BY BARB BERGGOETZ
Jennifer Titus has always found a way. When she played Little League softball, she batted from her wheelchair and a teammate ran for her. In her high school marching band, she played a xylophone attached to her wheelchair and her mother pushed her.
Last summer, she got the “running bug” after a 4.5-mile, B-Line Trail walk with friends using her manual wheelchair. Encouraged, the 39-year-old Bloomington woman, a paraplegic since birth due to spina bifida, decided to compete in road races. It increases her heart rate better than other aerobic exercises, helps her lose weight, and, most importantly, gives her a “sense of empowerment,” she says.
Titus didn’t think much about her old, 60-pound, bulky manual chair making races difficult. But it did. Now, she’s found an easier way — thanks to support from the local running community, her family, and friends.
They organized the 5K Maple Grove Goat Run on September 14 that raked in enough money — $4,287 — to buy her a lighter sports wheelchair, pay entry fees for several races, and help buy an indoor treadmill device to use in bad weather.
“It was really mind-blowing, the generosity of everybody,” says Titus, who works for Author Solutions. “For them to open their hearts, it’s just been overwhelming.”
The need for a better wheelchair became apparent last fall at the Monroe County YMCA’s Fall Running Classic. Though she had trained hard and had done three 5K races, going up hills was tough.
Local runner Rick Scherer noticed her plight during the race. So did Kelly Smith, Magnificent 7 Road Racing Series co-director, who suggested to runners that she needed help.
“I took the ball and ran with it,” said Scherer, 52. He talked with Titus and her mother, Karen Apple, and helped organize the run-walk.
The most rewarding part, says Scherer, was seeing Titus get her wheelchair, surrounded by 150 friends, family, and runners, just days before her 39th birthday.
While the crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” Titus says, the sea of people parted and her mother pushed the 45-pound wheelchair toward her.
“Even men were tearing up,” Scherer says. “Everyone could see the fruits of their labor.”
Always the competitor, Titus says she can see a marked difference in her speed. She plans to do a half-marathon next year.
“I’m one who likes to challenge myself,” she says.