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Gillette Road Middle School Teacher Teams-up With Former Student For Tandem Race

Eileen Gleason, a 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, has taught students at Gillette Road Middle School for almost three decades. During her time at the middle school, she has worked with hundreds of students both in her classroom and through her work with student council and other extra-curricular activities.
Every day, Gleason finds value in her work with young people but has a special appreciation when she makes a true connection with a student. Two years ago, Ms. Gleason worked with a special needs student, Enrique Gonzalez, who has been in a wheelchair for his entire life. After sharing a story about running, a special hobby of hers, Ms. Gleason and Enrique connected about the experience of being a runner.

Gleason became a runner more than 10 years ago and has run many races throughout that time, from 5Ks to half marathons. One of the races she regularly runs is the Onondaga ARC 5K each fall. ARC of Onondaga is an association that assists individuals with developmental disabilities in meeting their full potential. The ARC race is unique because in addition to typical runners, it provides an opportunity for athletes who have a disability to compete in tandem with another athlete. 
Over her decade of participation in the ARC Race, Gleason has always done so as a typical runner. This year, she wanted to share the experience with her former student. “When Enrique was my student, he commented once that he had never run and wondered what it felt like,” Gleason said. “I spoke to his mom about the possibility of pushing him in last year's ARC race but then it went virtual because of COVID. This year, when it was announced that it was in person, I contacted the race director and asked how we could make it happen (usually athletes are randomly paired). The rest is history!”

On race day, a sunny September 11, the team of Gleason and Gonzalez, took to the pavement alongside hundreds of other athletes. With spectators lining the course to cheer on the racers, Eileen and Enrique shared the unique and wonderful experience of being together every step of the way.
Reflecting on the experience, Gleason acknowledged the challenge of tandem participation but said, “This race for me was definitely more difficult but 100% more rewarding. The day was all about having him experience the wind on his face and the feeling of running.”
As far as Enrique’s first experience running, he is hooked and says he definitely wants to participate again. Enrique shared with Gleason that favorite part of the race was getting to soar downhill and no doubt experiencing the wind on his face as only a runner can.