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DOWNEY - Liz Ahumada had one of the best days of her life last Saturday.
An Information Management professional and volunteer Zumba instructor at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, Liz symbolized the incredible effort put in by the more than 600 patient, community and staff participants and volunteers who made the hospital's sixth annual "Roll Around the Ranch" Stroke Walk, Run and Roll by far the best ever.
Liz's enthusiasm was contagious as she smiled her way through a day that included running in the 5K race, leading the special Zumba warm-up session before the 1K race, and serving as a "race buddy" for a Rancho patient in the 1K race. "Many of our patients had never participated in a race like this," she said. "They were inspired by the camaraderie, and they truly felt that they were not alone. I believe we have opened a new door of hope for them that will help them face any future obstacles willingly, with joy in their hearts."
One patient that was inspired was Hector "Juice" Duron, a mountain of a man who put his wheelchair aside and walked with only the use of an arm support. "I was ready for the challenge, and I reached my goal of finishing," he said.
In fact, every patient who started, finished. Many cast aside their wheelchair and walkers for part or all of their races. Others used canes and walkers until the finish line came into view, then put those aids aside and walked all the way to the finish line, as the appreciative crowd cheered them every step of the way.
"The courage and tenacity of our patients inspires us all," said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco, who completed the 5K race with his wife Maria. "This event showcased what our patients can accomplish as they fight back from the disabling illness or injury that brought them to Rancho. I am also very proud of the many Rancho staff who, day in and day out, provide our patients with superb care."
"Experiences such as this are among the many ways we are working with our patients and the community to inspire healthy lifestyle choices," said Jorge. "Our goal as a medical home for seniors and people with disabilities is to keep people healthy. Events like this inspire healthy behaviors that are an important part of Rancho's efforts to maintain the health of our patients throughout their lifetime."
"Roll Around the Ranch" is held in May because it is Stroke Awareness Month," said event chair and Rancho physical therapist Erin Caudill, "but we are really celebrating everyone who is trying to be healthier and more active. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of disability throughout our nation. This event helps raise awareness about stroke and provides education to prevent strokes in our community."
"It is so wonderful to be a facilitator of an event that allows those who have been afflicted by an illness or disease to participate in an event where they can demonstrate how many obstacles they've overcome in the company of friends, family, and staff who have helped them along the way," Erin said.
Many participants purchased paper hot-air balloons for posting on the "Wall of Hope", a large banner dedicated to friends/family members/stroke survivors, which symbolizes support and encouragement post-stroke. Many donations were also collected before the event, allowing free participation in "Roll Around the Ranch" to those who pre-registered.
For the first time, an online registration process was created for the event, which was a significant factor in more than doubling previous event attendance. The new process, which included online advertising, allowed participants to sign up more quickly and easily.
The day began with a short program, followed by a 5K run warmup performed by four Laker Girls. "The Laker Girls have supported every one of our stroke fairs, and they come to many other Rancho events during the year," said Rancho physical therapist Oliver De La Paz. "On Saturday, they stayed with us for several hours signing autographs, which was one of the most popular booths at the fair." Other booths included everything from health screenings to face painting for kids to special products for individuals with disabilities and even a "marbling" art booth run by Rancho artist Kenneth Younger.
After the 5K was completed, the 1K followed immediately, featuring a huge crowd of Rancho stroke patients. The final event of the day was a "Kid's Fun Run". Members of the Performing Arts of Rancho program entertained the crowd throughout the day.
Physical therapist Alexandra Schang put event volunteer efforts into perspctive: "I believe for many volunteers, those who came the day of the event as well as all who took on early responsibilities planning the event, figuring out the logistics, and finding support to ensure the event was accessible to our patients and the community, this is the drive behind all of it. If we created an experience of support, motivation, and confidence, we achieved our goal!"
Each of the participants felt the thrill of victory as they crossed the finish line. Many not only won a medal, they also met many people who had much in common with them. "Many patients came away from the event with new friends and supporters and really felt the sense of community that only Rancho has," Erin said.
Those like Liz, who volunteered for days, weeks, or even all year to prepare the event, also felt their hearts soar because of their involvement. "Taking part in this process has been a rewarding and humbling experience," Alexandra said. "There is such beauty in working with people who aim to give back."
Published: May 24, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 06