'Angels' will help Columbia fourth-grader run first 5K

Jakob Henchell and Aiden Peters have a lot in common: The close friends who laugh at the same things are both 10 years old, fourth-graders at Talbott Springs Elementary School in Columbia and are preparing to run their first 5K.

Only, Jakob won't exactly be running. He has cerebral palsy, communicates mostly through a computer and uses an electric wheelchair . But through the efforts of Aiden's parents, the Talbott Springs community and an organization called Ainsley's Angels, Jakob will be crossing the finish line at the Fort Meade Patriot Pride 5K Saturday, May 18 in a new jogging wheelchair, pushed by Aiden.

"It just kind of made me sad that Jakob would never get to experience something like that," Aiden said. "So I just decided to do it for him. Anybody should be able to run a race."

Aiden's father, Charlie Peters, remembers driving Aiden to school one day about a month ago, when "out of the blue" Aiden started talking about how much he liked his friend Jakob.

Aiden told his dad that one day, though he wants to join the Navy like his father, he also wants to have a job where he helps kids like Jakob learn how to walk.

Father and son read "Devoted: A Story of A Father's Love for his Son," by Dick Hoyt, a book about a family pushing for inclusion for their son who has special needs, which gave Aiden another idea: get Jakob a jogging wheelchair, like "Team Hoyt" has in the book, and run a race with his friend.

"I said, 'Dude, that would be so awesome, just talk to Jakob's mom first,' " Charlie Peters said. "Now, when I run, I daydream about them crossing the finish line and it just blows me away."

Aiden approached Jakob's mother, Kara Henchell, who volunteers at the Columbia school, with the idea.

"He just came up to me and asked if Jakob could run a race with him and his dad, and I was taken aback," Henchell said. "He's 10 years old, and I had no idea — he's running a 5K? He wants to push my son during the 5K?"

Then, she said, "all kinds of craziness happened."

Henchell connected with the Peters, and Charlie Peters reached out to military friends who were running in a race in Virginia to support Ainsley's Angels, an affiliate of the national organization myTEAM Triumph that works to partner runners and those with special needs, and provide them with jogging wheelchairs. The parents formed a Maryland chapter of Ainsley's Angels, set up a web page and started fundraising April 20.

By April 21, they had raised $800 — enough to buy a wheelchair. Within a week, they had raised more than $4,000. By April 28, the wheelchair arrived in Columbia and Jakob and Aiden started practicing their run. Now, the week before the race, Ainsley's Angels of Maryland has raised more than $5,300.

"It's pretty amazing," Henchell said. "For Jakob, having a friend that's willing to do this for him, I can only begin to imagine how it must feel."

As a runner with Ainsley's Angels, Aiden is the "angel" while Jakob is the "captain," and the money raised by the Maryland chapter will go toward getting "as many angels, as many captains in as many races as possible in the future," Henchell said.

On Saturday, Aiden and Jakob will be running with Charlie Peters and about 20 other team members — many of them from the school community, including Principal Nancy Thompson.

"We didn't do anything special to fund raise; we just had Talbott Springs," Thompson said. "This is a celebration of inclusiveness here. Jakob has had such an impact on the other students here — and there are so many kids here you can say are 'different,' whether they have disabilities or are speakers of multiple languages, but Jakob is the only one here in a wheelchair, with a communication pad. But there's a level of acceptance at the children's level. Children don't see 'different.'"

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