Shannon Green felt the jitters of sitting in a race chair at the start of her very first road race. She thought about how someone would be pushing her chair while running down the road.
“It made me nervous not having control,” Green said.
But she was hooked on racing after Miss Albany’s Piggy Tail Princess 7K and Red Carpet Event in March 2016 in Priceville. She has competed in a race chair in more than 30 events since then.
“I pretty much knew by the end of the race that I wanted to continue doing it. I’d gotten used to it and pretty much knew that I wanted to continue racing,” Green, a security receptionist at Redstone Arsenal for Phoenix Rehabilitation Services, said.
She became a badge checker at an office building on post in July 2015. Like most of the workforce, she is at home during the pandemic.
Green became involved in racing through the local chapter of Ainsley’s Angels, a national organization that started in Virginia Beach.
“Ainsley’s Angels is all about inclusion,” she said. “So it includes everybody like those of us with a disability that can’t actually run. We compete in a race chair.”
She and the others with disabilities are called athlete riders. The people who push their race chairs are called angel runners. For those without race chairs, the organization’s ambassadorship lets them borrow chairs for the races. Green got her very own chair in 2018.
Originally she had two ladies who would run and take turns pushing her chair in the races. Now her husband of more than six years, Kevin, usually pushes her chair.
Her original ambassadors from Ainsley’s Angels retired at the end of 2019. Her new ambassador is Kerrin Shields. Before each race, her ambassador will arrange with the organizers to ensure she receives a finish medal. Green has earned 32 medals in nearly five years of racing, including two from the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville. She has competed in other races with her husband which didn’t provide a finish medal.
Green, who was born in North Carolina and traveled much of her life, inspired her husband to start running in 2017. From 2016-17 he watched from the roadside as Green would compete in her race chair. Kevin would cheer her on. At 5-foot-11 and 242 pounds, he was her biggest cheerleader but out of shape.
So three months before the 2017 Cotton Row Run 5K, Kevin set of goal of getting down to 200 pounds and pushing her chair the 3.1 miles on Memorial Day, May 29.
“I went to the gym five days a week. I changed my diet,” he said. “I did everything I could to make it happen.”
Kevin reached his goal at a svelte 200 pounds and he pushed his wife’s race chair across the finish line. He has been running ever since. A master mechanic at Express Oil Change on Madison Boulevard, Kevin has run about 30 races – everything from a two-mile race to a 31-mile 50K. He is registered for the 27th annual Mountain Mist, a 50K trail run, on Jan. 23 on Monte Sano. He also supports his wife the athlete rider.
“I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s something I wouldn’t have thought we would have ever done,” Kevin, 35, a Huntsville native, said. “The running we do together is a lot of outdoor bonding time.”
Green, 35, has used a wheelchair since being injured in a two-car accident April 2001 on Stovall Road in Harvest behind Sparkman High School. Her older brother, Tony Roberts, was driving when a car pulled out in front of their car and caused the collision. Her brother was initially pronounced dead at the scene but recovered from his injuries. “We had angels on the side,” she said.
Now she has Ainsley’s Angels and her husband pushing her race chair. She also rides with a group of friends who represent the Red, White and Blue, or RWB, which strives to enrich veterans lives. Many of these friends help push her in some of her races. Missy Bray helped push her chair in both marathons. “She’s been a big part of my racing life,” Green said.
Traci Gillespie, a running friend with Fleet Feet, made a quilt for her from some of Green’s race shirts from events.
Green was doing one or two races monthly, from 12-15 annually, until the pandemic hit in March. Now the races are generally virtual. To stay motivated, she has taken on the 250-mile virtual challenge which started on Halloween and ends on Christmas. Sponsored by Fleet Feet, it’s called Yuletide Madness.
She had completed nearly 120 miles of this challenge through Nov. 28. She tries to ride from four and a half to six miles each day.
“I either do the miles by wheelchair or I have someone push me in the race chair,” Green said.
She has competed for Miss Wheelchair Alabama and Miss Wheelchair America which led her to her platform of breaking barriers.
“One, I like to be included in any activity,” the Toney resident said of her reasons for being an athlete rider. “And the second reason is I feel it’s important to my health, because when I’m out there it just clears my mind. And it’s exercise. Who doesn’t need exercise?”
Green said her bucket list includes doing an ultra-marathon, which is anything over 26.2 miles; a triathlon; and a Ragnar, such as an event in Tennessee which starts in Chattanooga and runs 24 hours to Nashville. She has already done a duathlon, a run/bike. She also wants to complete the Boston Marathon. A friend, Darren Ezzo, wants to eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon so he can push her in the race.
“I plan to continue (racing) as long as I possibly can,” she said.