Paralympian Arielle Rausin came to Icahn Stadium in New York to deliver a little bit of instruction and a whole lot of inspiration.
The 27-year-old Californian met live and in person with eight kids from the New York Roadrunners’ Youth Wheelchair Training program after conducting remote classes with the aspiring young athletes during the pandemic.
Despite the morning threat of rain, everything went off as planned — much to the delight of her excited students.
“It was great,” said 9-year-old Sebastian Ortiz, who finally met Rausin after Zoom sessions over the last 10 months. “It was awesome, I loved it. They made you feel like you were in the actual Paralympics.”
Rausin, paralyzed from the waist down by a 2003 car accident at age 10, was just as excited about doing some hands-on work with her young charges.
“It was amazing to finally get to meet them in person,” she said after the session at the Randalls Island stadium. “When I was talking to Sebastian, he was talking about the 2028 Paralympic Games. That’s amazing! I told him it’s completely possible if he keeps working.”
Rausin joined the group as she took a brief respite from training for a pair of upcoming marathons: Boston in October, and New York in November.
Sebastian was measured for a racing chair for the first time, a huge step toward joining in competitions. He even took a quick spin around the track.
“He did so great,” said Rausin. And Sebastian returned the compliment.
“She was awesome,” he said. “Arielle was coaching us on the track. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Arielle in person.’ She asked me, ‘Sebastian, are you gonna do great today?’”
Chrissy Odalen, the New York Road Runners head of youth programs, stressed the importance of the kids interacting with someone facing the same challenges.
“It was really great for the kids to see somebody as a role model working with them and also needing a chair to get around,” she said. “She put in a workout with them where she could give them advice from their own perspective.”
Rausin said that was part of her motivation in working with the young athletes.
“I didn’t have any role models for wheelchair racing when I was growing up,” she said. “So yes, I can act like a role model, teach them about sports, help them fall in love with it. That was one of my goals.”
Sebastian’s dad Abel Ortiz admitted to butterflies before his son’s first workout in a racing chair, and praised Rausin’s work with all the kids.
“Yesterday was a little nerve-wracking: ‘How’s it going to go?’” he said. “She was very nice, very nice. She made us feel comfortable, and she was guiding and coaching him.”
When the session wrapped up, a happy Sebastian spoke for most of America about his long-awaited chance at a live workout.
“I like in-person better than Zoom,” he said.