Our daughter’s special service teacher at Burns Middle School (Owensboro, KY), Mrs. Amanda Owen has been around individuals with disabilities all her life. This year our daughter Karlie Hempel, a 6th grade student who was born with Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, was lucky enough to have Mrs. Owen as a teacher.  We moved to Owensboro this past summer from Georgia, (I was born in Owensboro) so Karlie came to a new school with no one she knew but she has so many abilities and loves life.

 In January, she started Baclofen for spasticity, and Burns Middle School Health Technician Jeff Miller, got to know Karlie while she visited him every day at noon to receive her mid day dosage. He saw a sweet girl with a large personality. Mr. Miller has run in marathons/races his entire life. About 8 years ago, Jeff Miller, sat in on a speech given by Team Hoyt, and he was touched by the dedication.

Mr. Miller went to Mrs. Owen in March 2009 and said he would like to get Karlie a stroller she can ride in so she could run races around Owensboro. Mrs. Owen called me, Karlie’s mom, and asked for permission and I said “sure”! That day Mrs. Owen showed Karlie a video of a “Team Hoyt” race on YouTube in the classroom. Karlie would point to Mr. Hoyt’s son in his special jogging stroller and then point to herself; she did this over and over. When Mrs. Owen asked her if she wanted to do this, she smiled and nodded her head yes, that is how our story began. The very same day Mrs. Owen sent out an email to staff members at Burns Middle School and asked for donations to buy the $450.00 stroller. Within four days they raised the money for the stroller, along with a few extra hundred dollars to buy Karlie her first racing helmet (it was pink), and a racing outfit (also pink). Karlie was getting attention that she never experienced before.  Soon the story got out into the community and Karlie appeared as a feature story on our local news station and had a large article on the front page of our local newspaper with a picture that included Mrs. Owen and Mr. Miller. Mrs. Owen called the story: Team Karlie

At Burns Middle School regular education students have an optional class called Peer Tutor Program. Students in the Peer Tutor Program are paired with children the special services classes.  Through this program, Karlie has become best friends with a girl named Lauren Tucker.  Lauren runs on our school’s track team, and Mrs. Owen showed Lauren the Team Hoyt video the same day she showed Karlie.  They watched it together.  After the video, Lauren looked at Mrs. Owen and before Mrs. Owen could tell Lauren  what they had planned, Lauren said, “I want to run with Karlie”.  So the school purchased her a matching (pink) racing outfit like Karlie’s.  Karlie was so excited that Lauren was going to run with her.   It was an instant connection between these two girls, like none Mrs. Owen has ever seen.  Karlie had a best friend, and Lauren had a determination to make Karlie included.  Lauren almost made the state finals for the Burns Middle School track team, which would have been on the same weekend as Karlie’s first race.   Lauren shared with Mrs. Owen that if she qualified for state finals, she was not going because she wasn’t going to miss Karlie’s first race. This made the story more special.

 The first race was May 9th, 2009 at the International Barbeque Festival, a 5K run/walk in Owensboro, Kentucky.  Jeff ran behind the stroller and pushed Karlie, while Lauren ran the entire race right next to Karlie.  Out of over 520 runners/walkers, Karlie and Lauren finished 99 and 100.  Jeff allowed Lauren to push Karlie across the finish line, which made Lauren’s day.  Karlie had arms spread while crossing the finish line.  She enjoyed the entire race, her beautiful smile never left her face.  Burns Middle School was able to film the entire race because of a donated Gator. Mrs. Owen also made up a t-shirt template and had over 300 orders for t-shirts to come in from staff, students and parents of Burns Middle School within one week.  A picture of Karlie is on the front with the heading TEAM KARLIE and on the back is a quote, by motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia, “To often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around”.  The Friday before the race Mr. Miller pushed Karlie thru the halls of the school and they all appeared on the school morning news. Many staff members and students came out at 7:30 am on Saturday May 9th to support them all and were there at the finish line to cheer them thru.

I wanted to share the story of an awesome teacher, a compassionate man and a wonderful 13 year old girl with you. They all have made Karlie feel so special!  TEAM KARLIE will be running lots more races in the future.