Laurel Run going strong 21 years later

OBSERVER Photo by Andrew David Kuczkowski Laurel’s Lap finished with many smiling faces as they crossed the finish line at Saturday’s conclusion of Laurel Run XXI in the village of Silver Creek.

SILVER CREEK — The finish line. On Saturday, it was something that meant absolutely nothing, but every moment from the start to that point meant everything.

During Laurel’s Lap, those with disabilities had their go, whether running or walking, as they took a quick lap as about 60 people cheered from beginning to end. The jovial faces that crossed the finish line were not happy because of their position in the group — first or last — but because the support that was given by the families, runners and spectators at Laurel Run XXI.

“This is fantastic,” said Wayne Hotelling, co-founder of Laurel Run with Elaine Hotelling and father of Laurel. “It’s another way of education the younger generation.”

No matter what challenges the participants of Laurel’s Lap faced, they were all equal. They circled the little league field with the same face from start to finish: a ear-to-ear smile. “You saw the look of pride and achievement that were on peoples’ faces as they were crossing the finish line and it really is just what Laurel Run is all about,” Community Relation Director at the Resource Center Steve Waterson said. “Celebrating what people with disabilities can do.”

Laurel Run all started with a daughter named Laurel. Born in 1963, the Hotellings found out that Laurel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. It is a genetic condition which results in cognitive disabilities. The doctor who assisted in the diagnosis recommended that Laurel goes to an institution, according to Laurel Run’s website, however, the Hotellings thought instead of leaving Laurel, they left the doctor.

From there, the Hotelling family stayed together and had two more children as well.

“My wife is from North Dakota and we travel (through) Canada, sometimes, when we were first married and when we had children,” Wayne Hotelling said. “We happen to see this young man who was running along the highway and he had this unusual leg. Later, as we got closer, we found out he had a prosthetic leg all the way up to the hip and his name was Terry Fox.

“He was running across Canada to raise awareness and to raise money for cancer research because that what has caused him to lose his leg. … That was in 1980.”

In 1995, Wayne Hotelling retired and thought of developing an idea like Fox’s. Despite his eagerness to put together an event, he was in no physical condition to run across the United States, but thought, “Why not run across New York state?” That’s the premise of Laurel Run, which had its Year 1 in 1997.

Saturday recapped Year 21 and throughout the years, Wayne Hotelling’s mission stayed much the same: to standardize the fact that those with disabilities are people and ultimately, not different –they are — to anyone else.

The one problem that the Hotelling family has been striving to fight was fear due to the slight differences. Wayne Hotelling experienced this when he was with his daughter Laurel in public places like restaurants. Some kids wouldn’t grasp the contrast and translated their emotions by being timid or distant. Though, that wasn’t always the case.

“We were at Disney World one time,” Wayne Hotelling said, “and I met this little girl and said, ‘Would you like to meet my daughter?’ So forth and so on, and they became quick friends right there. All of a sudden, her mother is yelling, ‘Hey! It’s our time to get on over here.’ But that’s what Elaine and I wanted to do: to promote people with disabilities so they will be accepted the same as anyone else.”

Many companies supported Laurel Run XXI like the Resource Center, NYSARC and People Inc. The result was an all-encompassing effort that involved everyone. From those at the Resource Center making the medals and those at People Inc. assisting others to run, to the final project of an affable environment.

“… Why look at these people as different?” Wayne Hotelling said. “Don’t think of it as people with disabilities, think of them and their abilities. For example, Laurel, we didn’t think she could walk or talk after she was born with down syndrome and she plays the piano, I can’t, so who has the disability?”


Twitter: @Kuczkowski95