Changing Lives, One Mile at a Time
Known as “The Mother of all Relays,” Hood to Coast is the most popular and largest running and walking relay in the world. Since its start in 1982, the race has drawn participants from over 40 counties and all 50 states to form an 8–12-member relay team and run/walk 196 miles from the iconic top of Mount Hood in Portland to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
For one team, this race was not just about the spirit of adventure and conquering a challenging course. It was about showing the world that having access to orthotics and prosthetics for physical activity should not be a privilege, it should be a right. 12 athlete-advocates with disabilities formed their relay team to fundraise and raise awareness for “So Every BODY Can Move,” a national mobility movement powered through local legislative change.
In 2022, AOPA, The Academy, NAAOP, and Amputee Coalition, partnered together to launch the groundbreaking policy and advocacy initiative So Kids Can Move to disrupt healthcare inequity by empowering state-by-state legislative action, that would expand access to medically necessary orthotic and prosthetic care for physical activity. To date, Maine, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and New Mexico have been successful in enacting legislation that creates coverage for orthotic and prosthetic devices that are necessary for physical activity of all ages. Hence, the movement evolved and is now called So Every BODY Can Move. Four other states have introduced legislation in 2023, and over 20 states are currently working to bring this legislation to their state.
The success of this effort would not be possible without advocates like the 12 members of the Hood to Coast team. Their passion, energy, and commitment fuel and excite others to get involved and help give everybody with limb loss or limb difference the ability to be active. The reason they were able to run this race is because they have access to prosthetics for their sport of choice. Unfortunately, this is not because their state believes it is a right and will cover the cost through insurance. Most of the athletes had to rely on charities to provide the products they needed just to be able to run. Less than 1% of the Hood to Coast 17,000 runners have a disability. Those involved in So Every BODY Can Move hope that through their advocacy and legislation, this percentage will continue to rise by creating equitable access to prosthetic devices for physical activity.
Each leg of the relay is between 4-8 miles for each athlete, and each athlete runs 3 legs totaling 14-20 miles per athlete. “During the transitions, I looked around, and there was no one that looked like us. Everybody deserves freedom of movement. Our goal and mission is to ensure every(body) living with a disability can have equitable access to appropriate and medically necessary devices needed for physical activity to reach their starting line.,” said Kyle Stepp. Kyle is one of the 11 amputees on the relay team. Kyle received his Fillauer running blade a year ago through a grant awarded by the Move for Jenn Foundation. “The Move for Jenn and Fillauer teams worked together to ensure I had the right running blade to achieve my physical activity dreams and goals. Since I started running, I have gained so much more than a device – I gained freedom, confidence, and love for life because of the running blade.” Kyle has gone from running a lap around the track a year ago to winning 1st at the Paratriathlon National Championship and competing on the world stage at multiple World Triathlon World Para Cups.
Kyle remarked that he and the 11 other athletes on the Hood to Coast team were very emotional at the end because they realized how lucky they were to be there and represent the disabled community. “On the last leg of Hood to Coast, I had a burst of energy realizing the freedom I get to have – I GET TO DO THIS! And with one hour of sleep, I ran my fastest 10K ever because we were here for something so much bigger than one relay race.”
To read more about Kyle Stepp visithttps://www.instagram.com/kylestepp/ or to get involved in the So Every BODY Can Move initiative, visit https://www.aopanet.org/ or follow the initiative on Instagram @soeverybodycanmove.
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