In 2007, at just 4 years of age, Ainsley Rossiter was diagnosed with neuroaxonal dystrophy, a rare, degenerative, and terminal developmental disorder usually affecting children between the ages of 18 months and 6 years. Despite becoming less and less responsive over time, it was soon apparent to Rossiter’s family that running brought her joy. When she was pushed along in a jogging stroller, Rossiter’s face would light up.
“When Ainsley went for her first jog during a local road race in 2007, she gave a radiant wind-induced smile that anyone would envy. In an instant, running provided the family with a therapeutic means to fight the devastation associated with learning and trying to live with the fact that sweet Ainsley has a terminal illness,” said Stephanie Steele, the founder of the Ainsley’s Angels local chapter. “[It was therapy like no other] to see her smile on the racecourse, the positive energy surrounding the start line, the other rider athletes and pushers smiling from ear to ear, the togetherness of every member preparing to ‘roll with the wind,’ the fearlessness of the athletes, the normalcy of the family, and the love everyone shares.”
In the years since that day, Rossiter and her family have participated in more than 60 road races, including ten half marathons and the 2011 and 2013 Marine Corps Marathons in Washington, D.C.
In an effort to share the joy that running has brought to their lives, the Rossiters founded Ainsley’s Angels of America, a national organization focused on ensuring everyone can experience endurance events. Additionally, Ainsely’s Angels aims to build awareness of America's special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life by promoting awareness, providing education, and participating as active members in local communities.
Today, at races in Texas, the Carolinas, Louisiana, California, Maryland, Mississippi, and Virginia, Ainsley’s Angels provides jogger chairs, bike trailers, and rafts so that participants who are disABLED (Captains) and able-bodied runners (Angels) may participate in endurance events as a team.
In 2013, after watching a documentary on the well-known and inspirational Team Hoyt (a father-son duo who have famously competed in athletic events such as the Boston Marathon), Steele felt a call to get involved and founded Ainsley’s Angels of Austin. Since the Austin chapter formed, Steele said members have participated in races throughout Austin and all over Central Texas—as well as beyond, when possible. The Angels have also coordinated to work with Team Hoyt, teaming up so that the two organizations are able to have multiple chairs racing together.
“It is so great to see our organization bringing some of the Austin community together,” Steele said. “[Runners] might see us racing at one race, then contact us about wanting to help out, and then, just like, that they are racing with us at their next race. It is one thing to race for yourself, but it is a whole other ballgame when racing for someone else.”
In just a brief time, Steele has managed to bring Ainsley’s Angels and their missions to the public eye in some pretty big ways. The Austin chapter is the sponsored charity for the Houston Electric Run, a nighttime 5K featuring a lit course and runners. They have also been the featured lead group for the Austin 10/20 race, another opportunity to have their cause announced to the thousands of runners out competing in one of Austin’s bigger races. Finally, Steele and Ainsley’s Angels were the Grand Marshals for the Lake Charles Fourth of July Parade this past year.
“To this day, it is crazy to me that we are able to make such a big impact on someone's life. Watching the captains’ face light up with a smile once we start rolling is incredible,” she said. “We are able to help them experience something they would have never thought to be possible, and that's what I love most about our organization.”