Many in the BJU community recognize Hellen Wallen, or maybe more accurately they recognize Chip, her service dog. Wallen was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord separates from the spine before birth.
“Some of the effect it has on me (is) I can’t feel anything below my knee,” said Wallen, a senior science education student.
Yet she views her limitations as a gift and didn’t let them stop her from participating in the Color Run for Rice 5K in November. “My friend Rosie asked me if I wanted to do the race with her like last year. I was hesitant because last year I had my electric chair, but this year I just have my manual chair. I told her I would think about it,” she said.
“Later that week I was studying with some of my cross-country friends. … I asked them if they are doing the color run race, (and) they said they are not sure. Then Flynn came up with the idea of pushing me in the race.”
“We wanted to push Helen because she is our biggest fan and encourager, so we wanted to share with her what it was like to race,” said Douglas Flynn, a member of the Bruins cross country team. “We know she would love to run if she could, so it seemed a waste not to share our work with her.”
Wallen said preparing for the race was a “group effort.” “Flynn was the one who found the stroller, but two weeks before the race all of the boys were looking for an option for me to be in (the race).”
“My sister lives in town and had (a stroller) in her basement that she let us borrow, but it wasn’t in great condition,” said Flynn. “We had to fix a leaky tire and found out in the process that both rims were bent. Because of that, we had to be very careful on all the turns because a hard turn could pull the tire off of the rim. (This happened while we were practicing). We woke up early the morning of the race and went to Lowe’s to buy two spare lawnmower wheels in case the tires came off. We didn’t want Helen getting hurt if something went wrong, so we made her wear a helmet and a cargo strap as a seatbelt.”
The cross country team members and Helen practiced twice before the race. “The only training specific to racing with Helen was practicing handing the stroller off between runners,” said Flynn. “We practiced once beforehand and once the day of the race so everyone had handed off at least once before the race.”
“I was a little nervous because they are fast runners, (but) I also knew they are very careful,” said Wallen.
The preparation and the practice paid off when Wallen placed first in the 5K.
“You can always find Helen supporting us at the home Regional Cross Country meet, and she continually prays for us and encourages us spiritually,” said cross country captain Nathan Stewart, who has been friends with Wallen since the first semester of their freshman year. “Helen has been such a great fan and encouragement to the men’s cross country team for the past four years, and it really was one of the best opportunities we’ve been a part of.”
Flynn added, “We spend a lot of time training and racing, but of all those times pushing Helen has been the most rewarding because we were using our gifts for someone else.”