It’s a common headline right now in the era of COVID-19. What would have been an epic 199-mile running relay from the top of Mt. Hood, through the beautiful foothills and forests of Oregon, to the rugged Pacific coastline, has now been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hood To Coast (HTC) is a 28-year, renowned running relay, billed as the largest in the world, attracting over 12,600 runners each year. Team Forrest Stump was set to be one of the first all-physically challenged teams to race HTC this year in August.
Team Captain, Nicole Ver Kuilen, and co-founder of Forrest Stump, a 501c3 nonprofit advocacy organization, shared, “Of the 12,600 athletes that were set to run Hood To Coast this year, less than 1% would be athletes with disabilities. We wanted to help change that representation and show the barriers that make it difficult for our community to get to the starting line.”
Ver Kuilen, an amputee herself due to bone cancer, shared that it’s not their diagnosed disabilities that keep them from racing, but the outdated and discriminatory insurance policies that restrict access to what they need to be physically active.
“As a recent amputee, I had no idea insurance would not cover certain legs for me to go back to all the activities I did before amputation,” said fellow Team Captain, Dee Palagi. Every athlete on the team had a similar story.
MEET THE TEAM
Running prosthetics, sports wheelchairs, high-activity orthotics, and sighted guides are all denied by insurance. This medical equipment and care is medically necessary for individuals with disabilities to participate in athletics. Without coverage, however, it is prohibitively expensive, forcing disabled athletes to rely on charity or risk going into medical debt to be physically active.
Forrest Stump’s eleven athletes, plus prosthetist, nutritionist, guide, and journalist were ready to tackle HTC together to raise awareness on this issue. Unfortunately, they found out in May that the race was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Natalie Harold, the team’s prosthetist, as well as co-founder of Forrest Stump shared, “Of course we were disappointed with the cancellation; but this team knows better than anyone how to adapt and remain resilient in the face of obstacles. They have unfairly had to do this their entire life. We knew our mission had to go on.”
And so, the team got to work. Through Zoom calls, texts, and late night chats, the team settled on a new course of action. Not only would it be 13x longer than their original 199-mile goal, but it would require the help of individuals from all across the country to complete. Called #WeJustFeltLikeRunning, a virtual one-day race across America for disability rights was born.
Launching the week of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and continuing until race day, set for Saturday, October 3rd, #WeJustFeltLikeRunning is campaigning for a 2.0 on the ADA and an expansion of rights for the disability community.
The team is leading an online petition on Change.org that will call for “The Rights of Americans With Disabilities To Exercise.” The petition will go live on Monday, July 20th and your signature is requested.
Additionally, they are hoping to recruit 1,000 individuals to help them virtually race 2,758 miles on October 3rd – from Seattle, WA to Washington, D.C. – to deliver this signed petition to the doorsteps of Congress.
Anyone – and everyone – is invited to sign up, pledge their miles, and then complete them on race day. Their campaign is inclusive; all types of miles will count towards the goal. Participants can choose to walk, run, bike, swim, skate, pushrim, handcycle, hike, or paddle their way towards the finish line. Cumulatively, the miles will add up to crossing the United States.
Ticket sales go live on Monday, July 20th for $10/racer and funds raised will go towards the nonprofit’s advocacy work. Tax-deductible donations are also encouraged and greatly appreciated.
As Ver Kuilen shared, “No one person can do this alone; only together can we complete this mission.”