They sat on their three-wheeled machines with smiles on their faces and chests full of pride. For a few minutes on a rainy Monday evening, Sol and Rodger pedaled along together — they were the kings of the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. As their muscles worked to power their trikes, they built more than strength and friendship.
They added one more brick and some mortar to Achilles Pikes Peak, a nonprofit that brings disabled and able-bodied athletes together to walk, run or ride and enjoy the freedom and camaraderie of exercising together.
Generations separate Sol, 13, and Rodger, 67. But they are much alike. Sol, who used his arms to pedal a hand cycle, is slowly losing the use of his legs. His mother, Heather Fuentes, said doctors predict he will need a wheelchair at some point in his life. Rodger struggles with the effects of a stroke 10 years ago; for him, stepping off a curb is a massive undertaking.
Each Monday at 6:15 p.m., about two dozen athletes — some elite-level, others walking with canes — gather at the Colorado Running Company. Brandon Stapanowich, a physical therapist and accomplished runner, helped start Achilles Pikes Peak. He said everyone should enjoy the freedom that comes with health, regardless of any obstacles.
"Helping others become more independent and working with them to reach their goals is something that resonates with me," he says. "Throw in a personal passion for running and being active, and the idea of Achilles was simply something that I felt compelled to do."
Achilles Pikes Peak, which is a chapter of Achilles International, gained traction with the help of several local runners, including Zach Miller, Brian Rawlings, Laura Morgan, Anne Fleming, Rick Hessek, and Scheri and Harsha Nagaraj. Organizations such as Cycle Different, which provided the trikes, also pitched in.
Fleming, program director on the Achilles Pikes Peak board of directors, said the Monday workouts are free and all are welcome to attend.
"People that have disabilities sometimes are intimidated about doing something physical, or concerned about how they may be perceived," Fleming says. "Here there is no judgment. Everyone is welcome. It doesn't matter what your disability is. You're paired with a volunteer guide and nobody is left behind."
Stapanowich said every workout includes various levels of athletes, from a 2-hour, 20-minute marathoner to someone hoping to gain strength so he can play with the grandchildren. "While each has a unique story, Achilles focuses on and celebrates what these folks have in common — a desire to be a better version of themselves," he says.
Mary Ann Luers, a part-time math teacher, lost her left leg to cancer. She said Achilles Pikes Peak offers a chance to mingle and have some fun. Though she wore a prosthetic from the knee down, she maintained a quick step with a goal of walking three miles with her husband, Keith.
"I can get some exercise, and this keeps me accountable," she said. "I'll do more here than if I'm by myself."
From the Colorado Running Company (5262 N. Nevada Ave., #140) the group ventured down to the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail. Able-bodied volunteer Jim Beckenhaupt kept a mellow pace for slower folks and helped everyone safely negotiate a crosswalk. Phil Goulding trotted ahead with faster runners. But there is no pressure to perform or volunteer.
As the organization matures, disabled athletes discover the rewards of giving back. Karen Kantor, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1993, was told she would never run again. Doctors talked of amputating her feet. But she ran farther than anyone in the group last week and is eager to help others.
"Achilles Pikes Peak has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone, has built up my confidence to run again and helps me get my butt out the door Monday nights," Kantor says.
She raises money for the organization by encouraging runners to log their miles on "Charity Miles," a cellphone app. To date, Achilles Pikes Peak runners have logged 2,200 miles, raising about $550.
Rodger enjoys helping where he can.
"I look at it like this," he says. "I needed help at one time. I still do."
"Today I helped Sol, and now he is realizing there is something more out there for him."