When Allan Hayhurst, Tony Thompson and Santiago Kidd lace up their running shoes on November 11 in San Antonio, the three Special Olympics Texas athletes will be going on a long run. A really long run: the 26.2-mile San Antonio Rock N Roll Marathon.
All three men live in a residential program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Stephenville. The three have actually been training for the marathon since June 2012, but their coach, Bill Joe Averitt of The Company of Rock House, didn’t introduce the idea of the marathon until August.
“I had already put them in marathon training before letting them know what I was doing. It started with a goal of running a 10K. After they had completed that, I asked if they would be interested to go farther...a full marathon. They accepted the challenge,” Averitt said, and he’s been training alongside them every step of the way—and he will run the marathon with them as well.
So far this year, they’ve run a 10K in Hamilton, Texas, and a half marathon in Glen Rose. The Glen Rose race was particularly challenging, Averitt said. “It was a very challenging race because of all the tough hills,” he said.
The three have varying levels of experience in distance running.
Hayhurst, 37, had run a half marathon with Averitt back in 2005, but the two didn’t complete the training to run an actual marathon that year. Hayhurst said he’s having fun training for the marathon. “I enjoys running,” he said.
Thompson, 37, had tried to run a 5K in 2007 but dropped out. In 2009, he returned to running and completed a 5K, as well as 1,500m and 3,000m races that year. He completed his first 10K and half marathon races this year. Thompson said that training for the marathon has allowed him to “make new friends from different places (in the races). I like the sense of hard work of running a marathon and knowing I did my best."
In this year’s Glen Rose half marathon, Hayhurst ran a 2:40 race and Thompson came in at 2:53. “This was not their best time due to several high elevations and hills, but they never gave up,” Averitt said.
Kidd, 19, is new to long distance running but has taken to it quickly. “I recruited him as soon as he arrived at The Rock House,” Averitt said, “when I discovered his athletic ability.” The Glen Rose half marathon was easy for Kidd, Averitt said. “He ran it in two hours flat, like it was nothing to him.”
Kidd said he enjoys “learning to set my pace and pacing myself during a race.”
Averitt, who finished the Glen Rose race in 2:20, has been coaching Special Olympics teams since Fall 2005. He is a certified Special Olympics coach in nine sports and is currently serving his first term as a member of the Area Sports Management Team for the Greater Fort Worth area of Special Olympics Texas.
Training for and running a marathon was a natural progression for the three men and their coach.
“I believe giving them a challenge of running a marathon gives us an equal opportunity that does not separate us by disabilities. I am facing the same challenges as my special needs athletes. The mental and physical aspect of the run are the same,” Averitt said. “We all have same struggles and same emotions. I've had good run days and bad run days. So did they. So when they run a full marathon, they'll be experiencing the same emotional experiences as tens of thousands of other people did. We are equal as normal human beings.”
Averitt said he has been impressed with his athletes’ commitment to the marathon training.
“We are at a stage where we are becoming physically and mentally drained. We are ready for it to happen and be over with. We're tired. But what's amazing is that they're not giving up. I had given them plenty of opportunities to back out because I do not want them to do something against their will,” Averitt said. “But they want to keep going. Tony told me that he wanted to keep going, that he would ‘give me 110%’ and Allan said that ‘We’ve gone this far, we can't stop now’. They are truly living up to the Special Olympics athlete's oath: ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’”
If the three athletes aren’t able to complete the marathon in San Antonio, Averitt said he will still be proud of them and what they’ve accomplished. What he wonders about, though, is how the “mainstream” community will see his athletes. “Are we inspiring them? Had we proven to them that people with disabilities can accomplish something that MOST people can't? Will our story move them?”