A Triumphant Tale

Lacing up shoes and hitting the pavement for a half marathon may be part of a resolution or an attempt to achieve a goal.

For myTEAM TRIUMPH captains, it’s having the opportunity to feel the energy of crossing the finish line.

myTEAM TRIUMPH (MTT) is an athletic ride-along program developed for individuals with disabilities who would not normally be able to experience events like 5Ks, half marathons and triathlons.

With nine chapters across the country, the Wisconsin chapter was one of the first outside of Michigan. The chapter consists of participants with disabilities, who are known as “captains,” and athletes who push or pull the captains and are known as “angels.”

Working with patients undergoing rehabilitation, physical therapy and personal training has brought a new perspective on joy and courage to Christian Jensen ’07, who founded the MTT Wisconsin Chapter in 2008.

“These patients wake up every day with a positive attitude,” Jensen said. “Waking up every day, despite our circumstances, and moving forward is courageous.”

Meeting an inspiration
While Jensen was working at Bellin Health Care, he met Mary Cox, a patient with multiple sclerosis (MS), who was carried into his office. He asked her what had happened and she told him her story.

Cox, a 58-year-old, strong-willed and positive woman, explained to Jensen that she began noticing symptoms in her 20s. Due to limited mobility and because she lives on her own, Jensen was blown away by her stories of perseverance.

“One day I asked Mary, ‘What do you do when you have fallen in the kitchen with no cell phone, Life Alert or means to contact someone?’” Jensen recalled. “And she said, ‘I take a look at that ketchup stain while I’m down there and decide I should really clean that up.’”

With Cox’s positive attitude and sense of humor, it was easy for Jensen to be both inspired and motivated to do more with his own life.

“It’s not about what you can physically do, but what’s in our hearts,” he said.

An ‘ah-ha’ Moment
A few years ago Jensen saw a video essay about Team Hoyt, an inspirational story of a father and his physically disabled son who compete together in marathons and triathlons around the country. The two focus on helping those who are physically disabled become active members in the community.

“I saw this video and had a huge ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Jensen said. “My wife Tiffany and I became so inspired by this video and by Mary Cox that we decided to do the Bellin Run with her.”

Jensen pushed Cox during the entire race, which gave her the opportunity to experience the feeling of crossing a finish line. Afterwards, Cox was full of happiness and told Jensen she wished more people in her situation could participate in these events. That’s when he decided to contact an MTT representative and start a chapter in the state.

Jensen spread the word about MTT to friends and family and by 2010 the chapter consisted of 20 captains who participated in 11 events over the year.

One of the “angel” athletes Jensen recruited was Brian Gruender, an Appleton resident whose child had undergone several surgeries and a stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago.

“Because of Christian, I was introduced to myTEAM Triumph and the Fox Cities Marathon. There was no way I could say ‘no’,” Gruender said. “When I first participated, I felt amazing because it’s not about me or how I do, it’s about them and making someone smile.”

Gruender said he started running to get into better shape. He also trained with his dad for the Wisconsin Ironman competition.

“When you think about it, running is a little bit of a selfish sport. It’s selfish to be out there just to run when you can be doing so much more for other people,” Gruender said. “There was no way you can pass this by and not be inspired by others.”

Looking ahead
Late last year, Gruender committed to run in Promises to Keep, a 135-mile benefit, to raise funds for MTT. He said it always has been his goal to run 200 miles.

“I shared the idea of running from Kenosha to Appleton with Jensen and now it’s happening,” Gruender said. “The goal of the run is to raise $10,000 for MTT, and people can join me on the run whether they want to run a mile or 10 miles.”

MTT angels and captains also train for the upcoming season. The Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, the first event of the year, takes place May 19-20. Prior to this run, Cox and Jensen promoted MTT at events throughout the state.

“Mary and I will be running in 5Ks, 20Ks and half marathons to promote and build awareness of MTT,” Jensen said. “Our goal is to build groups in Madison, the Fox Cities and Milwaukee.”

Both Jensen and Gruender agree that participating in MTT is a one-of-a-kind, truly unique athletic experience. Not only because of the run itself but also because of developing new relationships and being surrounded by people who have a positive outlook on life.

“Courage is in the captains’ attitudes and dispositions. They have this aura that is so infectious and are true examples of courage,” Jensen said. “It’s about our joy in life, our relationships and our focus on what we can do and what is possible.”

Watch the video.

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