A special awards ceremony for 26 students with disabilities who take part in the Achilles Kids Program at PS 201 was held last week in Flushing.
The students, ranging in age from 4 to 11, and all with disabilities — visual impairments, learning disabilities, strokes and autism — were each given a special award for completing a virtual marathon of 26.2 miles throughout the school year. Some even ran more than the marathon distance.
This special awards ceremony is the culmination of a year’s hard work of running, walking or “rolling” in wheelchairs in order to exercise and remain active. The children kept a record of the mileage they covered on a special board in the gym.
Every time a child reached a milestone through exercising, his or her name and photo were added to the board until the final goal was reached.
Upon completion of the challenge, each child received a new pair of running shoes during the special ceremony.
“For some of these children,” says Dinah McCann, adaptive physical education teacher in the school, “it might be their only pair of shoes. For others, it may be the first time they received something new … that wasn’t a hand-me-down.”
Dick Traum, founder of Achilles International, and an above-the-knee amputee, speaks of the “power of achievement” in relation to this special ceremony.
“When a child achieves a great goal like taking a step or in this case, a virtual marathon, the confidence it gives them is immeasurable,” he said. “What else might they achieve?”
The stage has been set ahead of time: 26 boxes of new Saucony sneakers, one box per child, with their name clearly written on the side of the box.
“Running is the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Shalim Salto-Dominguez, from Corona, one of the young Achilles Kids members.
“Thank goodness we have a gym or we wouldn’t be able to run,” he added before checking out his new shoes.
In addition to a new pair of shoes, each child received an Achilles Kids T-shirt.
Several months ahead of each year’s awards ceremonies, Achilles holds a competition among the 8,000-plus children in more than 180 schools throughout the country, who are part of the program, and invites them to create a new design for the upcoming ceremony.
This year, the winning design was created by Michael Hall from IS 27 in Staten Island, who created an image of three children with disabilities making their way toward a finish line. One child is on crutches, the other in a wheelchair and the third, an image of Michael himself, is a boy who is on the autism spectrum.
At the Flushing ceremony, there was a special guest, Tom “Running Man” McGrath. McGrath is the reason the children received the shoes.
He ran six marathons over six days through the streets of Manhattan last September to raise funds and awareness for the kids program and the shoes.
He raised more than $104,000, purchasing close to 4,500 pairs of shoes for the children who completed the virtual marathon.
“I won’t let you down … I promise you,” McGrath assured the kids. “I told you I would get you the shoes and I did. … I will run for you again this year too, to make sure you always have those shoes.”
His next race will include all five boroughs, beginning on Sept. 29 and finishing on Oct. 4.