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Father urges focus on learning ability, not disabilities

Trent Stroup is a man of action. Two years ago, when the Towson-area father of three saw that his then 7-year-old daughter Addie was regressing significantly in the community public school she attended, he didn't waste any time acting.

Addie, diagnosed with the rare brain disorder Aicardi syndrome before she was a year old, has epilepsy and autism. A switch in schools between kindergarten and first grade resulted in a serious downward spiral, according to her father. She lost many skills she had previously acquired, such as writing her name, and she strongly resisted attending school.

Stroup said his pleas to the school initially went unheeded.

Using his technology background — he is director of information systems for Johns Hopkins Development and Alumni Relations — Stroup began documenting his daughter's regression with spreadsheets. It wasn't until he enlisted the professional support of an educational advocate, who reiterated to the school what Stroup had been attempting to convey, that administrators agreed Addie needed to be moved to a school that could better accommodate her needs.

"They finally said they'd place her anywhere you want," Stroup said.

The experience gave Stroup fresh inspiration as a board member and general ally of Abilities Network, a statewide nonprofit based in Towson that provides support to people with disabilities and their families.

"I would like to fund something with the Abilities Network for people who are overwhelmed with the school system," Stroup said. His hope is that someday families won't have to struggle on their own to find the appropriate educational environment for their children with disabilities.

With that in mind, Stroup and his wife, Tina, formed Addielicious — one of several teams that participate in the Abilities Network's annual Walkabout Abilities event.

"I want to bring people in. My goal is to have the largest team represented at the Abilities Network walk," Stroup said.

The nonprofit's seventh walkathon, which took place Sunday at Goucher College, was billed as a family-friendly affair. Wheelchair- and stroller-accessible, it featured a moon bounce, ice cream, a fire truck and a visit by the Orioles Bird.

The annual event is as much about networking among families of children with disabilities as it is about raising money. This year's Walkabout Abilities was expected to draw about 350 participants, and to raise $60,000, according to Lauren Dunn, the organization's development director. Though Walkabout Abilities is relatively small in terms of participants, it gets strong support from its 30 corporate sponsors, including Giant Foods, Wegmans, Sam's Club and Ikea. With the commitment of supporters like Stroup, organizers say they hope the event will grow in the coming years.

For those who want to pledge support to epilepsy-related issues through a more strenuous endeavor, Stroup has an option. Eight years ago, he and his wife launched the Stroup Kids for Kids Epilepsy Foundation, which raises money by organizing indoor triathlons across the country in support of education, advocacy and research in support of efforts to prevent and cure epilepsy.

Having run 28 marathons and several other races, Stroup is no stranger to the exhilaration of racing. Knowing that high-level athletes have few competition options in the off-season, he stages Tri to Help, his foundation's indoor triathlons, during off-seasons. In Baltimore, D.C., Virginia and Connecticut, that means wintertime. In Arizona, they take place in the summer months.

Stroup organizes his foundation's events after the Race for the Cure model, which allows participants to register for a flat fee without doing additional fundraising. But Stroup's dedication is such that a few long-term event participants have been inspired to help him raise money.

One athlete so inspired is Rod Vierra, who has completed the Tri to Help triathlon four times.

"I hate hitting up people for money," the Montgomery County resident said. But hearing him speak about epilepsy and the need for research funding, and seeing Stroup's daughter, Vierra knew Tri to Help was something he wanted to support.

"Some of these bigger organizations are sort of nameless, faceless organizations," Vierra said. In contrast, Stroup attends every one of his foundation's events, often with Addie. He greets participants personally, and addresses the need to support epilepsy research.

Vierra also relates to Stroup on a personal level.

"For me, as a dad with little girls, knowing what he was trying to do for his daughter, it really struck me. I vowed I'd come back and do it," he said of his efforts to help.

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