Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way: One decade of breaking barriers of inclusion
By Guest Columnist BRENT PEASE, executive director, The Kyle Pease Foundation
Since 2011, The Kyle Pease Foundation has focused on generating awareness of inclusion and raising funds to promote success for persons with disabilities by providing assistance to meet their individual needs through sports.
For athletes like Kevin Enners, KPF showed him having a disability doesn’t mean you are limited. Born with cerebral palsy, Enners has craved racing since his 5th birthday, when his father adapted his birthday bike with oversized training wheels and a supportive seat back. Now, the 27-year-old Enners is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and crank athlete, competing in races and cycling events across the country for KPF.
Enners is just one of many success stories through KPF. The organization celebrates 10 years of breaking barriers with 140 athletes supported and 600 total volunteers.
KPF’s first quarter of programming in 2020 achieved great results with nine teams qualifying for the AJC Peachtree Road Race. And, a record breaking 65 teams raced through the streets of Atlanta for the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon. A week later, racing stopped.
Given the nature of many KPF athletes, it was no longer safe to host in-person events. The pandemic placed a strain on athletes and their families as they experienced isolation and separation from their peer group. Starved for interaction, members of KPF connected by participating in virtual races, such as the virtual running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race where KPF broke barriers of inclusion by sponsoring a record number of 19 push-assist and wheelchair teams. To support the new run where you are mindset, KPF turned its equipment warehouse into a lending center to allow families to keep moving from home.
As the year continued, people traveled less and were looking for ways to connect to their community, resulting in an outpouring of support that was so desperately needed. Although there was a shadow cast on 2020, greatness also occurred with the creation of the Athlete Assistance Fund, which met the needs of the athletes where they were – at home. Many athletes and their families faced significant economic impact due to COVID-19. This fund provided temporary assistance with groceries, rent and other essential needs.
The first event back in person was incredibly emotional as friends reconnected through their love of endurance sports.
In 2019 and 2020 alone, KPF athletes crossed more than 2,000 finish lines. However, it is important to note, the reach of the foundation goes further than each chair crossing the line. Family is a big part of the narrative – reinforcing bonds among family members and building resilience for navigating life’s ups and downs. Champions for inclusion and those who support loved ones through racing prove to be a positive impact on the entire family unit.
Justin “J-Dude” Knight, who was born with cerebral palsy, became KPF’s third sponsored athlete in 2012 and races with his mother Teresa Knight. Knight is not only a veteran chair athlete with Ironman status, but he also serves as a KPF employee playing an integral part of its donor communications process.
“Meeting KPF opened up a whole new world for us to not only do something tremendous together, but for J-Dude to have experiences that he never imagined,” Teresa Knight said. “The family that we have gained in KPF is immeasurable and has completely changed our lives.”
Enners, similar to Knight, is employed by KPF, serving as communication project manager. Enners’ passion for sports and writing has led him to be the Chief Content Writer with his work published on the foundation’s blog as well as a point of contact for new athletes.
Looking back over the past 10 years, KPF has come a long way. From the basics of learning how to run a business to competing in the IRONMAN World Championship, the foundation and its members continue to focus on supporting individuals with disabilities. Allowing its mission to drive every decision, relationships and positive interactions make up the KPF experience. At its inception, KPF consisted of two brothers who competed together. Now, there is a sea of KPF Blue at nearly every race in the state.
As area race directors continue to find ways to keep people engaged and active outside, KPF will support these events. Athletes are competitive by nature and push-assist athletes are no different, craving both connections and medals. Up next, push-assist teams are traveling to Boston to participate in the 125th Boston Marathon, on Oct. 11, a monumental milestone for the organization as it participates for the first time.
KPF has raised more than $4.3 million in the last decade to further its mission. Looking forward, its hopes are to raise $800,000 in 2022. The majority of programs that exist to support individuals with disabilities have an age limit of 21 years. This means that when an individual with special needs turns 21, they lose their access to public education and the programs that go with it. The funds raised next year will in part allow KPF to expand its employee base, providing independence for more members.
What’s more, these fundraising efforts will support the purchase of a new, larger truck to sustain the growing number of in-chair athletes at events. Currently, the smaller truck that is available limits the number of participants KPF can support.
The Kyle Pease Foundation thanks the Atlanta community for its continued support and helping bring its mission and vision to fruition. Its members look forward to sharing the road with fellow Atlantans again soon!
Together, We Wheel.
Note to readers:
Brent Pease serves as executive director of The Kyle Pease Foundation, founded in 2011 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the disabled through sports. For more information on the foundation, please click here.