A Navy veteran has just completed ten half marathons with his disabled daughter in tow.
Gaby Ridgeway, 24, was born with Oculocerebrocutaneous syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes intellectual disabilities, seizures, and difficulty regulating brain and bodily functions.
Though she can stand for a limited amount of time, Gaby is unable to walk on her own, and is mostly confined to a wheelchair, due to also suffering from cerebral palsy and scoliosis.
When James Ridgeway returned home to Visalia, California after a deployment in 2019, he began going on regular runs with his son, and soon discovered that Gaby was upset that she didn’t get to go with.
Though she is nonverbal and is unable to string sentences together, Gaby can express herself in single words, and definitely was able to convey her emotions about being left out.
“We would come home from a run and she would be visibly irritated and we asked her, ‘Are you mad?'” Ridgeway told PEOPLE.
When his daughter replied in the affirmative, he discovered that she didn’t like that her father and brother went running without her.
“So I asked her, ‘Do you want to run with us?’ and she’s like, ‘Yeah!’ I was like, “Oh, wow. How do I do that?'” He continued.
With the help of his wife Lorena, and racing organization Ainsley’s Angels, which assists in transforming endurance events into inclusive activities for all, James was able to get Gaby a running wheelchair.
Ainsley’s Angels was founded by fellow military veteran, Major Kim Rossiter, a retired US Marine.
He launched the organization after his daughter Ainsley was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, a terminal illness that causes global paralysis and eventually took her life in 2016.
Rossiter initially began running with Ainsley as a therapeutic means to deal with her tragic diagnosis, but ended up forming a national organization that has granted over 1,300 racing wheelchairs to athletes and riders across the country.
Gaby became an Angel Rider and began joining her father and brother on local runs. Shortly after, James formed “Team Ridgeway,” so they could compete in racing events together.
“I’ve always wanted to do a half marathon and we were just testing the limits of how long she could [participate and] really enjoy it,” he said.
They began running in half marathons in 2019, which he said Gaby “loves,” and have since completed ten of them across multiple states.
James trains for the competitions year-round, and even runs with Gaby’s empty wheelchair during the winter months, when it’s too cold for her to ride along.
“I try to do most of the training with [Gaby’s ride] because that’s going to make it easier. If I train by myself, it’s too easy to go faster, so I can’t judge how my progress is,” he remarked.
Their next scheduled event is Rock ‘N’ Roll Salt Lake City in August, and this time they’re running for a cause.
Gaby likes to look at babies on her tablet, and discovered St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital during her daily scrolling.
“I know she has a connection with that, so I asked her, ‘Do you want to do it with St. Jude’s for the babies?’ She said, ‘Yeah,'” James commented. “It’s all for her.”