Harrimans tackle Autism Awareness Run

Shan and Alexia Harriman, front, were inspired by Scott and Miles Ruby, left, and the rest of their CrossFit support team.

Her feet blistered on the pavement, and her hands pushed the most precious blessing in her life.

Shan Harriman ran for two at the Autism Awareness Walk/Run on Saturday, pushing her 10-year-old daughter Alexia in a racing wheelchair and sharing the pride and exhilaration of a race well run.

The mother-and-daughter tandem completed the 5K distance amid the cheering and support of several fellow runners, but for Ms. Harriman, it was not about one race. It was more about the future and the many ways that parents can help their special needs children feel more a part of the community.

“From Day One, I’ve always pushed Alexia and encouraged her that she can do anything she wants as long as she puts her mind to it,” said Ms. Harriman, who ran wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Believe in Yourself.” “And I thought, by me being a role model and running and encouraging her to come with me, that would be a good venue to encourage other people. I’m hoping that if people see us, we can get more chairs and it can become a bigger experience.”

Ms. Harriman said she was inspired by local endurance athlete Scott Ruby, who has pushed Nikki Christian in front of him for multiple marathons. Mr. Ruby lent the chair to Ms. Harriman and offered emotional support as she geared up for the physical and mental challenge. Even now, with one race in the books, Ms. Harriman and Alexia are looking toward the DG 5K Challenge later this month.

Ms. Harriman has completed a half-marathon before, but to race with Alexia, she had to prepare for more of an upper-body workout. Ms. Harriman was accustomed to disappearing into her own world when running, but with Alexia with her, she had to be alert with every stride.

“You really have to be quick to maneuver the chair, because it’s not all-wheel drive,” she joked. “I feel weird running without it now. It’s quite unusual because I was used to running with my music and being on my own. Now, I run with my daughter and we’re always talking about what we see on the road.”

In this case, they had the familiar faces of many people in the special needs community, and the cheering support of both Ms. Harriman’s co-workers and the people she works out alongside. There were smiles and cheers and people yelling kind words of encouragement to fuel their fire.

Ms. Harriman had trained with the chair for a few weeks, but she’d begun mentally preparing for the race long ago. She met Mr. Ruby and Ms. Christian, who has cerebral palsy, during CrossFit marathon training, and she saw them using the chair as they prepared to tackle the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. last fall.

Fast-forward to Saturday, and Ms. Harriman found her energy flagging as she reached the midpoint of the race. But she caught the glance of Mr. Ruby in the crowd, and it gave her a needed jolt.

“When I saw Scott at the turn of the road, I was like, ‘Game face on. We’ve got this.’ It was one of those things,” she said. “When you run, you think, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I’ll dig deep and get there.’ But Scott is such a motivating person. And it’s not about me. It’s about my daughter and also making Scott proud, because I know he’s done so much for Nikki and her chair. I just want to carry on that legacy.”

Like Mr. Ruby and Ms. Christian, Ms. Harriman hopes to one day run with Alexia in the Marine Corps Marathon. But for now, she’s content to continue racing locally and to inspire her fellow parents. If she can face the challenge, she said, there’s no telling how many other parents will be able to do it.

“I thought it was an appropriate venue because I want to encourage other parents,” she said. “I want to use this opportunity to not only bond with my child, but to acknowledge that even if your child has a disability, it should not prevent you from allowing them to do things to make them their best.”

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