Wendy Rewalt beamed with the pride only a mother can understand while describing how it felt to watch her son Aaron run down Wheeling Hill in preparation for tonight's Ogden Mile - one of the preliminary events leading up to Saturday's 36th annual Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic.
Running a mile may not seem like a notable feat to many, but those who feel that way should try walking one in Aaron Rewalt's shoes.
The 25-year-old Wheeling resident lives with Fragile X syndrome, which has no known cure or effective treatment but is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability in boys. Symptoms of Fragile X may include speech and language delay, a tendency to avoid eye contact, hyperactive behavior, and hand clapping or hand biting.
Aaron Rewalt of Wheeling talks about his plans to run in the Ogden Mile, one of the preliminary events to Saturday’s 36th annual Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic.
Photo by Ian Hicks
"I am so, so proud of him. ... When I watched him on his practice run the other day, it was normal," Wendy Rewalt said. "It just thrilled me because this is something he can do that is normal."
The challenges presented by Fragile X also can be physical in nature. About six years ago, with no apparent cause, Aaron began complaining of back pain and doctors in Akron, Ohio, diagnosed him with two spinal fractures. He underwent a spinal fusion procedure that confined him to a body cast and six weeks of bed rest.
"I was not happy," Aaron recalled.
But Wendy said that difficult experience prompted Aaron to make a commitment to improving his health. His doctor told him to lose 20 pounds, and he began to work out and make better food choices.
"I love to run ... because it gives me exercise," he said.
For the past six months, he's been training at Howard Long Wellness Center with the help of Janice Bellanco, who was Aaron's aide when he attended Wheeling Park High School. About a month ago, Aaron expressed the desire to run a race, and Wendy decided to sign him up for the Ogden Mile.
"When he wants to do something, he takes it very seriously and to heart," said Wendy Rewalt. "Here's a boy that has so many disabilities, and yet look at him. ... There's so many kids that don't have goals."
Bellanco, she said, will be with Aaron every step of the way, and he'll be cheered on by family as well as his friends from Northwood Health Systems' transitional program.
Fragile X syndrome is caused by a defect in the gene code of the X chromosome. The gene produces a protein necessary for the brain to grow properly, and while boys and girls both can be affected, it's more severe in boys because they have only one X chromosome.
Aaron is the oldest of four children. His younger brother, Aiden, also has Fragile X, but his two younger sisters, Anna and Abby, were born without the syndrome.
Tonight's race events begin with the annual Veterans Torch Relay starting at 4 p.m. in Elm Grove, followed by the Ogden Tiny Tot Trot at 6:45 p.m. under the WesBanco skywalk on 14th Street, the Ogden Fun Run at 7:15 p.m. at the top of Wheeling Hill, and the Ogden Mile at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, late registration for the Half Marathon begins at 6 a.m. in front of WesBanco Arena. The race gets under way with the Half Marathon Walk at 7:30 a.m. and the Half Marathon Run at 8 a.m. The 5K Run/Walk begins at 8:15 a.m.
Awards will be presented at about 11:30 a.m. at the Heritage Port amphitheater.
In addition to the Ogden Newspapers, major sponsors for the event are United Bank, the Health Plan, the city of Wheeling, the Ohio County Commission, Project BEST and Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration.