Melissa is part of Kayleigh’s Club and Sonja is her running partner. They are both registered for the 2017-2018 Distance Challenge and we will be getting updates from them after every race!
How did y’all come to know each other?
Melissa: Through Kayleigh’s running club and Sandy and Kayleigh.
Sonja: I met Melissa when I at Austin High helping with Kayleigh’s Running Club. She was one of many that I ran with that first time. When she mentioned wanting to try to accomplish the distance challenge, I told her about the Ship of Fools and it turns out she lives right by the track.
What is your running background?
Melissa: I have run in the Race for the Cure once. I ran with my sister some before she moved to Vermont. I trained on my own. I would go run around the neighborhood about two times a week. didn’t like training by myself.
Sonja: I started running track in 5th grade up North in Illinois. I didn’t do well my first year but lucky for me, I was held back and that is when I exploded! I became a sprinter and would run with the older students so I could have a challenge. They almost always beat me but it made me faster and I loved it. I did track for nine years as a sprinter; 100, 200, and 400 were my individual races and the relays, which I anchored. Over time the 400 became my race but I hated practicing it. My high school coach made me run cross country for three years, which I despised, but there was no way I could say no to my coach. So I would jack rabbit at the start and then walk until the very end of the race and run in… usually last. I was just out there to make a complete team not to actually do anything. If she could see me running long distance now she would flip.
Why did you start running?
Melissa: I had done volleyball, swimming, basketball, bowling, and softball with Special Olympics. I started running more so I stay active when I am not doing those sports. I heard about Kayleigh’s club through Kayleigh and Ms. Sandy, her mom, and I like to train with my friends. I liked the fact that it isn’t Special Olympics. We were training for the Zilker Relays and I got to race with my friends and it didn’t involve Special Olympics. I liked being with just everybody.
Sonja: I actually started with the Ship of Fools because I had a friend visiting from out of state and she wanted to do a 5K, so we did the Camp Ben McCullough 5K and stayed for the awards. Everyone who was winning was from some running club in San Marcos and that made me curious if Austin had one, and I found the Austin Runner’s Club. The workout times agreed with my teaching schedule and I love the track workouts. It is more than just “go run 3 miles today,” it’s actually an evolving workout that changes weekly.
How did you hear about the Distance Challenge?
Melissa: Sandy had asked me if I wanted to do the Distance Challenge. I said, “yes.” I want to try running races other then Komen Race for the Cure. I find training for the Distance Challenge has made my running more interesting. I am going to run three half marathons because not everyone with special needs is able to run. I am running for the people with special needs who can’t run. I want people to see that no matter what your disability is, you can achieve things that others have said you can’t do. I have been told by others, “You can’t read. You are not smart enough to be in school. I was told I wasn’t fast enough or strong to do sports.” Kayleigh’s Club and the Distance Challenge has helped me to overcome what others have said I couldn’t do.
Sonja: I heard runners talk about the Distance Challenge during workouts and I thought it sounded neat but way above anything I could actually do. I was just getting to where I could run two miles without falling over. I went to a packet pick up and they were also having those who had signed up for the Distance Challenge picking up their shirts and I signed up as a spur of the moment whim.
Now I’m training for my third Distance Challenge and it surprises me still that I have been able to run the distances I have. I heard about Kayleigh through the running newsletters and I meet her and her mom, Sandy, at the Distance Challenge celebration last year. I friended her mom on Facebook and our friendship has grown from there. When I found out that Kayleigh wanted more of her friends to run with her, I signed up to help with her club.
How are you training for the first race in the Distance Challenge?
Melissa: I have been swimming every Saturday for my Special Olympics meet and that has helped me with my breathing as I run. I run with the Ship of Fools on Tuesday and Thursdays at O’Henry. I like the track workouts on Tuesday because it is different every Tuesday and it is challenging. Thursday workouts are not as fun because of hills. Hills are hard but Sonja taught me to say, “What the Hill!” as I run up each one. That has helped me because when I do the longer races I can get up the hill. I will win the hill by getting up it!
Sonja: I am trying to get back into a 3-day week of running, but with teaching it is a struggle. It seems every other week there is some after school activity that I’m required to be there for that interferes with practice – back to school night, math night, science night, but when I have been able to make practice I have been running with Melissa and if time allows I do the same workout later that evening or the next day at my tempo. Otherwise, I am primarily focused on helping Melissa to accomplish her goals this year. There is so much joy to be had in watching someone do something they didn’t think was possible.
Tell us a little more about yourselves!
Melissa: I’ve worked as a bagger at Randall’s for the last 14 years and walks many miles every day there. I have lived on my own since I was 22 and I live near the O’Henry Track so I can get there quickly. My disability is intellectual disabled which means I need some assistance. I struggle with some areas such as reading and finances so my family helps me in these areas. I graduated from Westlake High school in 2002, where I took combined regular classes and special education classes.
Sonja: I teach ESL First Grade at Rodriguez Elementary in Dove Springs. I have been there for 12 years and enjoy the students and the challenge though at times it can be overwhelming. I have been with my husband, Michael, since I was a junior at Crockett High, graduated in 1989. We married in 1991 and have two children. Aaron is a senior at A&M in College Station and will marry next year. Samantha is a sophomore at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma.
Thank you for sharing your story with us! We are thrilled to have you #DareTheDistance with us this year and can’t wait to see you at the 80’s 8K!!