Lifelong distance runner Tom Sharp is no stranger to the challenges of running a marathon. The 26.2 mile-trek is one the Eastview High School cross-country and track and field coach has completed several times before. But this year’s running of the Twin Cities Marathon was a more rewarding challenge than previous marathons, as he crossed the finish line pushing junior Ryan Costley.
Ryan, 16, and Sharp were one of three marathon teams that included a rider pushed in a specially designed wheelchair. Ryan has a rare neurodegenerative disorder called ataxia telangiectasia, or Louis-Bar Syndrome, which has required him to use a wheelchair since he was in elementary school. Despite his diagnosis, Ryan is an active student-athlete, participating with the Dakota United Hawks adaptive sports.
The inspiration to run with an adapted athlete came after Sharp saw a story about Peter Klein, a fellow long-distance runner who pushes wheelchairs during marathons to raise awareness of various causes.
“The foundation of our team at Eastview is all about giving back to the community and finding ways to include others in what we do,” Sharp said. “It’s a big thing for me to teach my kids about inclusion and service to others.”
After contacting Klein this summer, the two registered for the Twin Cities Marathon, received approval to run with riders and began training. They coordinated with the nonprofit myTEAM TRIUMPH, which provides persons with disabilities opportunities to participate in athletic competitions alongside an able-bodied athlete. Sharp focused his attention on athletes from the Dakota United Hawks and discovered that Ryan would be in his chemistry class this fall.
“I knew I had to push Ryan,” Sharp said. “He is a stand-out student in my class. He’s an amazing kid, such a smart kid, and I knew he would have a blast.”
Klein was paired with recent Apple Valley High School graduate Kyle Jackson. Heavy rain and thunderstorms earlier in the weekend delayed some events, but that didn’t dampen the excitement for Sunday’s race. Ryan’s parents, his brother and sister, friends and fellow classmates all lined the race route to cheer him on.
“It started out as a very chilly morning,” said Ryan’s mom, Sue Costley, “but around mile marker 14 the day started to warm up. Ryan told me that Mr. Sharp knew a lot of people along the way. Ryan saw his longtime friend Evan, some high school teachers, even the Eastview girls’ track team.”
The pair fielded high-fives and cheers the entire race. Shortly after mile 20, Sharp said fatigue started to kick in, but he only had one goal: getting Ryan a finisher’s medal. Four hours and 42 minutes after they began, Sharp and Ryan, with arms in the air, crossed the finish line in front of the Capitol.
“Now Ryan has this incredible experience of being part of our running community,” Sharp said. “And why shouldn’t he have this experience? I’m just the power behind the wheelchair.”
As part of their participation, they raised funds for Special Olympics and Harvey's Harriers, in honor of Sharp's father. Sharp is already prepping for the 2020 Twin Cities Marathon and has hinted that he might once again need a rider.
“We are still in awe of the dedication it took to train for this,” Sue Costley said. “We can’t imagine running for 26 miles and pushing a 125-pound person who, without him, would never get the chance to experience something like this. Mr. Sharp is like a real-life superhero. He has a superhuman heart with superhuman strength and endurance."