We woke up early because today was a big day. Today was Al’s Run/Walk in support of Children’s Hospital.

When we arrived at the parking lot, Jessica and my dad stayed behind to give people their t-shirts and numbers while I, Namine, and my mom hopped on the wheelchair-accessible bus to the starting line. Namine could hardly contain her excitement.

A new perspective

After leaving the bus, we started walking toward the starting area. On our way, we saw a lot of wheelchair racers. Namine was amazed by the sight, and went up to everyone in the group, saying hi.

I suspect that up until this point, Namine considered the day’s events as a sort “mom and dad are making me do this.” Don’t get me wrong, she was excited. She knew it was for Children’s Hospital; she knew it was in support (at least for us) of the Special Needs program. But she didn’t really consider it hers.

But after she saw all of these adults — not children like her, but adults acting on their own will and volition — choosing to participate and wheel themselves in the race, it was like a whole new world of possibility opened up to her. Here was something that she could do herself. She might be in a wheelchair, but that couldn’t prevent from doing whatever she wanted. Whatever she put her mind to.

Hurry up and wait

The starting area was well visible due to the large white tent, which held pre-race food. Namine had half a banana and a banana muffin. We had a solid two and a half hours to kill, much of which was spent standing around. Fortunately, there were some interesting characters standing around, too.

Like Storm Troopers.

And Miss Teen Wisconsin.

And the Milwaukee Bucks mascot. We don’t watch sports, so Namine called him “that reindeer man.”

We saw that there was a face-painting station, so Namine was all over that. She decided she wanted to be a tiger.

We also found Spider-Man, and some Disney Princesses.

After all that waiting, it was time to walk. And wheel.

A close call

We had not been walking for long when we encountered our first downhill incline. Namine had already been in charge of wheeling herself, popping her front wheels over the cracks in the road. She exhibited careful control on the slope, deftly applying pressure to her wheels when she needed to slow.

Then she hit a large crack, having mistimed popping a wheelie. Her entire wheelchair pitched forward, and would have landed her face first into the concrete. I was keeping pace to her right, and immediately reached to grab the wheelchair’s handle with my left hand. But I am right-handed, and the handle slipped out of my grasp.

I remember what happened next, but at the time, thought played no part in my action. I spun around to my left, my right hand reaching out and catching Namine flat on the chest. Her head bent forward, and I heard a soft “Ooomph” escape her mouth as my hand knocked the wind from her, and I sat her wheelchair upright once more.

I pushed Namine’s wheelchair over to the curb, and let her catch her breath. Soon, she was ready to start going once more. But she asked me, “Daddy, can we walk on the sidewalk?”

A new place, a new face

Much of our walking after that passed by without incident. She wheeled herself for some time, then asked me to push her (which I was always willing to do, of course). Then she’d ask me to let go because she wanted to wheel again.

We had just passed the north Summerfest gate — which marked the home stretch, since the finish line was at the south gate — when I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I had the volume up all the way, but I never heard it. The noise of the sea of people was too great for that.

It was my mom. “Where are you?” it read. So I hollered to Namine to stop, and we pulled over to a bench, where I sat down. I called my mom back, and it turned out that most of our group was a good ways back, thanks to Namine’s bursts of speed down the course’s hills. So we decided to wait there for our group to catch up.

There was a black man sitting on another bench a little ways down from us. In true Namine fashion, she hollered at him: “Hi! I’m Namine! What’s your name?”

He came over and sat next to us and asked Namine to repeat herself, which she did. “Well hi, Namine. My name is Terrence.”

“Hi, Terrence! What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I’m just sitting here for a while. What are you doing?”

“Well, we’re just walking. But I’m not walking, I can’t walk without my walker, I’m wheeling myself and sometimes my daddy has to wheel me because my arms get tired.” I thought, Okay, kid, take a breath.

Terrence looked at me, having not understood everything Namine said. I repeated what she said, knowing that when she’s excited, she talks extremely fast and forgets to enunciate. He asked me if the name Namine had anything to do with the city Menominee. I said no, and explained that her name meant “born from the ocean waves.” (Nami is Japanese for “wave” (think tsunami, which means “harbor wave”), and ne is French for “born.”) He looked at Namine and said that her name was beautiful. She looked away, a little embarrassed, then looked back at him and thanked him.

Getting going again

By the end of the walk, we had gone 5K — 3.1 miles. Namine had wheeled herself much of the way, but her arms were tired. Nevertheless, when she saw the big finish line banner, she read the word “FINISH” and was suddenly filled with a new burst of energy. She insisted on racing across that finish line herself, and having done so, gave me the biggest double high-five I have ever gotten from her.

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