BAY CITY, MI – Energy at St. Louis’ annual race. Patrick’s Day in Bay City is very strong. Thousands of runners and pedestrians advance together with the same goal of reaching the finish line. But, if you pay attention, you will see something truly magical in the packaging every year.
A special set of heavenly volunteers get busy each year lending their wings to others at the St. Patrick’s Day races. Patrick and other events in mid Michigan. With bright smiles, volunteers in red are seen on the course every year helping and cheering disabled racers in wheelchairs. That group is myTeam Triumph, an organization dedicated to making races possible for those who wouldn’t normally be able to participate.
“We allow people who have disabilities to be able to participate in something like the St. Louis race. Patrick, which is a huge effort for our community and involves so many people,” said organizer Deb Militello.
In myTeam Triumph, there are two main terms to define ‘angel’ and ‘captain’. Angels are athletes who dedicate their time and skills to helping disabled racers, known as captains, cross the finish line.
“The main focus of the racing experience is captaining them and giving them a unique experience with inclusion in our community,” said Militello.
After being attracted to the cause thanks to western Michigan chapter leader Rick Ayotte and then seeing the organization in action in a race in Las Vegas, Militello organized the Great Lakes Bay Region chapter of myTeam Triumph in 2016.
“I have a son who was born with muscular dystrophy,” he says. “So, for me, MyTeam Triumph combines everything that I love. I am passionate about running and physical activity and I am passionate about children and giving back. So when I saw this organization that put all three together, it was so life-changing.
Bay City St. Race Patrick’s Day is the group’s biggest event every year. For the 2023 race, myTeam Triumph will have 10 captains participating with their angels.
“St. Patrick’s is always our first race of the year and our biggest race,” said Militello. “We always do road race St. Stan at Bay City, it was our first race, so like going back to our roots, it’s a really important race for us. “
Angel on the run
Being an angel requires a special athlete. Instead of grabbing the spotlight, you can lend that glory to someone else.
“It’s easy to give money but when you give this it’s not, you all agree, you all agree with the captain,” said Militello.
Mark Travis is one of those angels. He served as an angel for the past five years.
“It combines the two things that I love, running and serving the community and serving others,” he said. “And I think the opportunity to play a small role in helping someone like achieve something is very rewarding and very powerful.”
Escorting a captain across the finish line is a team effort. A group of three angels work with each captain to help make their race day dreams come true. He explained that one angel usually pushed the special wheelchair that the captain rode in while a second walked alongside the cheerleaders and the others kept an eye out for any odd potholes or bends in the field.
Travis credits the running community for supporting the group and their efforts.
“One of the most incredible things about the running community is the people are so supportive,” he says. “This is the only sport where every day, everyone can win
He added, “It’s a great asset to the running community and a great resource for those at different ability levels, it gives them the opportunity to feel the energy of race day, which is almost addicting.”
The relationship between the captain and the angel doesn’t stop on race day. Angels and captains tend to meet to share dinners together or even participate in year after year races together.
“It’s very difficult to put into words, even if you’re an angel, even if you’re a volunteer, the feeling you get, the satisfaction because it’s not about you at that moment,” said Militello. “You gave and made this the best day for that captain.”
Borrowing their angel wings for the day made a huge impact on the captains. For racers like 19-year-old Brett Christensen, racing on the track every year
His mother Jennifer Christensen explained that he has a rare metabolic condition called glutaric aciduria type 1 which causes a lack of protein. He explained that he suffered from seizures as a baby which damaged the part of his brain that tells his muscles what to do.
But, despite his disability, he can enjoy racing as captain thanks to myTeam Triumph.
“It’s been a really great experience for Brett, he feels like a king, he feels like a captain,” said Jennifer Christensen. “They made it very special for these kids and these adults. It’s just a fine program, something he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
She added that her son loves dressing up for races. Last year, he was dressed as a pot of gold and his uncle was running beside him dressed as a leprechaun.
“He was running the race and he heard everybody cheering for him and he was smiling so big and dressed so crazy and ridiculous,” she said.
Group work also impacts the captain’s family by helping to develop a support network.
“You get to meet people in the community and it really opens up networks with other parents like we do with other people who may be going through something similar,” says Jennifer Christensen.
How to help
Even if you’re not a runner, you can still help. This year’s race will be held on Sunday, March 19th in downtown Bay City and one thing myTeam Triumph can always tap into is the spectators.
“We are made up of captains, angels, volunteers, donors, but we also only need spectators,” said Militello. “We need people out there cheering.”
There is a sign on each captain’s seat that says their name. So when the captain walks down the track with his angels, people can cheer directly for the driver and make the day even more special for them.
“They’ll scream names and say ‘good job,’ and nearly 20 seconds go by without someone cheering you on,” says Travis. “It’s really very positive, the energy is infectious and it’s amazing.”
Best part? Being a spectator is free. It doesn’t cost a penny to spread the joy on Sunday.
“Just for the captain to cheer on personally, it means a lot to them,” said Militello. “So if anyone is wondering hey, what can I do, how can I make a difference, just being there cheering for our captain makes the difference. It’s the little things. So everyone can be a part of it, everyone can make a difference.”
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