Successful Turnout For Autism Run
By JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS
Busy mom Tracy Angell has a home near Tulsa, Okla., but her heart is in Tyler.
Her daughter, Sarah Angell, 5, attends TLC classes at the Andrews Center, which address the special needs of children with autism.
The family rents a local home and Ms. Angell manages a small cafe in Brownsboro to help make ends meet.
On the weekends, the family returns to Oklahoma to rest and gear up for another road trip to Texas.
They stayed in town Saturday to participate in the first Tyler Run for Autism, a 5K and family fun run intended to help raise awareness about the disorder.
About 450 people participated in the efforts, organizers said -- 65 of whom attended on the Angells' behalf, donning blue "Team Sarah" shirts.
"I definitely count my blessings every day," said Ms. Angell, who also has a 3-year-old son. "I used to be mad and upset, but now I realize God gave her to us for a reason. They've (Andrews Center) helped her make the most progress ever."
The tiny girl was center of attention for the group, which included a variety of supporters: friends, family, cafe co-workers and customers.
"It's been really fun and a beautiful place for a walk," said relative Alena Borowski, 25, who drove from Lubbock to participate. "We came out to support her (Sarah)."
Event co-organizer Alison Sterken, director of TLC, said the level of community interest in the event was extremely gratifying.
"I think it was great," she said. "We had an amazing committee."
Committee member Kenneth Dean said, "For our first ever Tyler Run for Autism, we are ecstatic about the turnout."
The top 5K finishers included: 1, Clay Emge; 2, Ford Nock; 3, Bob Hepler; followed by brothers Jared Jones and Justin Jones, coming in fourth and fifth respectively.
In the one-mile fun run, Kiley Johnson came in first; with Logan Ward, second.
Harold and Kitty Stephens, both 85, from Groves, Texas, didn't try to hurry their finish to the 5K.
"We looked back and traffic was tied up," Stephens teased.
Mrs. Stephens said they were enjoying the journey and the opportunity to share in a special occasion.
"We walk about one and a half miles a day, five days a week," she said.
The couple was among four generations of family members walking to support the work of Suzanne Middleton, a Tyler speech therapist with Sante Pediatric Services who works with autistic children and their families.
"We tried to get them to turn back but they wouldn't," said Mrs. Middleton, whose husband, children and grandchildren also attended. "Now we're headed to Bergfeld Park for a family picnic."
Co-organizer Julie Tiller's son, Reid, 5, signaled the start of the race.
"He did a fantastic job," she said, smiling through tears. "Before the race he asked, 'We're going to run to save the world?' I said, 'Yes!'"
Months earlier, the boy, also enrolled at TLC, was unable to utter more than a few words, Ms. Tiller said.
The busy mom, who has another child and a third on the way, credits early intervention with helping her son progress developmentally.
"My entire family has driven in from East Texas to be here, some from Houston," she said. "They even brought the motor home."
The boy's grandmother, Rose Helen Rein, of Carthage, said she was proud of the way the family sticks together, citing Ms. Tiller's lifelong bond with a disabled relative.
"The Lord has prepared her for this, all her life," she said. "She carries it with such grace."
Ward, a student at Higgins Elementary in Whitehouse who captured second in the one mile race, said he could relate to the reasons behind Saturday's event.
"I have a friend and he has a little autism," he said. "We're good friends. He's going to play football next year."