A race ‘unlike any other,’ Making Strides for Special Kids raises funds for SEDOL

Event allows many participants to experience a race for the first time

LIBERTYVILLE – Unlike other 5K races, Making Strides for Special Kids wasn’t about reaching a finish line.

For many of the about 250 participants, the event offered the chance to experience a race.

And for many, they were experiencing a race for the first time.

The 5K Run/Walk and Kids’ 1 Mile Sprint hosted Sept. 17 at Independence Grove in Libertyville by the Special Education District of Lake County is described as an event “like no other.”

Students and others with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs or with developmental disabilities such as autism, are paired with other runners and walkers to complete the race. Many are volunteers who step forward to help out. All participants earn medals.

Some of the “handi-capable athletes” aren’t able to take part in typical races, said Anne Subry, executive director of the SEDOL Foundation.

“For many of these kids, it might be the only thing they get a medal in growing up because they’re not really athletes,” she said. “It’s great to give them the experience of what it’s like to go out and run a 5K at Independence Grove.”

On hiatus the past couple of years because of the pandemic, the event has raised funds for SEDOL Foundation annually for more than a decade. SEDOL provides physically, mentally and emotionally challenged children from ages 3 to 22 with educational opportunities appropriate to each child’s needs.

SEDOL serves 31 school districts in Lake County and more than 2,200 students with special needs. Founded in 1991 by SEDOL, the SEDOL Foundation is dedicated to helping these children, their parents and siblings with support and services that the district cannot provide because public funding falls short of the enormous needs.

This year’s race raised about $55,000 for the SEDOL Foundation.

“It goes toward enhancing opportunities for our kids in the classroom,” Subry said. “It’s educational, vocational and social opportunities for our kids.”

Among the services and programs SEDOL provides are sign language classes for family caregivers and advocates, summer camp scholarships, and technology and equipment such as wheelchairs, strollers and communication devices.

Cindy Quirke’s 9-year-old son James attends SEDOL’s Laremont School in Grayslake, where he receives individualized support.

“They do a wonderful job with him and give him far more opportunities than he could have ever had in a mainstream school,” said Quirke of Antioch. “To be able to focus on his specific needs and expound from there is huge.”

As a newborn, James suffered a perinatal stroke and was diagnosed with infantile spasms. The stroke has left him unable to walk and talk and caused other disabilities, including a vision impairment. Because his muscles were affected, he aspirates and must use a gastrostomy tube.

He uses eye gazes to communicate at times.

“He’s a total class clown,” Quirke said. “He thinks he’s silly. If there’s tension, he will start laughing to break up the tension and try to lighten the mood.”

James always has enjoyed adventures such as camping, his mother said, likely because of the movement of the trees and their shadows. Pushed by a volunteer at Making Strides for Special Kids, she watched him take in the scenery at Independence Grove.

“You could tell he was studying his environment and paying attention more than ever,” she said.

Many who take part in the race return year after year.

Even though his adult sons Evan and Dylan are no longer part of SEDOL, Eric Smith of Grayslake took part simply to support the cause.

“It’s fantastic,” he said of the event. “It’s always good to get the kids out and have parents network and raise awareness for people who may not be familiar with the issues special needs parents face.”

Dana Allard of Lake Villa, who took part in the event with her 16-year-old son Andrew, likes that the fundraiser benefits local programs.

“Here, we see it. We see people benefitting from if that are our friends and family,” Allard said.

Along with resources and programs, SEDOL provides a community of support to families, she said. Those involved form friendships and enjoy coming together for Making Strides for Special Kids.

A former student at SEDOL, Andrew Allard has taken part in the 5K for at least five years. He has autism and is nonverbal. He walks but uses a wheelchair during the race.

“He has so much anxiety around the crowds and music, so he won’t walk that whole distance without having anxiety,” Dana Allard said. “He loves being pushed, loves being outside. … He feels like he has to deal with less sensory input if he’s not in charge with where he’s going and who he’s around. He just enjoys the day out.”