By Nikki DiGnazio
Upon first meeting Sharon and Chris Wood, I was drawn to their warmth and relatability. On the exterior, these working parents are a teacher and accountant (respectively), but they are also angels; Ainsley’s Angel’s.
Ainsley’s Angels is a non-profit group with roots in the Woods’ hometown of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The mission of the Angels is to serve as advocates for special needs communities across America. Specifically, they aim to assist those with special needs to participate in endurance events of all distances, including half marathons (13.1 miles), full marathons (26.2 miles), and even Ragnar races (a 200-mile relay
Both Sharon and Chris are known in the local running community as strong athletes with big hearts. Ainsley’s Angels began when Chris was approached in 2015 to assist a person with special needs meet their goal to become a “Ragnarian.” From that moment on, he was hooked, and Sharon soon followed. As both a teacher and an athlete, Sharon sees and feels a need for greater inclusion today – in the classroom, athletics, or the community in general. In her words, “The heart, the personalities, the giant potential of children and adults, cannot be observed if inclusion doesn’t exist.”
When Sharon and Chris describe what they get out of pushing, their response is the same: “Joy.” It’s the joy of the riders, the joy of the family members, and the joy of onlookers. The joy is contagious. The one-time event to help someone meet their goal has grown to motivate an entire family into actively participating as advocates for the special needs community. Sharon and Chris’s elementary-aged sons have been inspired to push as well, and both have in shorter distance races. The Woods family hopes that the joy they see and feel spreads, and that every bystander that watches them sees how important it is to include everyone in all activities, and that everyone deserves joy in their life.
As Sharon says, “Just because your legs can’t help you run, your heart still can.”