SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Stephanie Rodriguez and her husband Alan both grew up in Sarasota. They met 24 years ago.
Stephanie says, " Our families were friends, and over the years I got to know Alan and what a great person he is."
Two years after they started dating, they were married. They already knew Alan has Wilson's Disease. He was diagnosed when he was 18 years old.
She says, "Wilson's Disease is genetic. You are born with it. His liver can't metabolize copper, so over time if you're untreated ,copper builds up in liver and on top of your brain and causes neurological problems, like slurred speech and in voluntary movement. "
Despite the disease, Alan built a successful photography business, and Stephanie went to work in the insurance business.
Then she got a call from the founder of the organization "Care 2 Tri."
She says, "My husband has a visible disability and I thought he was calling to get him to participate in a triathlon. Actually it was to hire him for his photography service."
He told her "Care 2 Tri" uses sporting events to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities .
She says, "We got involved because we saw the impact that it made with the other participants stand point, meaning it was showcasing them in the community, getting them more known in the community, so people would feel more comfortable approaching them and would see them in a better light."
In "Care 2 Tri" an able bodied athlete is paired up with a person with a disability.
Stephanie says, "When they swim, the disabled person is in a kayak, and is pulled by an able bodies swimmer. On the bike, the disabled person is in a cart, pulled by a biker, and on a run, they are pushed in a cart by an able bodied runner."
Stephanie and Alan loved the idea.
She says, "We have noticed over the years it's not that people are hateful people. they just don't understand someone with a disability. So they kind of shy away from, or maybe wouldn't say hello to some one with a disability, someone in a wheelchair, or someone who looks different. That's some of what we want to overcome in society.>
And that's the mission of "Care 2 Tri"..
She says, "The ultimate goal is to bring awareness to the community, that people with disabilities are no different than we are. They have the same hopes and dreams that we do. "
And her life lesson.
"My father was always right. He used to teach me things like, if you want something in life you work hard for it and it will happen, and he also used to teach me if you can meet a need in your community and you have the ability to do it then you need to do so."
You can learn more about this amazing couples story and meet them at the "Care 2 Tri" 5 k run and one mile dash. For more information go to the "Care 2 Tri" website.