My youngest brother, Jarrett, arrived on Wednesday of last week to hang out with us on his Fall Break and to come see Chaz race. It's kind of cool a 15 year old would give up his Fall Break to come hang out with his older sister and her kids. I know he had a blast, you could just tell he was having fun. We all enjoyed having him. Since we are so far apart in age, I haven't been able to spend enough time with him. I am so glad he took us up on our offer to come up here. Our Dad and his Mom (my Step-mom) arrived on Friday morning. Chaz's Mom and Dad arrived Friday night and our great friends Demetria and Ray arrive Saturday morning. So you could say we were covered up with family. It was great though.
Friday morning before our Dad and Step-Mom arrived we went to the DC Armory to complete Chaz's registration for the race. This is the ATM Expo. It was so cool! We went to the Fisher House booth first and got our Team Fisher House gear. Chaz and I were each coined and then Chaz was presented a plaque for Team Allen being the Most Valuable Team for Team Fisher House. There are some truly amazing people who work for the Fisher Foundation. We are so lucky to be apart of their team! I still can't believe we were able to raise over $10,000 for Team Fisher House! It's just so great to be able to give back to such a great organization that helps so many military families. Fisher House has been so great to us and we are so thankful we were able to give something back to them. We found out Chaz is the first amputee to race for Team Fisher House in the ATM! We were both so grateful that Chaz had that honor!
On our way out we stopped by another one of our favorite non-profit organizations, Operation Ward 57, to say hi. Once again it is so awesome to be a part of such a great organization. These folks assist the amputee ward of the hospital with what ever they may need. They have purchased supplies for the staff, fed the soldiers (because hospital food gets old quick), and the list goes on and on. Chaz wanted to represent them some how, but we got so caught up in the crazy weekend we forgot the stickers for his bike. Next time we'll be better prepared.
We got back to our apartment just in time to meet my Dad and Step-mom. Everyone was so tired that we all just chilled out for the day and got caught up on the happenings of the families. I had put on a pot of pinto beans. (We southern folk are easy to please! Give us a pot of beans and throw in some cornbread and we're thrilled!) Funny thing is the beans were the little brother's idea. I whipped up some cornbread and we pigged out! YUM!
Chaz's Mom and Dad arrived at bed time. My Dad and Step-Mom had already retreated to their hotel up the street from our apartment. They were tired. We got to hang out with Chaz's parents for a minute and they went to pass out too! Demetria and Ray arrived (with Starbucks in hand) early Saturday morning.
My Dad had never been to DC and Chaz's mom had never gotten to go see anything in the area when she's been up here before. So me and the girls, my Dad and Step-mom, Chaz's Mom and Demetria went to go do the touristy thing! The girls and I took them to the monuments. We were trying to get the most bang for our buck! We left Chaz, Ray, Jarrett and Chaz's Dad back at the apartment to watch some football! We returned to the apartment and created a make your own sandwich bar for everyone. Then everyone went to bed at 9. I got our back pack of what we needed packed and then I went to pass out!
3:45am came very, very early! It was crazy I set the alarm for 4am, but I sprung awake at 3:45, so I got up and got ready to go! Thank goodness we were early, because I got lost! I was freaking out. We had to be at our entrance at 5:30, because they shut down all the roads. I called the ATM operations manager earlier in the week and begged for VIP parking for Chaz (which wasn't hard to accomplish by the way). But you had to be there no later than 5:30am. It was 5:33am and I was just getting to the exit. The policemen were setting out the cones and I pulled up and told them what was going on and showed him our pass and said go right ahead and said good luck to Chaz. The ATM operations manager got us rock star parking! It was awesome! We pulled right up and got out. Master Sgt Barnes our liaison to the 101st had Chaz's bike and now we had to get to him.
Once we started looking around and asking we found out there were 2 concrete barriers between the start line and finish line. Not exactly ideal for us. Chaz and I thought there was only one so we were making a plan to get him and his wheelchair over it. Then I saw the second one and I said no way dude. I started walking around and I found the Colonel who is in charge of Walter Reed's PT department. I told him what was going on. He went back into his tent and grabbed two soldiers and told them to put us on their gators and get us over there and off we went.
We got to the finish line and found Barnes with Chaz's bike. We hung out with him and another wounded warrior, her hubby and a Pentagon security officer. Before we knew it, it was time to pull the bikes down to the line. That was just before 7 and the bikers started at 7:50. Thank goodness they distracted us with some music, the honor guard and the Golden Knights (the Army's parachute team). The time would have drug on if they hadn't. The ATM operations manager had also given me a bracelet so I could stay on the start line with Chaz. Can I just tell you it was awesome to hang out with all the wounded warriors?! I got to walk around and visit with them and wish them luck. That was the highlight of my day.
7:50 came quick I gave my Rock Star hubby a good luck kiss. Then I had to put Chaz's wheelchair over the barrier and then hop over myself. I stood around to watch them all take off. It was so cool to have a front row seat to see all of our wounded take off!! They are all so awesome and I am so proud that I have been blessed to get to know them.
I helped the PT and OTs push the wheelchairs to the finish line. Let me tell you Chaz's power-assist chair is wicked crazy to push. To me it's like pushing a power wheel, without the power. The darn thing fights you the whole way.
I got the chair to finish line and then found our friends from Operation Ward 57 in place at the finish line to cheer for our guys. Then I found our families walking up. We all got there just minutes before Chaz crossed the line. I calculated that he would be at the finish line between 45 minutes to an hour. That guy just had to prove me wrong and crossed at 41 minutes and 6 seconds. The look on his face was just awesome. You could see he was proud that he made it so fast. Then you could see he was excited to see all the people cheering for him. It was another great moment!! Deryn was so proud of her Daddy. You could just see it on her face. She wanted to get to him as fast as possible. She summed up how we all felt, incredibly proud of Chaz and how amazingly far he has come in such a short amount of time.
We hung out to congratulate some of the other bikers and runners. The we went to explore the hooah tents. This is just a series of tents put up and supported by various organizations. Of course we had to go see Team Fisher House and the 101st Association. We just had a ton of fun hanging out with everyone. We even found Chaz's old Platoon Leader who had also ran the race.
We had to leave the ATM to get everyone back to our apartment to get them their bags so they could all catch their evening flights. Everyone had a plane to catch at either 5 or 6. We had been invited to General Campbell's house at 3. So it worked out great. We got to hang with our families one last time, then we loaded up to head towards Arlington.
General Campbell and his wife Ann are simply awesome. General Campbell was the previous 101st Commanding General. They truly care about all of the soldiers and their families and you can feel it when you meet them. We had a lovely time there hanging out with the Campbells and all of our 101st friends. General McConville, General Odierno, CSM St Louis, Dick Winters, CSM Shroeder, MSGT Barnes and so many of our 101st family were all there. It was a great part of our day.
We left the Campbell's home to go meet with Chaz's old Platoon Leader Adam, his wife and her parents for dinner. It was the perfect way to end our day. We got to just chill out and enjoy some great food together.
Chaz has decided he would like to make the ATM an annual event for our family. I am totally cool with it. We have decided we'd like to come every year go visit other soldiers at the hospital and then go race. I think this is a great idea! Unfortunately we know there will be more wounded and they will need some one to come let them know what the future looks like. I think this is another great way for us to keep paying it forward!
|Crossing the Finish Line!|
|Team Allen with Tish Stropes of Fisher House!|