Athletes of all abilities compete, create long-lasting friendships

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU)- The rain did not stop a wonderful event in South Bend meant to bring together athletes of all abilities on Saturday. Together for the Long Run was a chance for everyone to compete and create long-lasting friendships.

It's a race where people with disabilities get to compete right next to abled athletes from our area high schools with cheerleaders like Tyler Lehner rooting everyone on.

"To give people the extra motivation, it's just a lot of fun," Lehner said.

He's a unified athlete, which means he competes with students who have disabilities and are his best friends. He joined his freshman year at Elkhart Memorial High School and is now a sophomore.

"I encourage everyone because I think everyone deserves it," Lehner said. "It doesn't matter who you are, if everyone's out here competing, having a great time, they deserve some encouragement. Everybody's working really hard out here."

That is what event organizers said Together For The Long Run is all about.

"We're here because we want to bring together each other and lift each other up," says Cat Edmonds, founder of the event. "And so I think that's for everyone involved. They really feel that."

Creating life-long friendships like the one between Lehner and Dawn Proctor.

"Dawn is my best friend out here," Lehner said. "I sit with her at lunch at school, she's at every single practice with me, I sit with her on the bus and she just gives me that extra motivation every day."

"My heart just overflows to see other high school students take time out and actually understand and make the athletes feel like one of them," Kay Schlemmer, who's son is on the Special Olympics. "You hear so much bad in today's world, this is a perfect example of the good."

Lehner could be seen cheering on every one of his teammates, giving a high five and spreading joy.

"Every one of these experiences is a great one," Lehner said. "Every time we make a lot of great memories and you can't come to one of these and not smile and not have a good time."

Lehner is also the football quarterback at Memorial. He said Dawn Proctor is his life-long friend and he is so happy he was able to meet her and the other athletes who compete with Unified Track.

This year there were over 180 satisfied athletes who had a chance to compete.