Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on Nov. 3, 2016.
Kristine Crosman is not a runner. In fact, when training for her stint as a torch runner for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, she almost gave up. But then she remembered her daughter Kailyn.
“When I was training for California I was very self-defeating,” Crosman said. “I remember being on the treadmill, and I was just about ready to give up. But then I had this image of my daughter running next to me – and she had her favorite pink sneakers on and her curly red hair was bouncing – and it was so vivid. That day I ran two more miles than I ever did before. I knew then I had to do this for her.”
And now, as the North Attleboro cop gears up for an even bigger challenge as one of 10 Final Leg team leaders for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, it’s Kailyn that keeps her going.
Crosman, 37, began volunteering with the Special Olympics in high school and college. But before her daughter was born with cerebral palsy quadriplegia, she had no idea what the organization would mean to her family.
Kailyn’s first event was in 2011 when the Special Olympics came to her school.
“I walked over and they had her jumping and running and playing through these different simulations and she just had the biggest smile on her face,” Crosman said. “Seeing my child experience what everyone else was experiencing was like no other. My husband and I looked at each other and just thought, what else can we do to get involved?”
They started by helping out with one event and soon it snowballed into nearly five years of involvement with the organization.
In 2013, Crosman became the Bristol County coordinator for the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Torch Run, and in 2015 she was chosen as a torch runner for the World Games in Los Angeles, running the Flame of Hope around California for three weeks before safely delivering it to the games opening ceremonies.
Kailyn died in April 2014 before she could see her mother run, but Crosman said the memory of her daughter and the support she received from her teammates helped get her through.
She wore pink sneakers in Kailyn’s honor, and, on the day she was slated to speak about Kailyn’s life, her teammates appeared with pink ribbons tied to their sneakers.
Since then Final Leg has become her family. And now, she runs for the thousands of other Special Olympics athletes in hopes they’ll find the same joy and support Kailyn did.
In just five months she’ll embark on her next running journey through 45 cities and towns in Austria.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run program hosts the run, creating a unique partnership of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes to promote inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
From over 90,000 members, Crosman was selected as one of only 10 team leaders in charge of 88 law enforcement runners and 10 Special Olympic athletes participating in the program.
And, while she has some experience under her belt, Crosman said the journey will be tough.
The run is 10 consecutive days of running and traveling, concluding with a final polar plunge into the icy cold waters of the Schladming Austria.
“It’s getting on a bus, driving a long distance, getting off and running right away, standing at a ceremony for an hour, running back to the bus, and heading off to the next site where you start all over again,” Crosman said. “It’s a lot of wear and tear, but with the exhilaration in the air, you don’t even feel it until it’s over.”
In preparation she’s training at the Y and running around World War I Memorial Park, but nothing will compare to the harsh climate and high altitude she’ll face in Austria.
Despite her nerves, Crosman said she knows the athletes will make it all worth it.
“My goal for this is to make sure they get the most of this experience,” she said. “But you really get so much more than you give to them. I walk out of there feeling like a million bucks and that I did something positive that helped someone.”
And her family will be cheering her on along the way.
“It’s become a family mindset at this point,” Crosman said. “This is something we need to do. We need to do it for Kailyn.”
Crosman will be fundraising her way through Austria. To donate to her campaign, search for Kristine Crosman at http://specialolympicsinc.donordrive.com.