Voorhees father bringing road racing to wheelchair-bound kids
FAVORITE MARATHON: Philadelphia
FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: Team Josh
FAVORITE COMPETITION FOOD: Wings
David Goldstein, a Voorhees father of three, thrives on challenges.
A few years back—before he took on the mission of bringing running to wheelchair-bound children—it was eating contests. Goldstein gained some fame as the 2013 Wing Bowl champion. He downed 266 of them in 30 minutes. But devouring wings was just the tip of the smorgasbord. Ranked 19th in the professional eating circuit, he inhaled waffles in Texas, consumed burritos in Maine, ribs in Connecticut…you get the picture.
“I learned from some of the best eaters how to stretch my stomach,” recalled Goldstein, 48, a Cherry Hill mailman. “I like to compete and I like to eat.”
When he hung up his bibs, Goldstein took to running to get in better shape. Very quickly, he ramped up from 10k runs to marathons, loving both the training and the thrill and public spectacle of races. Still, something was missing. During long, solitary runs, he dreamed about sharing this passion with his eldest son Josh, 20. Born with Joubert syndrome, a rare brain malformation characterized by the absence or underdevelopment of the area of the brain that controls balance and coordination, Josh will never walk, let alone run. Ryan, his middle son, has a milder version of the same syndrome.
Still, Goldstein realized, his boy could experience the thrill of race day: the feel of wind blowing through his hair, the camaraderie of other runners and the final push through to the finish line. For years, he has followed the inspirational story of the Hoyts, a father and wheelchair-bound son team who have competed in many races. The Bostonbased family has helped spread inclusion to the running world.
For the Goldsteins, their first father-and-son race was the Run the Bridge 10k, an annual benefit event for the Larc School in Bellmawr, where Josh is a student. Goldstein borrowed a special running chair—they’re called chariots, and pushed Josh the entirety of the route.
The race could only be described as exhilarating for both of them. Grinning ear-to-ear, Josh reciprocated the many high-fives and soaked up the good karma. As for Goldstein, pushing Josh took running to a whole new level.
“It’s harder to run. It’s a lot of extra work and extra training,” he said. “But when he sits there, he inspires me with his smiles and his happiness. Something about it drives me faster. With him, I just suck it up and keep going.”
Before last year’s Marine Corps Marathon, which has strongly embraced chair riding teams, Josh was presented his own chariot during a pre-race dinner by Ainsley’s Angels of America, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising money for wheelchair bound athletes. With the ambitious goal of starting chapters in every state, leaders asked Goldstein if he would be willing to start a New Jersey chapter. He said he sat on it for a few days before realizing that “this was something I was meant to do.”
“We’ve gone through a lot of rough times with our kids,” he said. “There’s been a lot of times when I felt ‘why us?’ Why have we been put through this? But I’m at the point in life when I realize this is probably my calling. Why shouldn’t I take our love of running and bring it to others. It’s a good opportunity for them to be included in something of which they are usually on the sidelines.”
Ainsley’s Angels South Jersey, officially launched in December, already enlists seven chair riders and 20 runners— they’re the angels—who have competed in several local races. The next will be the Philly Super Run at the Navy Yard on June 11. As an ambassador, he is still looking to recruit Angels, Riders, and Guardian Angels, who are volunteers that assist runners, athlete-riders, and ambassadors in accomplishing their objectives. Moreover, the group is trying to raise funds so more wheelchair-bound children can participate and to buy a trailer to store the chariots.
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