Three gold medals dangle around Sayers Grooms neck as she stands in front of the first place placard on the polyurethane track in Copenhagen, Denmark. She sports highlighter yellow Nikes and a navy ball cap with a giant American flag embroidered on the center.
When she’s not wearing her patriotic hat, she trades it in for her favorite helmet (one that sports red flames down the side) and she can be found racing down the roadway. Except running is harder considering her legs don’t move like they are supposed to.
Sayers, 10, was born with ataxic cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her balance and speaking capabilities. Sayers’ childhood has been characterized by countless different doctors and an array of physical therapy appointments. Activities like tying her shoes, brushing her teeth and especially running, pose as challenges for the future fifth-grader.
Despite her disadvantages, Sayers participates in RaceRunning, an innovative Danish sport created for individuals with impaired balance. Competitors use custom-built RaceRunning bikes that resemble a hybrid between a wheelchair and a tricycle without pedals; a device that provides competitors with the proper support to fix their balance. The vehicle allows athletes who suffer from cerebral palsy or who are confined to wheelchairs to oftentimes run for the very first time. Every year, RaceRunning athletes from all around the world gather in Denmark to participate in the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA) Open European Championship & the International Racerunners Camp and Cup; a competition that Sayers already held four world records in.
However this year, Sayers added more world records under her belt at competition, which took place Friday and Saturday. She achieved faster times in the 100-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter and 1500-meter for her age group and disability classification, said Mary Grooms, Sayers’ mom and coach. She will be returning home with five gold medals.
“We are so proud of Sayers’ efforts and hard work, and it brings us particular joy to see how much fun she [has in Denmark],” she said.
When Sayers takes to the track at competition, she is often competing against athletes who are twice her age.
“She is typically the youngest of the females on the track,” Grooms said.
But Sayers doesn’t mind the challenge, as long as she’s able to compete, she said.
“It’s hard for me to win because their legs are longer,” she said. “But [RaceRunning] makes me happier. You get to run, even if you have disabilities you get to run,” Sayers said, who names the cheetah as her favorite animal.
It is this ability to move that makes RaceRunning so special for those who participate in the sport, said Connie Hansen, the co-founder of RaceRunning, who understands the satisfaction this mobility provides on a personal level. Hansen won 14 medals in wheelchair racing during the Paralympic Games once an accident left her with a severe spinal cord injury.
“The RaceRunner is a unique piece of equipment enabling even the severely disabled person to kind of ambulate; use the body, legs and brain the way [they were] intended,” she said.
There is no organized RaceRunning movement in the United States yet, something Sayers hopes to change.
“No one has any idea that it even exists or how it can benefit so many thousands of athletes in our country,” Grooms said. “Health only improves as a result of these devices.”
With the goal of spreading the word about RaceRunning locally, Grooms helped Sayers set up a Gainesville RaceRunning Club Facebook page. Although the club is still in it’s infancy, Grooms said Sayers has always wanted to share the experience RaceRunning has given to her with others.
“I want other people to be able to have this feeling…of freedom,” Sayers said.