Last year, I wrote about a couple of kids who were best buddies: Rachel Prior, who is mature beyond her 12 years, and Ethan Fairhurst, who has cerebral palsy and is fully dependent on others. Rachel had set up a 1-mile run/walk course around her Tallmadge neighborhood to benefit United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland (UCP), where Ethan receives therapy.
Well, things have come a long way in a short time, and Rachel continues to push herself to improve Ethan’s life and the lives of others with disabilities.
It wasn’t a real surprise to those who knew her when the preteen announced that she wanted to participate in the youth division of the Cleveland Triathlon, and push or pull 13-year-old Ethan through every event, including swimming.
During a recent practice in Tallmadge at a magnificent pond owned by the Bierce family, Rachel put a swim belt around her waist. A rope attached her to the raft that was carrying Ethan, who is also autistic. Bored while waiting for the action to begin, Ethan stretched his arm into the water and splashed. Rachel grinned.
In addition to swimming 200 meters, the July 26 triathlon, which the kids are participating in to benefit UCP, includes bicycling and running. That means that Rachel will be pulling Ethan for six miles during the biking portion, and during the run, she will push him 1.5 miles in a bike trailer that converts into a jogging stroller, graciously donated by the Tallmadge Lions Club.
“A kid/kid push team is a first for the Cleveland Triathlon,” explained Ethan’s mom, Sarah Fairhurst.
Rachel and Ethan became friends while sitting on the sidelines at their siblings’ baseball and soccer games. It was easy for Rachel to like the boy with the contagious grin.
Rachel always knew that Ethan had some problems, “but it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “We are all different in our own way.”
When school resumes, they will be sixth-graders at Tallmadge Middle School. Last year, when they were students at Munroe Elementary School, a teacher’s assistant said she had never witnessed such a level of compassion in a child as she had in Rachel.
Because children don’t miss much, the friendship that Rachel and Ethan enjoy has inspired other youngsters to get involved — to care for folks with special needs and to join in on the fun that the pair share.
“I told some people about it [the triathlon] and they told other people and those people told people,” said the soft-spoken Rachel, who plans on pursuing a career working with people with special needs.
Currently, two dozen of Rachel and Ethan’s young friends have registered for the triathlon under Team Ethan.
The 1-mile run that Rachel set up in her neighborhood has been moved to Tallmadge High School. That event will take place at 2 p.m. Sept. 28. The day before, dozens of adults who make up Team Ethan will be running in the Akron Marathon. Of course, Rachel will be pushing Ethan in the Kids Fun Run that day.
When the swimming practice was over, Ethan, who was wearing a life jacket, remained in the raft, giggling. At one point, he scooped up some sand and raised his hand to his mouth. Before anyone else could get to him, Rachel was at his side, brushing it out of his hand.
To Rachel, Ethan is a friend, an equal. As she wrote when she was just 10 years old in a school report, someone’s disability is not what defines them.
Out of the mouths of babes.
The Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board is blogging about the adventure. To view it, go to http://summitddblog.com.
When Porthouse Theatre began rehearsals for the final show of its 46th season, Oliver!, some cast members were in for big hairstyle changes.
Five of the fourteen children featured in the show started off the week by gathering at Headwaves Hair Designs in Akron to cut their long locks for their roles. Grace Bentivegna, Anna Clawson, Margaret Mahaney and Carly Nelson will perform in the boys’ ensemble, while Cameron Nelson will play the title role.
While the girls cut their hair to look more like boys, it will all go to a good cause. Each girl donated her hair to the Locks of Love organization that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair due to cancer or other conditions.
Oliver! opens at Porthouse, Kent State University’s outdoor summer theater on the grounds of Blossom Music Center, on July 25.
Foster care and adoption
Summit County Children Services is sponsoring two free foster care and adoption informational meetings this month.
The first meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Tallmadge Branch Library, 90 Community Road, Tallmadge. The second is 6 to 8 p.m. July 28 at Summit County Children Services, 264 S. Arlington St., Akron.
At the end of May, 52 children in agency custody were waiting to be adopted, and of those, 44 were age 12 and older. For more information, call 330-379-2055.
Please send me fundraising information at least three weeks in advance of the event.