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This Jersey City Organization Supports Athletes with Disabilities

by Stephanie Brown
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Working out with others can be a great way to stay fit and build community. There are some excellent fitness groups in the area but there’s a special one that meets on Thursdays in Jersey City. This group, called Achilles, “transforms the lives of people with disabilities through athletic programs and social connection.” The Jersey City chapter is a branch of a much larger international organization with groups all around the world. Keep reading to learn more about this group and how you can get involved with the local Achilles chapter.

achilles chapter athletes disabilities jersey city

Photo Credit: Robin Turner

What is Achilles?

Achilles was founded in New York in 1983 by Dick Traum, who was the first amputee to run a marathon. This organization has spread across the US and to 18 other countries, welcoming more than 150,000 athletes of all ages and abilities to participate.

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This organization empowers people with disabilities to participate in athletic events. Most groups, including the Jersey City chapter, meet once a week for group runs, walks, or rides. There are also unique programs for veterans and military personnel with disabilities, children with disabilities, and adults with disabilities who want to participate in triathlons.

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achilles chapter athletes disabilities jersey city running

Photo Credit: Nicole Spano

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Achilles athletes are supported in marathons and other endurance races around the world. If you’ve ever run a race in New York City, you’ve likely seen Achilles athletes in their iconic neon yellow jerseys.

Achilles Jersey City Details

Jersey City is home to one of New Jersey’s Achilles chapters. This group is still pretty new and we spoke to some of the group’s guides about what you need to know to join.

  • Where: Meet at Liberty State Park in the 535 Freedom Way parking lot, which is accessible via the light rail.
  • When: Thursdays, from 5:45PM-7PM. The group typically starts gathering around 5:45PM and takes off at 6PM. They work out for about an hour and try to wrap up by 7PM.
  • Bring: Water and a positive attitude. Before starting everyone must complete a background check via Rosterfy.

At the weekly workouts, guides are matched with athletes to help them run, walk, or ride in a safe and fun environment.

athletes with disabilities achilles jersey city

Photo Credit: Robin Turner

“We pair our guides and athletes to ensure everyone is successful. The workouts are a great way for everyone to feel comfortable with each other,” Lauren Warner, a co-lead guide for the Jersey City chapter, told The Hoboken Girl. Lauren is an avid marathon runner and said her experience with Achilles has been “extremely rewarding.”

Nicole Spano, a co-lead guide, shares the feeling.“It’s a very rewarding experience for both the guide and the athlete. The entire Achilles team feels like a family. It’s not about how fast you move, your distance, or how you get there (walk, hand cycle, run, bike) it’s just getting out there, doing it, and having a lot of fun, too!,” Nicole told The Hoboken Girl.

Nicole joined Achilles as a guide in 2021 to support her father after he suffered a stroke and lost mobility on his left side.“It has been a tremendous help to his recovery — his endurance is continually improving. It has allowed his inner athlete to resurface as he builds connections with a team of resilient athletes and guides,” Nicole said.

How to Get Involved

Athletes of all ages and abilities can join — including people living with the following disabilities. However, this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Blind or Low Vision
  • Cognitive, Developmental, + Intellectual Disabilities
  • Hearing loss
  • Limb Loss
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries

To join as an athlete, sign up online, complete the background check, and review the code of conduct.

Volunteers are key to making the Achilles program a success. The Jersey City chapter is looking for additional volunteers to join the weekly workouts. Volunteer guides help with motivation, logistics, and ensuring that the environment is safe and fun for the athletes.

In addition to helping at the weekly workouts, volunteer guides can sign up to support athletes in local races. Many volunteer guides from Jersey City join Achilles athletes in New York Road Runners races in NYC. To join as a volunteer, sign up online and complete the background check.

Current Volunteers Share Their Experiences

If you are a runner looking to get more involved in the local community, volunteering with Achilles could be a great place to plug in. We spoke to a few volunteers with the Jersey City Achilles chapter about their experiences.

Robin Turner, a volunteer guide with the Jersey City Achilles chapter, told The Hoboken Girl she decided to join after seeing Achilles athletes in New York Road Runners events.

running achilles chapter jersey city

Photo Credit: Nicole Spano

“Every race I run, I see the smiling faces of those tethered to one another in their bright yellow Achilles shirts. Whether it be walking, running, or hand cycling, I see the look of accomplishment and confidence. For years I said, “I want to do that; I want to guide,” Robin said.

She recently guided a local hand cyclist in the Party for Purpose 5K in Hoboken.“By spending time in service to Achilles athletes, it increases positive feelings and offers a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received,” she shared.

If you’re nervous about getting started, you’re not alone. Tammy Locke, a volunteer guide with the Jersey City Achilles chapter, told The Hoboken Girl she was also nervous but her first race as a guide was an awesome experience.

“I was nervous as I hadn’t run with this athlete before, and she had asked me not to talk to her so she could concentrate. I am a chatty person by nature, so it was tough to be running alongside someone in silence, not knowing if I was giving her enough support. I tried different ways to engage with her, and let her guide me in the end, on what she needed from me to get to the finish line. I noticed she had a competitive spirit as she liked to overtake other runners, and even though she didn’t respond with words, she did react to changes in pace and words of encouragement to keep pushing through. She finished that race with a new PR and a very big smile,” Tammy shared.

“If anyone is considering joining, do it! This is as much for the athletes as it is for you. It takes time to learn how to interact with the athletes and guide them in the way they need to be supported, but it’s truly a wonderful community to be part of,” Tammy said.

See More: Disability Resources in New Jersey

If you want to get involved with the Achilles Jersey City chapter, you can sign up on the website, or contact Joseph Sorbanelli at [email protected] or 201-637-4792. There’s also a Facebook and Instagram page if you want to learn more.

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