The events have helped Gaby to build self-esteem, develop social skills and reach her full potential, as well as providing a homecoming celebration for the family.
Parental support plays a crucial role in the development of children with disabilities. Not only do parents provide emotional, social and financial support to their children, but they also help them cope with the challenges they face. Also, by advocating for their children and providing access to necessary resources, parents can ensure their children receive the best care and education. Additionally, parental support can help children with disabilities to build self-esteem, develop social skills and reach their full potential. Navy veteran James Ridgeway is doing the same for his 24-year-old daughter Gaby, who is non-verbal, reported PEOPLE.
Father Pushes Non-Verbal Daughter, 24, in Wheelchair for 10 Half Marathons: 'She's Got So Much Joy' https://t.co/v9Ntlo0QUM— People (@people) March 14, 2023
Ridgeway has always been good at running. He has always been in good physical shape. James has participated in short races like 5Ks but he had never run a 10K. While attending the Rock 'N' Roll Series' Half Marathon weekend in Las Vegas, where he was celebrating the event's 25th anniversary, he recalled going for a run with his son after returning home to Visalia, California, from a deployment in 2019. After the jog, Gaby, who uses a wheelchair, was upset about not being able to join in on the fun with her father.
He recalled, "She can't put sentences together. She has vocabulary words, but she'll tell you when she's upset. We would go out on the weekends and as soon as she hears somebody leave, she wants to know where you're going. We would come home from a run and she would be visibly irritated and we asked her, 'Are you mad?'" He added, "[She said] 'Yeah.' 'Why are you mad? Because we go running without you?' 'Yeah.'"
So grateful for the opportunity to help build awareness about the importance of inclusion, through action, while transforming populations into all-inclusive communities. #togetherweshall #welcome #family #letsroll pic.twitter.com/c4lPqiiMTD— Ainsley's Angels (@ainsleys_angels) February 15, 2022
"So I asked her, 'Do you want to run with us?' and she's like, 'Yeah!' I was like, "Oh, wow. How do I do that?'" he explained. Gaby was been diagnosed with Oculocerebrocutaneous (OCC) syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the skin, eyes and brain, leading to seizures and intellectual disabilities. Due to the condition, regulating and coordinating various functions in her brain and body is difficult for Gaby, who also has limited vision in one eye. In addition, she has had cerebral palsy and scoliosis since birth, which impact her mental development and speech. Despite being able to stand for short periods, she can not walk independently.
With the aid of Ainsley's Angels, a non-profit organization that promotes inclusivity in activities such as running and biking, Ridgeway and his spouse Lorena obtained a wheelchair for Gaby, enabling her to join her father in races, and thus, "Team Ridgeway" was created in 2019. The father said, "We got a speaker, put that on the chair and that was it. She's a music lover, loves to dance, loves to scream her favorite song and that was the start of it." Lorena added, "She loves to stand out. She loves having her music. She'll do anything from pop, some rock. She does a little bit of hip hop."
Ridgeway soon learned to adapt his race training to accommodate various weather conditions and terrains to suit his daughter's requirements. "It's all for her. She loves it. That's all that matters," he said. Team Ridgeway marked their 10th half-marathon by running alongside 12,000 other participants down the Las Vegas strip at night. The event was particularly meaningful for the family, who used it as a homecoming celebration and were thrilled to watch Gaby disembark from her wheelchair and cross the finish line in a special moment. The father said, "We did pretty well. This is where she was born and raised." He said about the Las Vegas race, "I just basically hold her shoulders and she's screaming and the crowd's going wild and she's having a ball with her hands up. It's Amazing."