Overcoming challenges and succeeding

07/23/2012 - 18:23

By Bruce Morrison, Publisher

This is a story about two runners who have faced severe challenges and persisted with many steps – strides that have taken each a long way and with goals still to be attained.

Stephanie Freeman, Rochelle, Georgia

StephanieFreemanphoto.jpgOn June 4, 1993, Stephanie, then 14, was in an auto accident, suffering brain and lung injuries which nearly took her life. She was in a coma for two months. “My family was prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, but the reality was I had little chance to live,” Stephanie told me.

Today, at age 33, she is an accomplished runner and has completed two marathons – the Jacksonville Bank Marathon (4:14) in 2006 in Florida and the Museum of Aviation Marathon (4:01) last year at Warner Robins, GA., where she was second in her age division.

Here, in her words, is more of her story and her goals:

“Everyone has always said that there's a certain drive in a runner and the drive that was instilled in me didn't come so easy. At 14, my journey began and has lead me where I am at today.

“With strong determination and strength I pulled out of the coma and was moved to rehabilitation. This is where my struggle really began. I remember a lot of different moments in that rehabilitation center that motivated and drove me on a daily basis. I had to learn to walk again as if I was a child. I remember many failed attempts. I tried to walk and simply couldn't. I prayed most nights that the next day would be my miracle.

“After all this trauma, I was different in so many ways than other kids my age. Now I understand more and more that I am different and so very thankful that I have come out of this a better person. I try to surround myself with positive influences that encourage me to never give up on my dreams.

“Since my tragedy more than 19 years ago I have defied many odds stacked against me. I have had a child, Preston Range Freeman, who is six years old. The determination and motivation I use each and every day, I can honestly say, came from not being able to walk and not knowing if I ever would.

“I am currently training to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which requires a large amount of discipline and hard work. After all I have been through, there is no doubt in my mind that I will achieve this goal. I will be attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon in this year’s running of the Jacksonville Bank Marathon (Dec. 16).

“With running, cross training, and raising a child, I have learned to prioritize my life. I run five to six times a week, which includes speed work and a long run weekly. I do most of my running solo, but I do have two awesome coaches who assist me when needed. My cross training days consist of cross-fit classes at Impact Sports and Fitness in Cordele, GA, where I am a member.

“My running and fitness is very essential to me and I am most proud to say I never gave up through the hardest times in my life and it has given me the strength to be the best mother, runner, and person that I can be.
“My name is Stephanie McDuffie Freeman, I am a single mother running in the state of Georgia and my dream is running Boston.”

Michael Murray, Nashville, Tennessee

MichaelMurrayMakesTeamUSA.jpgMurray, 21, has made history by becoming the first and only athlete with intellectual disability to represent Team USA in the Paralympics at London, to be held Aug. 29 - Sept. 9 after the regular Olympic Games, which will be July 27-Aug 12.

He will run in the 1500 meters, though he is ranked first in the world in the 800 in the intellectual disability class with a time of 1:56.1. The 800 is not offered in the Paralympics. Michael’s best time in the 1500 is 4:04.59, which met the qualifying standard for the London games.

With his current fifth place world ranking in the 1500, a podium finish in London is well within reach. He will leave for London around Aug. 14 to train there for the competition.

Murray, who has been running since age nine, has been racing with the Nashville Illusions Track Club coached by Andrew Reynolds since 2000, and is competitive against non-disabled athletes in regional and national USA Track & Field meets. He began running in Paralympic competition in 2010 and has been breaking ground for athletes with intellectual disability ever since.

“We could not be more proud of Michael’s historic accomplishment,” said Barry Holman, president and co-founder of Athletes Without Limits, whose mission is to identify, develop and support athletes with intellectual disability and dreams of participating in high-level competition in the United States and abroad. “With the decision to re-include classifications for intellectual disability in Athletics, Swimming and Table Tennis coming halfway into the four-year Olympic cycle, it was challenging to find athletes who could qualify in time for London. Then we met Michael and his supporters -- his mother, family, coaches, teachers and fans -- and knew he’d be a contender.”

Michael has an “autism-like syndone,” his mother, Kathy Murray Mays, explained, and sometimes has trouble comprehending – but he realized he was going to the Olympics after he was selected to the Paralympic Games, asserting, “Like Michael Johnson!,” the retired American sprinter who won four gold medals.

When Michael was notified recently at a meet in Indianapolis, Indiana, that he had made Team USA, his mother said she “ran and jumped around and was crying and going on.”

Is she going to London? “Absolutely!” she responded.

Michael’s extraordinary talent and work ethic have taken him around the world over the past two years.

As a member of numerous national teams, he has traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Mexico to compete against top runners in the world. You can watch extensive coverage of Paralympic events from August 29 - September 9 at

Read more about Michael and other athletes with intellectual disability who are successfully integrating and accelerating into mainstream sport at

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