Lisa Nichols is 21 and runs track at Winthrop University. She is healthy and lean, and she runs fast.
But on Saturday, Nichols is hosting a track event in which those who can run run. Those who can walk walk. Those who need wheelchairs roll. If somebody wants to use braces or crutches, that’s fine, too.
It’s called, simply, the first Run for Those Who Can’t.
“There are so many kids out there who have never run, never walked, and every day, I wake up and try to remind myself how good I have it in my own life,” said Nichols, a junior from Fort Mill who competes among America’s best in the 800-meter relay. She runs cross-country during the off-season.
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“I can run. I can walk to class. Some people can’t. I have it so good, and others don’t. It is that simple.”
Last summer, Nichols volunteered at the Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp at Bethelwoods near Lake Wylie. The experience, a week of 24-hour-a-day care for children who suffer from the crippling degenerative disease, showed Nichols that she had to find a way to give back even more to those kids.
“When I arrived the first day, I didn’t know anything about what these children face,” said Nichols, who is planning a career as a physician assistant helping children overseas in developing countries. “Then I realized, saw for myself, what courage they have.”
Nichols was assigned to a 6-year-old boy named Alex who stole her heart. She met other kids, tough and tender in wheelchairs, whose lives are so hard but whose strength is so great. She helped boys to dance – boys who can’t walk, let alone dance – and helped girls smile and find joy.
One young guy in a wheelchair, nicknamed “The Ladies’ Man,” even wrote her love letters.
“Sometimes we take what we can do, to walk or run, for granted and these kids never get the chance to do it,” Nichols said.
So with the help of her parents, Tom and Barbara Nichols, and the support of Winthrop’s track team, Nichols came up with the idea of having a run for those kids.
“She really wanted to do this,” her mother said. “She made it happen.”
Tom Nichols is proud that Lisa wants to help other young people who don’t have the physical gifts and capabilities that she has.
“Maybe this event can grow into something for Rock Hill, all of York County,” he said.
Anybody who wants to run or walk the 5-kilometer course can do it Saturday morning. Even three of those kids in wheelchairs from her camp will race. All the proceeds from the $35 entry fee will go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The race starts at the Winthrop Coliseum on Eden Terrace and winds around to end at the same finish line at the Irwin Belk Track that college stars such as Lisa Nichols cross.
Except Saturday, there are no judges, no officials. Only cheers for everybody.
“In our race, everyone will be a winner,” Nichols said.