GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — While the River Bank Run was a success for many racers in Grand Rapids Saturday, one Cutlerville mom says it was bittersweet for her and her 3-year-old daughter.
Roseli Quakkelaar’s daughter has special needs, but that hasn’t stopped them from running in 5K races for years – including this year’s River Bank Run.
She says she faced obstacles in registering, and she's now calling for change at future races.
Her daughter, Natalie, was born with a rare disorder and suffered some scary infections in her first year.
Doctors believed she wouldn't even take a breath.
"They said she wasn't going to be able to do it. She did it," Roseli said. "She pushed through and her body recovered, amazingly."
Roseli has been a runner for over a decade. It's a hobby she loves doing with her daughter and Natalie's grandpa.
With three other young kids, Roseli says it's a special activity just for Natalie.
“Seeing her smile, makes it all the best,” said her grandfather, Larry Quakkelaar.
It’s also something that helps her feel like any other kid.
"We kind of are her legs for her," said Roseli.
When they went to sign up for the Amway River Bank Run 5K race, though, they ran into a roadblock.
“We looked at the website, and the website clearly stated no strollers or wheelchairs.”
It was time to do the thing she's best at – advocate for her.
“I was very appalled and I did not understand," said Roseli. "I want to make sure that she has every opportunity in every ability that she is deserved, just like any other child."
“Even though Natalie is different, she's still a human being that she should have every right of being involved in a race," said Larry.
Roseli then reached out to race organizers.
“They said if you must participate, then we will accommodate you," she explained.
Roseli says she wants to see changes for next year, so no other parent has to work to feel included.
"I'm a single mom, she has special circumstances that I just can't pick up any babysitter," she said.
13 ON YOUR SIDE took her concerns to race organizers, who told us they worked their hardest to find a solution.
“Typically, we don't allow strollers in the 5k. Because we've had injuries in the past," said Russ Hines, race director.
The event does have a separate race for those in wheelchairs and handcyclers, and organizers say they also encourage people with wheelchairs and joggers to participate in the 5K walk.
But Hines said after hearing Roseli out, they decided the Quakkelaars could run, just towards the back of their heat.
“When we find out the circumstances surrounding Natalie, we made the exception for her and she was able to participate in today's race," he said.
Even with some obstacles in the way, the Quakkelaar's finished at record time.
“It felt great. crossing the finish line the three of us," said Larry.
“We know we can and we did we got through it. And we did great," said Roseli.
If you have any issues or don’t see a category right for you at the Amway River Bank Run for 2024, you’re encouraged to contact race organizers on their website here. They say all are welcome.
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