BALTIMORE – On Sunday, May 22 2011, James Banks will participate in the 2011 Columbia Triathlon, aiming to complete his first Olympic distance triathlon. To date, Banks has completed three full marathons, two Sprint triathlons and more than a half dozen 5K races. For any person this is a substantial accomplishment, but James Banks is not just any person. Banks, a student athlete from the William S. Baer School in Baltimore City, suffers from cerebral palsy and has been confined to a wheel chair since birth.
Banks will compete, with the assistance of Team ASA volunteer athletes Courtney Sawyer, David Slomkowski and Gregg Elmer at Sunday’s event. Sawyer, of Towson, Maryland and a member of the Clinical Faculty at Loyola University will tow Banks in a custom raft during the swimming leg of the race. Slomkowski, of Timonium and ASA’s executive director and founder will bike with Banks in a custom bicycle and Elmer, of Phoenix, Maryland and an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, will push Banks across the finish line in a custom racing jogger. This is the first time an athlete with cerebral palsy will attempt to complete the Columbia Triathlon.
David Slomkowski, a life-long runner and athlete, created Athletes Serving Athletes (ASA) in September 2006 during a training run along the North Central Railroad trail in Hunt Valley where he had what he calls a “burning bush” experience. “That light bulb went off where I realized I had been given so many blessings,” said Slomkowski. “I realized I was meant to help others with these blessings. I wondered if kids with disabilities would like to race with me.” Slomkowski is a former All-American lacrosse goalie at Washington College and a graduate of DeMatha Catholic High School. Since its formal inception in 2007, ASA has helped disabled and disadvantaged youth from Baltimore cross the finish lines of over 200 5K races, marathons and triathlons.
To prepare for these races, ASA currently hosts 5K training programs at the William S. Baer School, the Maryland School for the Blind and Young Life Capernaum. These programs are free for the institutions and the student athletes. In addition, ASA is currently working with a local foster care center to further expand its reach.
Sawyer became involved with ASA eighteen months ago after hearing Slomkowski speak at the Baltimore Area Triathlon Club. An avid triathlete, Sawyer has been training for the Columbia Triathlon for the past several months by swimming and dragging a custom raft filled with a fifty-pound bag of sand in preparation to tow Banks to the finish. “This race on Sunday is the culmination of why I work with ASA,” said Sawyer. “I love to race and now being able to give someone that same experience that normally wouldn’t have the opportunity will be such a thrill,” she goes on to add. Sawyer will next compete with ASA in the Iron Girl Triathlon as part of an all-female relay team in August 2011. Sawyer will again be competing in the swimming leg of that race too and will resume her training in a few weeks by swimming and towing a sand-filled raft.
Slomkowski, now ASA’s executive director, wants to revolutionize the way disabled children live and give them the experience of participating in athletics. “I can’t put into words what it feels like to witness these athletes competing,” Slomkowski said. “I’m merely just an instrument for them and a small part of a big team of people that makes it happen. James and the other athletes are the ones competing. I’m just along for the ride.”
About Athletes Serving Athletes
Athletes Serving Athletes provides the opportunities for challenged athletes to pursue an active lifestyle by experiencing the thrill of athletic competition otherwise inaccessible to them. ASA offers programs and services to challenged athletes that focus on inspiring, preparing and competing with them in local running, triathlon and cycling events. The majority of the athletes ASA works with are physically challenged youths that require a racing partner, custom racing joggers, bike carriers and swim rafts. To learn more about ASA please visit www.athletesservingathletes.org.