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Overcoming Obstacles

The Rider Family
The Rider Family

“Slogging through the mud” is usually a term that’s used figuratively, but Jessica Rider did exactly that during a 5K obstacle-course race in early June. She, as well as 10 teammates, including husband, Dana, navigated the course – which included nets, fences and tires – to raise funds for the Foundation Fighting Blindness via its Race to Cure Blindness program. “There were a lot of hills that you went up and then down into the mud,” Jessica says of the event, known as Ruckus Boston. “If I didn’t have him for an inspiration, I don’t think it’s something I would have done. But I surprised myself, and really enjoyed it.”

Her “inspiration” is Jacob, the Riders’ 11-year-old son, who, in 2006, was diagnosed with Usher syndrome, a genetic condition that causes progressive hearing and vision loss. Jessica, an X-ray technologist, and Dana, an elementary-school phys-ed teacher, decided to form a Race team, Rider’s Radical Reach, after getting the idea from the FFB website. “We talked about it for a while – what can we do to help out,” Jessica recalls. “Well, we can’t do research ourselves, but we can support the people who do.”

First, the Riders – who live in Claremont, New Hampshire, and also have a 10-year-old daughter, Ryann – searched the Internet for an appropriate event within driving distance. Ruckus Boston, part of a series of obstacle-course races mounted nationwide, seemed “poetic – you know, all the obstacles that Jacob has to overcome,” Jessica explains. So, using the website’s fundraising tools, they set up a team page, from which individual pages were created. “You can add your name to the end of the url, which is really nice,” Jessica says. “And you can post it on Facebook and put a link in your email. That makes it easy to email the pages to friends and constantly update.”  

As word spread and money started coming in, the team—comprised of the Riders and their siblings, co-workers and friends—raised its initial $1,000 fundraising goal to $3,500, nearly reaching it with a final tally of $3,350. “Everyone finished the course, and said they want to do it again next year,” Jessica says. “And there are more people who want to do it with us.”

But it wasn’t easy. “I’m the opposite of athletic,” she explains. “I never did sports in high school or anything like that. But I try to be healthy.” Training included running, a ropes course and monkey-bar sessions at a local park. Otherwise, team members improvised their way through the course’s other obstacles – a log-walk, for instance, and an eight-foot wall. And there was so much mud, Jessica says, that the “tie-dyed knee socks we’d made, to show team spirit, were black by the time we were done.”

Riders Radical Reach
Riders Radical Reach

Jacob was amazed by the results. “He took it so personally every time somebody donated,” Jessica says. “He’d say, ‘Wow, look at all the people who care about me.’” Jessica’s just as amazed by Jacob, who was diagnosed with hearing loss at age 3, then began showing signs of retinitis pigmentosa three years later. At first, the Usher diagnosis was “devastating,” Jessica recalls, but Jacob has learned to adapt, using hearing aids and a headlamp to help with his night vision. “He’s proactively getting orientation mobility training,” she adds, “so he can use a cane and knows tricks for getting around in the dark.”

The Riders, meanwhile, depend on the Foundation’s website, which, with its latest research news, “has brought a lot of hope into this house,” Jessica says. It will also serve as a base for future Rider’s Radical Reach teams, “which I’m hoping will get bigger and bigger, and raise more and more money, each year,” she adds. “I plan to start even earlier next year, and put up some posters in the community.  It’s been a very positive experience for everyone.”



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