Gulf Coast Running Club hosts Arbor Day 5k Run for 13th year

Updated: Feb. 20, 2021 at 7:18 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - One foot in front of the other, hundreds of people took off in full speed Saturday morning. This year marks 13 years the Disability Connection has partnered with the Gulf Coast Running Club to make this 5K run, in celebration of Arbor Day, an inclusive event.

Those with physical disabilities ran with help from members of Ainsley Angels. Ainsley Angels pushed kids and even adults with disabilities in the race.

“Being out her to watch them run and get pushed,” said Erin Sykes. “They love it and it’s amazing.”

Erin Sykes is the mother of 6-year-old Evie Sykes who is a non-verbal child with autism. Erin Sykes said her daughter, Evie, enjoys running and seeing her daughter cross yet another finish line, no matter her circumstance, makes her proud.

“This is her third race and she does love it,” said Erin. “Seeing her come around, she’s just happy and clapping and rolling.”

For 13 years, those with disabilities have not been forgotten in events like this, thanks to the Disability Connection partnering with the Gulf Coast Running Club.

“Normally we have about 450 people, but of course this year it’s unique, we have about 250 people and we have about 50 with disabilities,” said Janie O’Keefe, Disability Connection Executive Director. “One year, we had someone completely blind get an award for completing the 5k race. It’s an opportunity for people with physical limitations to do an event that maybe people think they couldn’t enjoy.”

Some adults the Ainsley Angels pushed in the race were retired military members, like Logan McDonald.

“Great great great,” said McDonald, expressing his excitement from the race.

“We tell Logan he has one job and his job is to make sure everybody knows how fantastic it is to be outside everybody,” said Beth Victoriano, who ran and pushed McDonald. “So Logan is the high-five guy.”

With endless encouragement from friends, family and the community, nothing but support for all participants filled the atmosphere. The race was not only for individuals with disabilities, but for anyone who loves running.

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