The Rossiters Keep Rolling with the Wind

By Chris Rohan, Former Publisher of Disabled Dealer Magazine

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Of course you have heard that saying many times, but to practice it is not so easy when your life is falling apart. The Rossiter family—Dad (Rooster), Mom (Lori) and their 3 kids, Briley, Ainsley and Kamden—are living examples of this. In 2007, when middle child Ainsley was nearly 4-years-old, the family received an earth-shattering diagnosis. Ainsley had a genetic disease, one for which there was no cure. Though life as they knew it was inexorably changed, they persevered as a family. Today, they are leaders in a growing movement that has made a world of difference for not only to their daughter, but for other children around the country.

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Ainsley's Diagnosis

The doctors' devastating conclusion was Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) which is rare, unforgivingly progressive and ultimately terminal. At first there was denial, then anger, then depression was right around the corner. You try to cope but your emotions are like being on a roller coaster.

More tests were done, only to confirm the diagnosis. INAD affects the nervous system, causes global paralysis, and typically reaches its peak between six to ten years of age. Against the odds, Ainsley will turn 12-years-old on December 10, 2015.

Dad is a military man, U.S. Marine Corps Major Kim "Rooster" Rossiter. Following the diagnosis, he was ordered state side and transferred to Virginia Beach with the entire family. The first six months was devoted to Ainsley and her medical needs, as well as her academic needs. At this time, physical therapist Peggy Wolff extended an invitation to join a newly formed road race running group which pairs an able-bodied runner with a person with disabilities. Team Hoyt Virginia Beach (THVB), inspired by Dick and Rick Hoyt, is the only running team authorized by the Hoyts to use their name.

Trailblazing Team Hoyt Inspires the Rossiters

Dick and Rick Hoyt are a very famous father and son duo who started out doing small road races and moved on to triathlons and marathons. Born with cerebral palsy, Rick does not walk of talk and communicates with the aid of a computer.

When Rick was born, Dick was devastated. To get closer to his son, he started running 5K races with Rick, pushing him in his running wheelchair to the finish line. Dick was elated to see his son come alive with the excitement of competition and thrilled that Rick now had a way to express those feelings.

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They even did the Iron Man in Hawaii. This is a grueling race and includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Each segment of the race has a time allotment to finish. If you do not meet the time, you are disqualified. Dick and Rick did not finish the first Hawaiian Ironman but came back the next year to live up to their motto, Yes You Can! After the swim, Dick lifted his son and strapped him into the front of the custom-made bike. I looked around at the crowd and noticed there wasn't a dry-eyed person to be found. Yes, I was there and I will never forget that moment.

Inspired by the Hoyt's success, the Rossiters decided to give it a roll. On August 16, 2008, the family's life changed once again. With the help of her father, Ainsley finished her first 5K, received her finisher's medal and became an official THVB athlete. But more than any medal, it was Ainsley's heart-capturing smile as the wind blew in her face that motivated the family to keep on running.

Over the past 5 years, Briley has also taken pole position, pushing Ainsley in more than 40 races. The two girls have a special bond, and this only brought them closer together. To share her experiences with the world, Briley wrote and published the children's book Born An Angel.

Ainsley's Angels of America Helps Heal the Family and Energize the Community

Almost 7 years has passed and Rooster and Lori still believe that they found "a therapy like no other" for their daughter. While there is no cure for this horrible, terminal illness, that big smile on their beloved daughter's face helps the family cope and fight on.

The Rossiters had no idea that by taking care of their own lives, they would start a whole new organization. Ainsley's Angels of America was created to bring ride-along racing to other families with special needs. Its mission is, "In addition to ensuring everyone can experience endurance events, Ainsley Angels of America aims to build awareness about America's special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life, by promoting and providing education, and participating as active members in local communities."

The organization and it's inclusive, team-approach to endurance events has met with enthusiasm from parents, therapists, disability groups and others who know of someone who would like to experience the gift of mobility. The message continues as more and more Ainsley's Angels chapter launch across the nation.

The Rossiters' Foundation Gives the Power to Push

Shaun Evans is an ultra-marathon runner from upstate New York. His 8-year old son Shamus was born with cerebral palsy which limits the use of his legs.  As a result, he uses a wheelchair as his primary means of mobility.

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With the help of Ainsley's Angels of America, Shamus obtained a running chariot that enabled him to participate in running events with his dad. In August 2013, the duo completed the sweltering 6-hour Ultra Marathon with Shaun supplying the power to push, and Team Captain Shamus pulling him along.

With Shamus' spirit fueling Shaun's legs, they completed 45 miles in the allotted time and finished in first place. On July 4 of this year, they embarked on a cross-country race to raise money for Ainsley's Angel of America to provide more children with the ability to participate and compete. For more information and a chance to trace their journey, visit http://www.ainsleysangels.org/PowerToPush.

The Rossiters in Person at Abilities Expo

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Last month at Abilities Expo Houston, I finally met Ainsley and her family for the first time. What a thrill that was! They brought the entire family with them and set up their Ride-Along Racing event with the Ainsley's Angels official trailer. On hand was Michelangelo DiDonato from Hoyt Running chairs and all together they demonstrated to eager children the thrill of racing. The expressions on their faces were priceless!

 

They say everything happens for a reason. When Rooster was invited to race with the Hoyt's, he had no idea that Ainsley would react the way that she did. As she sat in the jogging chair with the wind blowing in her face, something magical happened to her and the rest of her family. The Rossiter clan found something they could all get involved in, while spending time together and helping others. Nothing is going to change Ainsley's diagnosis, but Rooster and Lori discovered a new way to handle their daughters' medical condition. They found a way to go on, and are inspiring others to do the same.

For more on Ainsley's Angels of America, visit www.ainsleysangels.org, follow them on Facebook, or support their cause.

About the author:

Chris Rohan became involved with disabilities more than 25 years when her son was seriously injured in a bicycle accident in 1989 which rendered him a quadriplegic. In August 2001 along with her husband Jim, she published Disabled Dealer Magazine for the disability community. In August of 2013, the magazine closed. Chris didn't stop there—her latest venture is an Ambassador for the Abilities Expo. For more on Chris, visit www.facebook.com/crohan3.

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