Three athletes from the Orange chapter of Connecticut’s Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program competed in the USATF-CT Youth Indoor Track and Field Championship in February with great success. The meet was held at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
The three athletes who participated, Molly Giancola (9), Xavier McNemar (11) and Mandy Giancola (5) all competed in the 55-meter dash and 200-meter dash events. Molly placed 2nd in the 55- meter dash, and 3rd in the 200-meter dash. Xavier placed 10th in the 55-meter dash and 6th in the 200-meter dash. Mandy placed 1st in the 55-meter dash and 3rd in the 200-meter dash.
They started running in January, and within a month of training, they were already racing in the very competitive setting, according to the group’s organizer, Mimi Washington of Orange. Washington, an avid runner, started the Connecticut chapter of Rolling Thunder in 2017 after working with the Rolling Thunder program in New York, where it was founded. The program provides challenged individuals with the opportunity to successfully participate in all levels of mainstream running.
“They were so afraid to run before the first race, the 200-meter,” Washington says. “They had never been in a track meet in their life. But once they finished the first race, they were like, oh it was pretty fun!”
On the next event, the 55-meter, they were more relaxed and even made friends with athletes from other teams. “Xavier had a slow start on 200-meter dash—by the time he got to the halfway point, most of the runners had crossed finish line. But he kept running at his own pace and finished the race all by himself, independently,” Washington says. “I was so proud of him, I ran up to the bleachers to tell his mom how well he did. His mom was crying with joy!”
The athletes practice twice each week in local schools during the colder months and in mid-April move practice outdoors. In July they’ll participate in the 21st annual Thunder Run in New York City.
Since its launch two years ago, the program has grown to over 20 athletes, four volunteer coaches and three student peers. “We could use more student peers,” Washington says. High school students looking for community service hours are encouraged to help out.
Rolling Thunder provides those with special needs the opportunity to develop or improve with typical peers. Athletes learn consistency, direction following, social skills, and how to be independent in doing something they love. “It is just an amazing feeling to see their accomplishments,” says Washington.
The program is one of the first inclusive running clubs in the country for all athletes. The organization was founded in 1998 by Steve Cuomo in Long Island, N.Y., to provide challenged individuals with the opportunity to successfully participate in all levels of mainstream running, walking, or wheelchair racing.
No running experience is needed to join the team. Washington can be reached at 516-849-1028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent