H.O.P.E. members overcome personal challenges to cross finish line

Members of Break the Barriers’ H.O.P.E. program and their families participate in the annual Herd of Turtles 5K at Railroad Park, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. COURTESY OF BREAK THE BARRIERS

Break the Barriers hosted the third annual Herd of Turtles 5K event at Railroad Park Saturday morning for members of its Helping Open Possibilities with Exercise (H.O.P.E.) program.

“This takes ability, not disability,” Deby Hergenrader, executive director and co-founder of Break the Barriers, said through a megaphone as she encouraged every participant.

The race served as an opportunity for participants, many faced with a neurological condition, to “break down the barrier” that may have been a roadblock in the past. Some of the issues include spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and multiple sclerosis.

“This race is one of a kind,” said Rachel James, H.O.P.E. program director.

This is because every participant set a specific goal and trained all summer to achieve it. Saturday was a chance to showcase their hard work and attempt to beat the odds.

Some were aiming to break their best time or distance, while others like Airani Enriquez walked for the first time.

8-year-old Airani, better known as Coqui, has participated in the race all three years. She was accompanied by her family, who helped her every step of the way.

“She gets a lot of help, and she’s become stronger,” said Airani’s mother, Wendy Enriquez.

The first year Airani reached two miles on her wheelchair, and last year she reached three miles. This year, Airani walked for the first time on her walker.

“People that were not given a lot of hope from their medical teams, you see them here beating those odds,” said Airani’s father, Victor Enriquez, who was humbled by the amazing work put forth by all the participants.

“It really changes a lot of people,” he added. Victor Enriquez has also seen more friends and family showing support, helping the event grow.

H.O.P.E. members receive one-on-one training from coaches every Saturday morning, and also train on their own to accomplish their goal.

“The biggest hindrance to recovery are those four little words that say, ‘I can’t do it,’” said James.

The phrase is outlawed in the program, and anyone that says it has to donate to the money jar.

However, more than just a physical recovery, James said building relationships is also part of the healing process.

“Everything that we do is geared toward great independence,” said James. “Even if it’s just getting in and out of the car with ease, that already aides a person to become independent and stronger.”