BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - They push, they pull, they cheer. They do whatever is necessary to make sure others who’ve been told they can’t accomplish something know they can.
They are called Ainsley’s Angels and volunteers with the nonprofit are spread out across the country.
The nonprofit began in Virginia in memory of a child named Ainsley who was born in 2003 and diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) just before turning four years of age.
Ainsley died in 2016 but not before uniting her community and bringing joy to her family as they all made sure she got to live an active lifestyle full of fun. Now, her legacy lives on in the smiles of other people with disabilities as volunteers push them at races across the country.
In South Mississippi, there are many “angels” who help people with specials needs feel included in every aspect of life.
It’s stories like Logan McDonald that act as a driving force for the many people who give up their time to help those who are differently-abled.
At 18 years old, Logan joined the Marine Corp ready to take on the world. Just weeks into boot camp, however, a tiny enemy took him down. A bite from a mosquito resulted in viral encephalitis.
After spending two months in a coma where his lungs collapsed twice, doctors were preparing Logan’s family for the worst.
“They even brought the Marine chaplain in and everything, preparing us for Logan not to survive," said Logan’s grandmother Anita Loper. "They were just going to send him home, to a nursing home, and I was not going to allow that.”
Neither was Logan. Like a true Marine, it was “Semper Fi: Do or Die.”
Doctors said if Logan did survive, he’d never be able to feed himself, brush his own teeth, much less walk. After two years of treatments and physical therapy, Logan is proving them wrong.
“He’s walking now at a mile for 13 days, so therefore walking a half marathon,” said Jennifer Krump, an ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels.
Logan has completed marathons, triathlons, bike rides, and 5k’s. Sometimes he walks, sometimes he rides, but he continues to make progress thanks to the life coach from University of Southern Mississippi that introduced him to Ainsely’s Angels.
Ainsley’s Angels advocate, educate, and celebrate those with special needs through endurance sports. Volunteers can be found pushing the specially-designed running chairs in races across America.
“I believe anybody can do anything," said Beth Victoriano. "Some people just need a little bit of help.”
Victoriano started the local chapter of Ainsley’s Angels after facing her own struggles during a marathon.
“I looked over and there was this gentleman pushing a girl who was blind and I thought, if he can do that for her then there’s no way I’m going to quit,” she recalled. “And I also thought, I really want that happiness where I live.”
Every Monday while training with Ainsley’s Angels, Logan gets a taste of that happiness, along with lots of love and encouragement.
“It’s been amazing progress with Logan,” said Krump. “When he first came here, we used it as part of his social life. He’s become part of the group. If Beth or I are not here, everybody asks, ‘Where’s Logan at?’” If we’re here and Logan’s not, they want to know where Logan’s at... They’re disappointed when he’s not here."
And the smiles and joy that are brought to the faces of people with special needs is why volunteers like Krump continue to work so hard for Ainsley’s Angels.
“Seeing him get out of the chair and swap roles and start pushing that chair with his runner sitting in it to balance it for him is pretty special to watch," said Krump.
Now, the Mississippi chapter of the nonprofit are preparing for the fourth annual Ainsley’s Angels Spread Your Wings 5K. That’s happening Saturday, Sept. 28, at Point Cadet Plaza in Biloxi.
In addition to raffles and prize giveaways, vendors will also be set up. All of the money raised at the event will go towards Ainsley’s Angels. You can register online or on the day of the event. Day-of registration opens at 4 p.m., with the race beginning at 5 p.m. An after-party will be held following the race.