To support health and fitness of all ages through recreational running.

 

 

Oh, What a ride! At the A2A Marathon

The Landrunners' "Oh, What a ride!" program is the latest community project designed to give memorable athletic experiences to individuals who currently possess physical challenges by riding in The Landrunners’ modified racing wheelchair during a competitive running event.
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At the A2A Marathon Damian Saunders, 15 years old, was the latest athlete to enjoy the ride of a life time. Damian, with the assistance of Kevin Lynes and James Drain, completed the A2A marathon on April 1, 2012, in a time of 4:41:47.
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Pictured Sunday with Kevin Lynes, left, and James Drain of the Oklahoma City Landrunners after completing the A2A marathon. Photo by Erik K. Horne

Damian Saunders doesn’t say much, but the 15-year-old knew exactly what he wanted to Sunday at the A2A.

At the 11-mile marker of the Arbuckle to Ardmore Race for Mercy marathon, the Sulphur resident stricken since birth with cerebral palsy and microcephaly, a birth disorder that causes brain shrinkage, made sure his mother heard his wishes.

Most of Damian’s communication is non-verbal but he had to let his mother know: This was the ride of a lifetime and it had to continue.

“He kept saying ‘I gotta go, Mom. I gotta go,” Damian’s mother, Leilani, said. “He defintely told us he was ready.”

Saunders celebrated his 15th birthday in style, completing the 26.2-mile course through the Arbuckle Mountains thanks to the selfless efforts of The Landrunners running club of Oklahoma City and their “Oh, What a Ride!” program.

The Landrunners provided the wheels for Saunders to complete his first marathon, with assistance from team members Kevin Lynes and James Drain. The Landrunners used the special three-wheeled chair for only the third time, the first time in a full marathon. Other races The Landrunners have assisted in include a half-marathon in Tulsa and a 5K in El Reno.

Their mission? To provide those, like Damian, who otherwise couldn’t run the race themselves a unique chance to be a part of it. Drain, in his first year with The Landrunners, spoke about how pushing Damian the length of the race was an experience he won’t soon forget.

“It pretty much gives a whole new meaning to the sport,” said Drain, whose family hails from Springer. “The brotherhood that goes along with it, with Kevin here, it’s been a pretty memorable experience. It’ll definitely be the one that sticks out most in my mind.”

After a stop for water at the 11-mile marker, the group of Lynes, Drain and Damian picked up at the 16-mile mark. Leilani rode in a car in front of Damian for most of the race.

“It’s really nice to have someone who cares about people who don’t have a lot of opportunities,” Leilani said. “Damian never would have had this without them.

“My thing with Damian is for him to have every opportunity in life that he can have. This was awesome because not everybody gets to do this.”

As some of the final marathoners to cross the finish line, Damian and The Landrunners were greeted with cheers and applause from the A2A volunteers and crowd. The group made the final turn onto the straightaway at Noble Stadium, and voices in the crowd alerted others that Damian was coming to the finish line.

Even in a race that some called the toughest marathon they’ve ever faced, Damian and The Landrunners finished in under six hours.

“This wasn’t about time,” Lynes said. “It’s about giving kids the thrill of a lifetime.”

 

He won’t have a first bike ride. He won’t go rollerblading. He won’t deliver a stirring speech in Congress or recite Shakespeare from the stage of a theater.

But on Sunday, his 15th birthday, Saunders will take part in the A2A half-marathon.

Born with cerebral palsy and microcephaly, a birth disorder that causes brain shrinkage, Saunders has been wheelchair bound for his entire youth. His biggest triumph has been life itself. Saunders was born as a twin, with his fellow twin not surviving past birth. The disabilities that Saunders was diagnosed with were so severe that doctors didn’t even give his adopted mother, Leilani Saunders, a life expectancy for her son.

“When we got Damien, they told me he pretty much needed a home to die in,” Saunders said.

Leilani’s road to Damien is exceptional in itself. Wanting to be a mother, Saunders went through the beginning of the adoption process with her husband at the time. Halfway through the process of adopting Damien, 18 months old at the time, Leilani and her husband divorced.

Many would have given up the process at that point, unable to find the strength to not only raise a special needs child, but to do so on their own.

Not Saunders, who not only stuck with her desire to adopt Damien, but also adopted a daughter later.

“When you love someone, you just don’t give them up,” Saunders said. “You don’t have to birth a child to love them.”

And there is no doubting the love that Saunders has for her son. Even in a brief conversation about him, the warmth and care she puts in every description of Damien echoes with every syllable. It is an affection that likely helped Damien find the strength to continue living with the zeal that he displays every day.

“When we got him in, he showed the desire to survive and keep going,” Saunders said. “All he needed was a chance.”

On Sunday, Damien will get another chance, one to compete alongside 500 other runners in Ardmore. Utilizing a rolling three-wheeled scooter, the Oklahoma City Landrunners will push Damien the 13 miles required for a half-marathon as part of the “Oh, What a Ride!” project.

Debuted in November of 2011, the project has allowed physically challenged individuals across Oklahoma to have memorable experiences in athletics. The group has participated in the Williams Route 66 Half Marathon, the Edmond Frigid Five and Panera Beacon Run, among other events.

“We’ve had a lot of success with it so far,” said Kevin Lynes, one of several members of the Landrunners who volunteer their efforts towards pushing the racers.

“With the number of runners we’ve had so far, it might not be long before we have a waiting list of interested participants.”

The Landrunners reached out to Damien through a call to school systems surrounding Ardmore. When they reached Sulphur Superintendent Gary Jones, he mentioned Damien’s name to the Landrunners.

“This is going to be (Damien’s) first event with them,” Leilani Saunders said. “The Landrunners are offering this opportunity to anyone who is interested.”

For Damien, it’s yet another reminder that despite the struggles life has thrown his way, there’s always someone who has his back, ready to help him push on.

So far in his life, it has been a mother who gave everything for Damien. On Sunday, it will be Lynes and James Drain, who will guide Damien on an unforgettable experience.

“In our society now, we have so many children who don’t have any stability,” Saunders said. “That’s what kids need. They just need somebody they know will be in their corner.

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