Some things are impossible. A human being can't sprout wings and feathers simply because she wants to fly. But then humans have an annoying habit of rejecting limitations and doing such things as engineering an airplane so that flying is as commonplace as walking or running.
Not accepting limitations is what Richard Gabbour does every year when he sits down in front of a computer to review race schedules to select the 52 in which he'll participate. What was different this year, compared to the past 16 years that he's been running "for his health and to raise money for charities," is a new team race May 4 in Cincinnati.
The Hope and Possibilities 5K Run pairs disabled runners with able-bodied runners. With more than 830 races under his belt, Gabbour, developmentally disabled, wanted to try training and running with a partner.
He called the Flying Pig Marathon, the organization co-hosting the run with the Resident Home Corporation (RHC), and asked for a partner. The man he now calls his coach is 43-year-old Casey Barach, executive director of the Northern Kentucky E-Zone (www.nkyezone.org).
A self-titled "hack runner" who can go for weeks and months without lacing up his running shoes, Barach laughs when he refers to himself as the "able-bodied" part of the team.
"We all have disabilities, but we don't want to talk about them," he says. "Richard just can't hide his like I can. I've learned a lot more in this process from Richard than he ever learned from me."
Upstaging the governor
The experience of helping Gabbour train, in addition to coordinating five different training sights around the city, has introduced Barach to a community of people he'd never encountered and showed him how the things he considers problems aren't really such a big deal.
"It's opened my eyes to all of the challenges he faces," Barach says. "I didn't understand how difficult it is for people with disabilities to just get around."
At the age of 9, Gabbour was struck by a car. He suffered brain damage that left him partially blind in one eye and the right side of his body significantly weaker than the left. Proud of his running times — he does a half marathon in five hours and a full marathon in 12 — Gabbour, 40, says he doesn't consider himself disabled.
"I am as normal as anyone else," he says, his words slurring; he occasionally stutters. "Everyone has a handicap. I'm as normal as anyone else."
For Gabbour, that's not just a positive sentiment. It's how he sees his life.
"I tell people I never give up," he says. "Like every day, look at what happens. I used to be in a wheelchair. Now I can walk on my own. I had braces on my feet, now no more braces."
Barach says his running partner was in a coma after the accident and doctors told his parents he'd probably die. When he came out of the coma and needed a wheelchair to get around, doctors told his parents he'd never walk again. They obviously forgot to tell Gabbour.
In 1992 Gov. George Voinovich presented him the Ohio Athlete of the Year Award. After the ceremony, Voinovich tried to direct Gabbour off stage but the runner wouldn't leave.
"I tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Excuse me, I have a speech to make,' " Gabbour says. "I thanked God, my parents and my coaches."
It's the same speech he makes when he gets another trophy or medal to add to the hundreds in his collection. This year he's trying for some personal victories that won't necessarily come with a plaque. He hopes to set a personal record in the Special Olympics one-mile run, and the next day he's going to run a marathon.
Participating in the first Hope and Possibilities Run in Cincinnati has a dual purpose for the team of Gabbour and Barach. In addition to helping build awareness for the new event, the run is part of their training to participate in the New York City Marathon later in the year.
'All my energy'
That sprit of collaboration is what brought the Hope and Possibilities Run to Cincinnati. RHC (www.rhcorp.org), an organization "dedicated to partnering with individuals with developmental disabilities and families by providing an array of diverse services, which reflect and support individual choice in planning supports and services," wanted to host a running event. One of their volunteers, who also works with the Flying Pig Marathon, suggested bringing the two events together.
"With a very limited increase in our fixed costs, we were able to include the Hope and Possibilities Run," says Iris Simpson, executive director of the marathon (www.flyingpigmarathon.com). "The time was right. The Flying Pig was ready to add."
In its ninth year, the Flying Pig began with a marathon, relay and "piglet" division and, over time, has added other events such as a 5K, 10K and half-marathon runs to their schedule of event.
"Our mission has not changed from the beginning: to put on a premier event for athletes of all abilities, to raise money for charities and to celebrate our community," Simpson says. "The Hope and Possibilities Run addresses the 'all abilities.' Really, the primary goal is to make the event available to people with any needs."
Noting that people in wheelchairs, those with asthma, walkers and parents pushing strollers are just some of the people the Flying Pig accommodates, Simpson is hopeful this first event will draw 250 to 300 people to the Hope and Possibilities Run.
Gabbour and Barach will do everything they can to cross the finish line.
"When I run, I run to cross the finish line," Gabbour says. "I give all my energy to the end. I go at a slow pace. When I see the finish line, I run as fast as I can."
To register for the Hope and Possibilities Run, request a partner or to volunteer, contact RHC at 513-389-7500 or the Flying Pig Marathon at 513-721-7447.