I ran with Dave for the last few miles of his long run and then chatted over his recovery drink of choice, Diet Dr Pepper, about his running, Ironman training, and running with his son Josh. Dave’s running story is a remarkable story, not only of his own personal transformation, but also of building community.
Before Dave got into running and triathlon, he was a competitive eater. Dave served in the Army and then the National Guard, and while serving in the Guard, he got a job as a postal worker. Dave had a walking route, which means he covered 11 to 12 miles every day on foot, but he gained weight his first year working on that walking route. He says he ate his way all along his route, and tended to eat very fast. “I was the only postal worker who would walk all day and gain weight,” he says. His friends, noting how fast he ate, were constantly urging him to try competitive eating, but Dave brushed it off. Eventually, however, he tried a Wing Bowl, and things took off from there. “I was ranked nineteenth in the world at one time.” He wanted to get into better physical condition, and eventually started running. “Some of the best competitive eaters are in really good shape… so I wanted to get into shape just for me.”
Dave took up running in 2012, running Broad Street as his first race. Eventually, Dave started running with his son Josh, now 23 years old, who has Joubert syndrome, which causes Josh to have very limited mobility. Dave had heard about other parents who ran with their kids, particularly Team Hoyt, a well known father-son team who have been doing races together since the seventies. “We got his custom running chair in 2015 and have been running together ever since.”
Dave got connected with Ainsley’s Angels, a national nonprofit group started by the family of a little girl who had a rare terminal disease that eventually caused total paralysis, and loved racing with her family. The organization assists in fundraising to provide the racing chairs, which cost about $5000 each, and the NJ chapter of Ainsley’s Angels has a small fleet of Freedom Chairs that they use for Josh and other Ainsley’s athlete riders. Dave showed me the chairs, and they are remarkably light and built to be comfortable for the rider and the runner. The chair can be used for both running and to attach to a bike for triathlon. Dave leads the South Jersey chapter, and is recruiting both athlete riders, who are kids or adults with disabilities who want to participate in racing, and angels, or runners who push the athlete riders.
Dave doesn’t train with Josh, but he finds that training himself prepares him for racing with Josh. “Josh does all the work, I’m just there to help him,” he says. Josh loves race day, and “When he sees his pink Ainsley’s Angels shirt, he knows its race day.” Josh has done 27 races now, and Dave loves seeing the joy in Josh’s face when they’re racing. “He doesn’t have anything else to do, this is all we have,” Dave says. His standing marathon PR was at the Marine Corps Marathon, which was the first marathon he ran with Josh. Josh and Dave received their chair from Ainsley’s Angels at a banquet that they have before the MCM and raced with it the very next day.
Josh and Dave did their first triathlon together this year, at the urging of Larry and Michelle from CGI Racing. He was worried about transitions from swim to bike, and then bike to run with Josh, but recruited a “pit crew” who assisted in moving Josh from the raft for swimming onto the chair to bike and then run in. CGI has always welcomed rider athletes warmly. Dave anticipates trying to do the NJ State Triathlon with Josh again next year.
Dave was initially reluctant to lead the South Jersey Chapter of Ainsley’s Angels. “I didn’t know if I had the time or the drive to do it, and I thought how can I not want to do it. I love doing this with Josh, and there’s so many special needs kids out there who can get the joy of running and getting your own bling.” Although Dave runs with his own son, it is actually more common that riders are paired with runners through the chapter who are not necessarily family members. The chapter takes donations, including business sponsorships, to fund the chair purchases.
In addition to running with Josh, and leading the local Ainsley’s Angels chapter, Dave has some legit running and tri credentials of his own. Dave races in the Clydesdale division in triathlons, and frequently places in the division. He is currently training for his first Ironman, which is coming up in about a month and a half in Louisville.
Although Dave started out logging a lot of solo miles, he found Run856 on Facebook, and eventually hooked up with some other local runners, forming the Voorhees Minions. On the day I met Dave, he had already logged about ten miles with minion Brenda before I joined him. He says having people to run with has been really positive for him, and he is less likely to dip out on a run when he knows people are expecting him in the morning. The group has become about more than just running, as they plan social get-togethers, and support each other through tough times.
Dave also takes opportunities to teach kids about inclusion by going to schools and reading the book “Born an Angel” to the students, and teaching them about people with disabilities, inclusion, and running with Josh. Dave’s passion for running is so strong, he has tried to infect his whole family.
Although Dave says “All I hope is to survive,” in regards to his upcoming Ironman, I’m pretty sure he’ll kick butt out there. Best wishes on your continued training and race, Dave!