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VUMC in the Community

Athletes with disabilities inspire VUMC running volunteers

Inspiration, motivation, determination, perspiration

by November 20, 2017

Rachel Boehrer, Amanda Hachey and KatieAnn McMillin volunteer with Achilles International to help athletes with disabilities compete in races and other events. Photo by Tom Wilemon.

Sprinting alongside an athlete with a disability as a volunteer with Achilles International-Nashville gives Rachel Boehrer an edge when’s she’s racing.

“Knowing that these athletes are persevering through way more than I have ever experienced is uplifting for me.”

“It’s a huge motivating factor for me,” said Boehrer, an occupational therapist with Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital. “Knowing that these athletes are persevering through way more than I have ever experienced is uplifting for me.”

A former colleague at Vanderbilt Stallworth introduced her to Achilles International-Nashville about four years ago and she, in turn, introduced KatieAnn McMillin to the group.

Rachel Boehrer ran with Joe Shaw, a visually impaired athlete, in a half Marathon in November.

“She knew I was a jogger so she told me about this great organization,” said McMillin, who is also an occupational therapist at the hospital. “I was looking to meet new people. It kind of fit my hobbies, my desire to give back and meet new people all at the same time”

Although Boehrer and McMillin are experts at helping people regain independence after injuries and illnesses, most of the volunteers aren’t. Amanda J. Hachey isn’t an occupational therapist. She’s a research assistant with the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Mass Spectrometry Research Center Proteomics Laboratory, who started volunteering about a year ago after watching an Achilles International-Nashville workout session.

“[These athletes] provide a lot of perspective on life to me,” Hachey said. “They don’t get down about their problems so why should I get down about some stupid little thing? It keeps me humble. There is so much energy. Everybody is so happy and positive. That’s what keeps you coming back.”

Achilles International-Nashville helps people with disabilities ranging from visual impairments to spinal cord injuries enjoy running. Achilles International, which was founded in 1983 by Dick Traum, the first amputee to run the New York Marathon, defines “running” as any form of forward locomotion. Athletes can use wheels or crutches. The Nashville chapter, which has more than 200 volunteers, meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the McCabe Community Center at 101 46th Avenue North.

“[These athletes] don’t get down about their problems so why should I get down about some stupid little thing? It keeps me humble.”

Hatchey was doing a workout one night at the center when she first encountered the group.

“I got really excited when I saw them so I started going,” she said.

Over the past year, she has teamed up with a hand cyclist who has cerebral palsy and a visually impaired runner.

McMillin ran arm-in-arm, elbows linked, with an athlete with a visual impairment during the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k in February. She and Boehrer have also introduced Vanderbilt Stallworth patients to the organization.

“We had a patient who was around 50 years old who was diagnosed with paraplegia,” McMillan said. “We took him to Achilles two or three times to have him trial the hand cycle. He just went to town. It was awesome to watch him.”

Boehrer’s first running partner was a young woman with spina bifida. They trained together and completed a half marathon.

“Since then I have worked with great athletes with visual impairments so we will use a tether to guide them and give them verbal cues for directional movements and obstacles,” she said.

Boehrer competes in about three to five races a year individually. Working with the Achilles International athletes gives her extra incentive, she said.

“It gives me more motivation during my individual runs to push a little bit harder because I see how hard they are pushing on their workouts,” she said. “It gives me the motivation to aim towards the goal to be faster.”


Achilles International, Rachel Boehrer, KatieAnn McMillin, Amanda Hatchey, occupational therapy, Vanderbilt Stallworth Hospital, Running, sports