Sweat, Sneakers and Support for Yachad

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Finish Line

When David Beiss first came to me and proposed that Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD) send a team to run in the ING Miami Half-Marathon on Sunday, January 31, to raise money and awareness for Yachad, I was excited but had many questions. Running a half-marathon takes a lot of work, time, and effort, all things that many people don’t have after fulfilling personal and professional responsibilities. For instance, I have little free time to spend in training after my work with Yachad and my family obligations.

But David, a junior at Hebrew Academy of Nassau County and participant in Yachad events, such as last year’s Yad B’Yad Israel trip, convinced me that it was a worthwhile idea. David was wheeled in a chair in the ING Miami Half-Marathon in 2009 as a member of a Chai Lifeline team, and wanted to go back again in 2010 – this time in support of Yachad.

Once the idea was set, a team at Yachad, including me, Yehuda Charm, Director of New York Yachad, and Odaiah Poznanski, Yachad Office Manager, got to work securing a training coach, getting the word out, and organizing the myriad of details that go into sponsoring such a major event. Yachad would be taking a group of runners to Florida, putting them up for a Shabbos, and be responsible for all of them during a 13.1 mile run, which makes up the Half-Marathon. Additionally, Yachad had never done anything like this before, and none of us had any idea how it would work out.

Still, we knew it would be a great way to get people, especially some not normally involved with Yachad activities, to participate in an exhilarating experience that raises both money and support for Yachad. Our excitement built as the Half-Marathon drew closer. Having stipulated that individuals would need to raise a minimum of $2,500 in sponsorship to participate, we were able to attract thirty dedicated runners to our cause, including one Yachad member who would be pushed in a wheelchair during the race. Our certified training coach, Jasmine Graham of the New York Road Runners Club, customized training plans for each runner who wished to partake of her services, and several times, the New York-area runners met up to train together in the cold Central Park.

Though I’m not advocating this course of action for any potential marathon participant, I had barely any free time and thus, my own training consisted of little more than running to catch the train to work. Our team slogan became, “We’re Running Hand in Hand,” which emphasizes our message of reaching out to those with disabilities to be included in the greater Jewish community and mainstream activities they otherwise may not have a chance to participate in, such as the Marathon.

On to Florida

The big weekend finally arrived, and a cadre of hyped-up runners flew from New York, New Jersey, Memphis, Minnesota, and Chicago to Miami for a Yachad Shabbaton and the ING Marathon. We stayed in Miami Beach, and we had several runners and nine Yachad members from the Miami chapter join us for Shabbat.

It was an extraordinary Shabbat – one filled with spirit, excitement, and with a sense of the excitement of a pep rally as we all geared up for our run the next day. On Saturday night, we screened the Yachad tribute film that was shown at the OU Dinner in New York in December, which further heartened us in our quest to publicize the good that Yachad stands for.

With bleary eyes, we all made our way to the dining room at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning to fuel ourselves for the day ahead. Although I usually only sip coffee throughout the day, I made sure to have a bowl of hot oatmeal to fortify myself. At 6:00 a.m., we were eagerly waiting at the starting line of the Marathon, and then we were off.

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. It was tough – there was water by each mile line, but I hadn’t taken any granola bars along with me, and those would certainly have come in handy. The weather was nearly 70 degrees, and after five miles, I was really feeling muscle aches and alternated between running and walking. After mile ten, I started to think that whoever came up with the 13.1 mile length of the run was crazy.

Yet there was such beautiful scenery along the route that helped spur me on, and what truly helped me keep going was the knowledge that I was doing my part to help support Yachad. What really drove me to the finish line was knowing that I needed to set an example for everyone else on Team Yachad. I firmly believe that anything in life is possible – not everything in this world is doable, but anything that you really set your mind to can be accomplished…including running in a major marathon with little training! As if to bring home my point, David Beiss ran the last mile of the Half-Marathon after being wheeled in a chair for the first leg of it, despite the significant difficulties he has walking or running. He is a perfect example of what can be achieved with determination and hard work.

At the finish line, though everyone was sore and more than a little tired, we were also very proud of ourselves and of what we accomplished. Individually, completing the Marathon was a personal achievement, but collectively, it was a resounding show of support for Team Yachad and in the best spirit of mutual support to reach a common goal.

From the Marathon to NAIM

The marathon preceded by a day the beginning of NAIM, Yachad’s North American Inclusion Month, a period specifically designated to raise awareness and develop sensitivity of what it means for those who live with disabilities, and how to include them in the larger community.

Thanks to Team Yachad’s participation in the Miami Half-Marathon, there are hundreds of miles walked, thousands of calories burned and much more importantly, $15,000 raised after net costs of the event, a handsome sum of money considering it is our first year ever participating in this event.

Based on the undeniable success of the event this year, I am confident that more people will sign up for next year’s Marathon and participate in what we hope will become a major annual event supporting the inclusion of all people within our broad Jewish community. To all the potential runners out there—start your training!

Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman is the director of Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD)

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.