Teacher, student will participate to benefit people with disabilities
They’re a team in the classroom, where Tom Sharp teaches Ryan Costley an appreciation of chemistry. And they’ll be a team on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul this weekend, when they run the Twin Cities Marathon together.
There will be thousands of able-bodied runners on the 26.2-mile course Sunday, as well as a number of wheelchair athletes. You’ll also see some runners pushing specially designed sports chairs. Costley, an Eastview High School junior, will be in one of them as his team’s captain. Sharp, a science teacher and Eastview’s boys cross country and track and field coach, will push.
“He provides the inspiration,” Sharp said last week, “and I provide the power.”
This idea was presented to Costley over the summer. “He asked me, ‘Why would (Sharp) want to do that?’” said Sue Costley, Ryan’s mother.
Here’s why: To raise money and awareness for Minnesota Special Olympics and the Eastview High School Unified Programs, which help mainstream students with disabilities into high school life.
Ryan, who has played on Dakota United adapted sports teams (he was a member of the Hawks’ state champion PI Division softball squad last spring), has a progressive neurological disorder that confines him to a wheelchair. It’s called ataxia telangiectasia, or Louis-Bar Syndrome. Children who have it will first have problems with coordination, and it often reaches the point where many motor functions become all but impossible.
Ryan has been in a wheelchair since fourth grade. But he’s able to remain an A student, his mother said, thanks to help from teachers and paraprofessionals, along with an ability to memorize mountains of information.
“He’s just trapped in a body that won’t cooperate,” Sue Costley said.
By second grade, the disorder was causing him to fall, seemingly at random. It didn’t help that the condition initially was misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy, his mother said. “It was really frustrating because I knew what cerebral palsy was, and this wasn’t it,” she added.
But Ryan wants to be treated like any other student and has no interest in anybody’s pity. “He does best when he’s treated like a human being,” his mother said.
Initially, Ryan was skeptical about joining Sharp on this journey. “He doesn’t necessarily see himself as a recipient of this,” his mother said. “But he does like the idea of raising money to help others.”
Donations are being accepted at the online fundraising side CrowdRise under the name “Harvey’s Harriers.” Sharp also is running the marathon to honor his father Harvey, who was a physician, scientist and researcher at the University of Minnesota for 50 years. An expert on liver disease, Harvey Sharp, who died in July, was credited with identifying causes of pediatric conditions that once were considered terminal.
Harvey Sharp also was a scholarship distance runner at Ohio Wesleyan University (“the Battling Bishops,” his son said). Tom Sharp and his brother also became runners, although when the started they didn’t know their father had done it competitively.
Tom Sharp has run five marathons, although he doesn’t do a lot of races during the school year because of his teaching and coaching responsibilities. But he runs year-round, so the training base for a marathon already was in place, he said.
Still, this is different. He got the idea to do this through My Team Triumph Minnesota, an organization that helps match people with disabilities with able-bodied athletes so they can experience road races and triathlons.
But he’s never pushed somebody in a chair for 26 miles. Sharp has been doing training runs with a sports chair loaded with kettlebells to approximate Ryan’s weight. It hasn’t been easy pushing the weight uphill or controlling it downhill, although Sharp said the toughest part was getting accustomed to running without using his arms.
Sharp and Costley will start the marathon in downtown Minneapolis about 8 a.m. Sunday. They will go out with the wheelchair athletes, ahead of the main pack of runners. The finish line is at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
They plan to slow down enough to accept some high-fives along the way, but “we will finish,” Sharp said. “I’m confident of that. We don’t have to stay with the elite runners. We just have to stay ahead of the pickup wagon.
“We’re trying to promote acceptance. At Eastview we’ve tried not to focus on any disability a student might have, because everybody has abilities.”
For Ryan Costley, a wicked sense of humor surfaces as he contemplates a chance to get even.
“He told me, ‘If I have to take chemistry from him, it’s only fair that he should have to push me,’” Ryan’s mother said.