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Athletes Serving Athletes

EWE Spirit Grant Recipient Story:

As part of EWE Spirit's 2023 4th quarter grants, we chose to support charity partners of the Bay Bridge Run as an extension of our participation. Athletes Serving Athletes received a $5000 grant.

James Banks’ life began in a moment of heartbreaking trauma. When his mother was pregnant with him, she was involved in a high-speed police chase that ended in a horrific crash. James’ father and two cousins were killed in the accident. Trapped in the crushed car, his mother had to be rescued by the Jaws of Life. She subsequently went into labor and gave birth to James, who was taken to the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center, in Baltimore.

A few years later, James was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects his muscle coordination and strength. He struggles to control his limb movements and is unable to walk. Although his speech isn’t crystal clear, he communicates effectively—and can charm just about anyone with his beautiful smile.

When James was seven, he met David Slomkowski. David had been inspired by the story of father-son team Dick and Rick Hoyt, who competed in marathons and Ironman triathlons together. Rick, too, had cerebral palsy. In the triathlons, his father pulled him in a boat during the swims, pedaled with him in a seat in the front of his bicycle, and pushed him in a wheelchair for the runs.

David was looking for a partner to join him in similar athletic feats. For James, who revered the athletic father he never met, this idea was a dream come true. “My father was a runner,” he explains, “and that inspired me to be a runner, too.”

The pair’s first race was Baltimore’s 5K Run to Remember. A month later, they completed the Baltimore Marathon together. Soon, they were competing in triathlons and traveling long distances for events, including the Boulder Ironman, in Colorado. In the last 17 years, James has competed in about 100 races, mostly with David, but sometimes with other partners. 

“He’s kind of a legend in Baltimore,” David says. “Everyone knows him when he shows up at the races.”

Building on this successful partnership with James, David founded the nonprofit organization Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) in 2007 to match more volunteers with athletes with disabilities who want to compete in mainstream events. ASA now focuses purely on running races—which require far less equipment than triathlons—in order to offer services to more athletes. It supports athletes who rely daily on the use of wheelchairs, but have a wide range of cognitive and physical conditions, from spina bifida and autism to muscular dystrophy and various trauma-related issues.

Close to 700 ASA volunteers now race with about 85 athletes in Maryland and parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Teams of two to three volunteer “wingmen” push athletes in ASA-provided joggers. The equipment, race registration and training are all free for participants, which is a huge relief for caretakers, who are often already struggling with financial pressures. Altogether, ASA hosts more than 200 training events per year to help athletes and volunteers bond in preparation for more than 100 annual races.

“The athletes get a lot of benefits out of it,” says David, “but what they give to other people is even greater. ASA kicks down all the barriers and brings people together. After spending time with us, volunteers who see someone in a grocery store in a wheelchair will walk right up to them, look them in the eye, and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”

Even people not connected to the program are touched by its visibility at events, he adds. “I get these emails from random participants who say, ‘I saw your teams competing this weekend, and it reminded me that there are still a lot of really good people in the world.’”

In the years before his death, Geoff was a dedicated ASA wingman. He experienced as much joy and satisfaction pushing an athlete over the finish line as he did competing professionally in international sailing events. Mary has continued the family tradition of racing with ASA, and the EWE Spirit Foundation is proud to support this organization’s tremendous work.

Geoff and Mary running with ASA.



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