|Melissa Peplow and Vicky Wallace |
It's a beautiful day and Melissa Peplow is watching the
time as she and her training partner approach various points on their morning
route. Vicky Wallace has driven them to the lakeside trail in their
hometown of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. “She
has the wheels all the way around,” joked Peplow from her spot behind Wallace’s
wheelchair. The two have achieved a best of 36 minutes and are constantly
improving their time on a 5K, managing around that distance each day they train
together. With seven 5Ks already behind
them, their goal is to compete in a 10K and then the Secret City Half Marathon before the year's end.
At first glance it appears Peplow is pushing the chair while she runs. She does need to push on uphill stretches, but Peplow mainly guides the chair while Wallace
constantly moves it with one leg and one strong arm. Wallace calls out "right" or "left" so her friend can steer for maximum efficiency. A series of strokes have left half of
Wallace’s body in partial paralysis. It
has not left her helpless. Both women
cross-train in taekwondo, hapkido and judo, already earning their second degree
black belts in taekwondo. As friends and racing partners who met in taekwondo class, they push
Another day at the lake is more laid back, when the two try out a paddleboat at the new Adventures Outdoors
boat rental. Wallace asks for no more than a hand getting into the boat and does her part helping pedal. But she can’t resist the dig at her friend who aims to guide the boat, “blind woman steering!”
|Photo Courtesy: Linda Twohig|
The two women share a sense of humor as well as a refusal to feel like victims of circumstance. They each stay busy caring for their own families: Wallace and her husband running the popular J & M Butcher Shop while raising a teenaged son, Peplow and her husband raising four children with her knack for precise organization not unrelated to earning her doctorate in veterinary medicine.
Peplow, who assists in teaching martial arts classes, says, “we are just really hoping that by doing this we can show people with all sorts of disabilities that they do not have to sit on the couch and feel sorry for themselves.” She was born with the rare visual impairment called congenital achromatopsoa or cone dystrophy. Peplow describes herself as highly photophobic, with her difficulty seeing in bright light being the reason she often wears wraparound sunglasses. She's also color blind and legally blind, which is why Wallace is the pair's designated driver.
|Melissa Peplow and Vicky Wallace|
Wallace enjoys singing with her church choir and sharing solos for special events, living out a witness to her Christian faith both spoken and unspoken. She'd already had her first stroke and was still walking when she earned her first degree black belt. Even after a second stroke in 2011, she tested for her second degree black belt from a wheelchair. "'I can do all things through Christ,'" says Wallace, quoting Phillipians 4:13, "'who strengthens me.' That's the way I live my life."
This unique pair of friends has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get sponsorship for a sports wheelchair that can handle well and hold up to the rigors of long-course racing. They’re also looking for suggestions on a team name and would commit to several more races in 2013-2014 with enough sponsorship. They hope to inspire others to achieve more against the odds. You can learn more about the team at their crowdfunding and Facebook sites
. Feel free to leave messages of support in the comments below.