By Kylee Boone
From the sweat dripping down a runner’s back to the endorphins rushing through their veins, racing is an activity many would describe as euphoric, including married couple Chris and Michelle Ray. Knowing how empowering a runner’s high feels, the Ray’s made it their mission to share the unique experience of racing with the disabled community by founding a nonprofit organization, Addie Ray Racing.
The inspiration behind this was Chris and Michelle’s 16-year-old daughter Addie who was born with Angelman Syndrome. After taking her along for her very first race and seeing the joy that it brought her, they knew this was something that needed to be shared with the people of Chattanooga.
“I did a little race in Dalton with her in 2015 just to see if she would like it in a little fabric chair and she loved it, she loved the crowd,” said Michelle. “That’s kind of what got us started just because movement makes her happy and I wanted to make her happy.”
The mission behind their organization is not to simply cross a finish line. Instead, it is to provide the resources to experience life without being held back by their physical inabilities.
“I feel like it’s important for them to know they’re capable of doing anything they dream of because they go through so much when it comes to physical stuff and being in the hospital,” said Michelle. “When they cross that finish line all that other stuff they go through seems smaller.”
From triathlons to marathons, Addie Ray Racing does everything they can to ensure the involvement of members of the community. Although the main mode of transportation for them is what they call, “Racing Chariots,” which are elongated wheelchairs designed for running, they also provide resources such as boats and bike attachments so that they never have to miss a beat no matter the conditions.
Even without physically running, these disabled athletes experience similar physiological responses to an able-bodied runner during a race. This increases their quality of life significantly and it is evident by the looks on their faces throughout a run.
“The chair athletes experience the same endorphins that the athletes pushing the chair do as they get to the finish line,” said Chris. “All that excitement and everything that we experience pushing Addie and other disabled athletes, the disabled athlete in the chair experiences that as well.”
Through everything Addie Ray Racing does for the disabled community, it takes a lot of volunteer work to pull off these races and ensure the safety of everyone involved.
“We don’t just need athletes, we need volunteers,” said Michelle. “For Waterfront we have to have four to six people to help us get our athletes out of the water. That’s just people staying in there pulling…we need help from everybody.”
Ultimately, this organization brings together everyone who shares one thing in common, a love for children with disabilities and making what seemed to be impossible for them, a reality. From running alongside them to cheering from the sidelines, it all comes together to make these athletes feel special and loved.
“I think Addie Ray helps a lot of people see that they can be involved at no matter what level they can participate at,” said Matt Mickle, volunteer and runner for Addie Ray Racing. “We want them to participate and we all need them. Everybody needs a little support, a little love, and there’s definitely a lot of opportunity to give love.”
The sense of community that this organization creates is also a large part of how they make a difference in Chattanooga. Seeing people who wouldn’t normally be able to run getting out and do it has inspired many and created a new perspective on their own lives as able-bodied individuals.
Volunteer and runner for Addie Ray Racing, Stephanie Pickett was particularly inspired by this during her time being a part of the organization.
“It just makes you see how lucky you are to struggle,” said Pickett. “You know, I’m not a fast runner and I struggle a lot with running and coming back from obesity, it just makes you thankful for every step that your body can take you through.”
Pickett’s past fighting obesity has given her a unique perspective and has sparked a drive to take advantage of every step that you would normally take for granted. Her involvement with Addie Ray Racing and seeing the joy on the faces of the athletes during a race has been a testament that even if you think you can’t do something, you can and should.
“When you’re struggling through the first hot run of the season, if she comes up behind you just giggling and having the time of her life, for a minute you forget about how hard it’s to run,” said Pickett.
Now Addie Ray Racing is expanding its horizon to a larger audience than just Chattanooga. There is now a newly founded chapter in New Orleans created by a UTC student who was moved by their work.
“It’s wonderful to get together for a bigger purpose other than just going to get their next PR or just going out to run to be healthy,” said Chris. “I think it gives them a sense of giving back to help Addie and our other disabled individuals that participate.”
Meet The Storyteller
Kylee Boone is a visual storyteller studying Communication at UT Chattanooga. She utilizes her leadership qualities as the Social Media and Advertising Director for The University Echo and as the co-founder of her nonprofit organization with Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home. She hopes to one day work in social media management and inspire others through her work in storytelling. For questions or collaboration, please contact email@example.com.