Gracie and Jackson and I did a couple of 5Ks last spring. Although Gracie wanted to participate, she is not physically capable of walking that far, so we would take her stroller and she would ride in the stroller when she got tired (or when I decided she was too wobbly to walk on her own). We all had fun.
There is another race coming up in October that I’ve been hearing about for a few years, the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K. It sounds like a fun race, and all the participants get cocoa at the end. I went to their website today to register the family, but saw many notices that strollers are not allowed. Since we cannot do the race if Gracie isn’t in her stroller, I emailed the race organizers about whether there is an exception for people with disabilities. This was their response:
Typically we schedule an early start for our wheel chair athletes or participants in a stroller that are being pushed the entire time. I will have to check with our operations team.
Two things struck me: athletes with disabilities are not integrated into the general crowd, and they must stay in their wheelchairs the entire time. This bothered me; not everyone in a wheelchair is incapable of walking, and why aren’t they just integrated with the rest of the runners? I emailed back to express my concerns.
Not too long after that, I received a second email:
I’m sorry… I think there was a misunderstanding. We welcome and are joyed to have athletes of all abilities in our races. We have lots of organizations and athletes with disabilities and visual impairments that participate in our races nationwide. I was just trying to figure out if an early start would be the best fit for your family or if you would prefer to start in back.
Please register and join us for a memorable experience! We will figure out the logistics.
Sounds good, right? I probably should have let it go at this, but I was concerned that if I registered and showed up on race day with a stroller they would turn us away. This was my response:
I am concerned about the race policy of no strollers. I don’t want to register, get to the starting gate with my daughter in her stroller, and be told that we can’t participate because she is in a stroller. I am also concerned about this – “Typically we schedule an early start for our wheel chair athletes or participants in a stroller that are being pushed the entire time.” That language makes it sound like disabled athletes are discriminated against because they have to have a different start time and have to be in their wheelchairs the entire time. Not all disabilities are the same, and not all people in wheelchairs are there because they can’t walk at all.
How can we fix this? How can we ensure that she will be welcomed, even if she doesn’t “look” disabled? How can we make it work so that I am sure we will not be turned away at the gate?
She didn’t like my email.
It was a while before she responded again, and the next response was defensive.
We simply cannot and do not allow strollers for any of our Hot Chocolate races which we have in 18 cities. This really has not been an issue for us.* The general public knows and is understanding that this is our standard policy .This is purely because of the safety of all of our participants which is a contract worked out between our race director and city officials. There are areas on the course that can become a safety hazard if we were to allow strollers.** The terrain and elevations of the course are also a factor. If we were to allow strollers, come race day we would not able to control that number and that would put the safety of our participants in jeopardy as this can create congestion on the course. We produce other races locally in which strollers are welcomed, sadly it just not feasible for our Hot Chocolate Race Series.
“Typically we schedule an early start for our wheel chair athletes or participants in a stroller that are being pushed the entire time.” That language makes it sound like disabled athletes are discriminated against because they have to have a different start time and have to be in their wheelchairs the entire time. Not all disabilities are the same, and not all people in wheelchairs are there because they can’t walk at all.
We absolutely do not discriminate against disabled athletes. This is standard protocol for athletes in wheel chairs or strollers. I have had nothing but positive feedback from all of the organization that I work with directly to arrange their logistics and early start times in various cities. All race directors and major race production companies operate this manner, I assure you. These organizations and athletes actually welcome the early start and always have a fantastic time! I worked with a super awesome group called Ainsley’s Angels in Tampa that had a blast and were set up to participate in this manner (see attachment).
Register and I can arrange for you all to be in the early start. This is the only way for you to be allowed on the course with a stroller.*** If she wants to run portions of the race, she can absolutely do that, you all will just need to move to the side when the rest of the race starts. These are standard instructions for our groups that start early.
Let me know what you decide and I would be happy to work with all and communicate all logistics to our team.
Obviously, she didn’t like that I pointed out how this seemed discriminatory. She did not want to hear how her response sounded to me. Instead of being accommodating, she immediately closed off and decided that we either are going to follow her rules or not run at all.
This scenario isn’t actually new. Every parent of a child with disabilities encounters some similar scenario at some point; most of us experience it with alarming frequency. I don’t know why I chose to fight this particular battle. Maybe it’s because Gracie has been sick with mystery fevers for several days and I’m very tired and worried. Maybe it’s because Chad chose today of all days to debate politics with me. Maybe it’s because I want the best for my child and I don’t want her to be discriminated against. Maybe it’s all of those things.
But now, I have a dilemma. Gracie would actually LOVE the Hot Chocolate race and even has heard some of her teachers talking about it before. She wants to do it. It’s not that much of a hardship to have an early start, even if it does separate the regular athletes from the disabled ones. But it’s the principle of the thing. How can I support the race when they responded with such coldness?
In general, it’s easier to avoid situations where people with disabilities aren’t welcome. Companies have a way of making sure you know they don’t want you. We learned that lesson for the first time at Anchor Center. When a company doesn’t want to accommodate, they will make it nearly impossible for you to stay.
But for the bigger cause, for the disability community at large, it might be worth sucking up my pride and trying to make it work. Maybe it’s better to try this with another gentle reminder that this is not inclusive, and show how easy it really is to accommodate.
What would you do, friends? Suck it up for the good of the cause, or avoid the race on principle? Please comment—guidance is appreciated. Thanks, all of you.
*Just because no one has ever complained before doesn’t mean it’s not an issue.
**I checked out the race course. It’s through the city streets of Downtown Denver. There are no hills, and the only obstacle would be construction (if there is any). There is no reason why people can’t have strollers, at least not in this city.
***This is the one that really got me. “My way or the highway, beeyatch!”
That means my friend Bill Peace [who is based in Denver] can’t compete and enter the race either with that wheelchair and stroller policy.
He can and does push himself or he might have a pusher for those miles.
Easy to avoid – yes.
And I wonder if Andi and Sarah Kate have seen this? The whole family make a habit of going to the Disney races
I understand your point of view and would like to share my thoughts with you. My perspective comes from that as someone who has run races on my own as well as with my son through a group called myTEAM Triumph that supports people with disabilities to participate in athletic events such as races. I’ve never been a part of planning a race, but I can appreciate the amount of coordination that goes into one.
When my son races with myTEAM Triumph, they usually start about 5 minutes before the rest of the race. This is done to allow the race chairs to spread out along the course, so the fast athletes are not tripping over our teams along the way. (Other events that allow strollers often have a stroller division that starts even behind the walkers for this same reason.) I don’t view it as isolating our teams – I view it as an accommodation that allows us to participate in these events. (It helps that we usually get a tremendous amount of applause and cheering.) Also, those athletes who use hand-crank bikes are super fast, so it helps to have them ahead of the rest of the athletes to avoid collisions. Most races my son is able to take his time to walk across the finish line, but I understand why he isn’t able to at a particular race that typically has 17,000 people. It is deemed a safety hazard there, which I understand after having raced the course with and without him.
If you think it’s something your daughter and family would enjoy, my recommendation would be to go ahead and register to participate in the event, accept the early start and see how the experience goes. If, after the event, you feel things could have been handled differently, you could make that request for the following year.
Best of luck in making your decision!
Thank you for your insight. I appreciate your perspective and your advice, and I also appreciate the kindness with which you relayed your message. I will give it some thought, with your words in mind. -Susan