Runners of the Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Saturday, Sept. 28, will participate in the first-ever sensory inclusive marathon.
Thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit KultureCity, the race will feature a sensory activation vehicle, along with available sensory inclusive toolkits—equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads—for guests at the Akron Marathon who may need additional supports in the race environment.
To prepare for the partnership, Akron Marathon staff and volunteers will participate in a certification process to help them support guests and fans with sensory needs and to give them tips on how to handle a sensory overload situation.
And sensory inclusion means the Akron Marathon and its staff cater to those dealing with conditions like autism, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease and early onset dementia. In the event that a scene becomes too overwhelming, guests may enjoy the morning in a safe space designed to ease the mind and calm the senses.
MaryBeth Emerich, a FirstEnergy employee, Akron Marathon Volunteer and mom of three sons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), said she is thrilled knowing a safe space exists for her children.
“I know my sons can now attend this event, thanks to KultureCity’s sensory inclusive help—and I’m aware that this is one more step to raising awareness and to full inclusivity in the community,” said Emerich. “This is an amazing event that benefits Akron Children’s Hospital, and with the partnership of KultureCity, we can bring awareness and help include a community that otherwise may not feel comfortable participating or attending. I am so proud to volunteer with FirstEnergy and to represent THRIVE.”
THRIVE is one of the nine Employee Business Resource Groups (EBRG) within FirstEnergy, which provides support and encouragement for employees who have family members and friends with physical and mental disabilities and conditions. Prior to attending an event, families may download the free KultureCity App, where one may view what sensory features are available and where they can access them.
“I believe if you truly want to see change, it starts with you,” said Amy Belles, KultureCity Ohio’s Co-Founder. In 2016, Belles began running after her nonverbal son was diagnosed with autism. She wanted to see change, not only for her son, Carson—but for other children, and she became a vital part of KultureCity with her husband, Jeff. Since 2016, KultureCity has gone from seven sensory inclusive ventures to more than 400 in four different countries.
“Knowing that all of your loved ones can now be included, feel safe and welcomed, motivates my every step,” she added. “And having the first marathon be in my hometown of Akron makes it that much more special.”
“In the Northeast Ohio running community, inclusion and support are pillars of our foundation,” said Anne Bitong, executive director of the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation. “Runners cheer for each other, run back to ensure a stranger can cross a finish line—and now for the first time in the country—runners and spectators of all abilities are not only encouraged to attend, but will feel intentionally welcomed.”
This year, the Akron Marathon team will host more than 15,000 runners across its 2019 events, all supporting Akron Children’s Hospital. Runners looking for a deeper level of engagement with the hospital may join the race as a Children’s Champion, a race participant committed to raising $250 to $1,000 for Akron Children’s Hospital.
For info, visit AkronMarathon.org.