Taking teamwork to a whole new level
Kiley Fletcher, a Slippery Rock University doctor of physical therapy student, used a bike trailer to allow Reed DeLange to participate in the Cleveland Triathlon. Fletcher also pulled DeLange, who has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, in a raft during the swimming portion of the competition. His mother, Dana, used a jog stroller to run with him for the 1.5 mile run portion.
Sept. 22, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - She could have competed on her own. She might even have placed. But Kiley Fletcher, a Slippery Rock University doctor of physical therapy student from North Ridge, Ohio, chose to participate in the Cleveland Triathlon with a 5-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy.
Fletcher cycled and swam with Reed DeLange, who also has spastic quadriplegia. The Sept. 12 triathlon pitted more than 500 athletes against each other for swimming, cycling and long-distance running.
Fletcher said the swim took place in the Northern Harbor, next to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Reed "raced" in a rubber raft towed by Fletcher.
"For the swim portion, I tethered myself to Reed with a harness as he lay in the raft, snuggled in by pillows while wearing his life jacket," Fletcher said. "For safety, every time I passed a rescue kayaker, I would ask if Reed looked to be doing okay. My plan B was to swim solo and meet him at the bike if the waves were too big."
After the swim, Fletcher loaded Reed into a bike trailer for the cycling portion of the competition. Fletcher wore a blue "Team Reed" t-shirt as she pedaled her Schwinn with Reed in tow.
"Reed was asleep for 90 percent of the ride, which made spectators laugh," Fletcher said. "Every other athlete on the course that passed us was so encouraging and uplifting with cheers to keep me going."
During the cycling, she said the hills on the highway overpasses were more difficult than she expected. "I finished the bike and wheeled Reed back into the transition area to pass him off to his mom Dana. She ran her 1.5-mile loop with Reed in a jog stroller," she said. "While we were waiting, I told Reed's brothers they could hop into the course and run with her through the finish line."
Fletcher said she knows Reed's family because she was a nanny to him, his twin brother Liam and 8-year-old brother Noah last summer. Her job involved taking Reed to physical therapy at United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland.
"One day in the lobby, I noticed a Team UCP triathlon banner hanging up in the lobby. I learned that UCP sponsored the Cleveland Triathlon and invited UCP clients and their families to create teams and race with or for their children. As an active member of the triathlon club at SRU, this was right up my alley."
"I asked Reed's family, especially his brothers, if they would be interested in creating a team and everyone was on board," she said. "I really wanted Reed to compete in the race too because he deserves to feel the excitement and adventure of life too."
To prepare for the triathlon, Fletcher said she investigated the techniques of other teams who had children with severe cerebral palsy and realized it would be possible to bring him along once both his parents were 100 percent confident he would be safe.
A few weeks before the race, "Team Reed" brought home Reed's bike trailer. Fletcher said she tried out the new gear with Reed and his brother Liam, leading them around a parking lot for three laps.
Fletcher said competing with Reed changed her perspective on the race and life.
"I was no longer racing for myself, I was racing for this little boy trailering behind me who was physically incapable of experiencing the world in a way that I had taken for granted during every previous race," she said. "Reed has been such an inspiration as I pursue my dream of being a physical therapist, and I felt that the triathlon was the perfect way to give back to him. During the race I realized that this is just the tip of the iceberg for Reed. I foresee many more races in his future."
Fletcher, who received her undergraduate degree in exercise science from SRU in May, said she enrolled at SRU because the school fit her personality and she liked the outdoorsy feel. She served as a resident adviser for three years, office assistant for the athletic department and assistant track coach for Slippery Rock Area High School. She said her future plans include exploring a pediatrics specialty as she continues the physical therapy program and "seeking out new life adventures."
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