21-year-old with a rare genetic disorder that causes cerebral palsy, was chosen as the inaugural rider. He bounced along the 14-mile path, over hills and dales, through sand and water.
“It was not a luxury ride, but Matt was a trouper,” said Chalkley, who gave the young man a Trailblazer Award he put together. It featured a railroad spike mounted on a slice of wood with an engraved plaque showing Hoioos’ name and the date.
Hoioos isn’t able to speak, but his enjoyment of the race was written all over his face.
“He was grinning from ear to ear,” Chalkley said.
So were Chalkley and Tritt as they saw others enjoy being together as they ran through the woods. Dahlgren Sheetz Manager Charlie Albarano provided goody bags with water and coffee mugs, food coupons and healthy snacks, and King George dentist Richard Cottrell provided toothbrushes, pens and rides from the Dahlgren Sheetz back to the store on Route 3.
Several runners asked if they could try pushing Hoioos’ chair, and Tritt jumped at the chance to explain the chapter’s goals.
“The community spirit was overwhelming,” she said. “Our goal is to get riders like Matt off the sidelines and into the races—not just road races but trails.”
So far, the fun run has raised almost $1,400, and Chalkley would like to be able to buy a set of off-road tires for a second wheelchair. Donations are still being accepted online at tinyurl.com/yxs9mhzj or they can be mailed to Michele Tritt, Ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels in Fredericksburg, 9309 Lothian Road, King George, Va. 22485. Checks should be written to: Ainsley’s Angels of America with “Fredericksburg” in the memo line.
Sharon Hoioos, the mother of Matt, said the adaptive wheelchairs, with skinny tires for road races or fat ones for trail rides, give others the opportunity to enjoy sports as they’ve never done before.
“Imagine being constantly told you can’t do that, you’re not strong enough, we don’t have the proper equipment for you,” she said. “Ainsley’s Angels allows those with all different disabilities to finally participate as a team member, to feel the adrenaline rush in a race and to hear the crowd cheer for them, instead of having to sit on the sidelines watching as other athletes go by.”