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A Milestone Race Celebrating Special People with Special Needs: Ninth Annual Run For Holland to be Held in Spruce Pine on May 7th

By Tim Gardner

One of the premier yearly sporting events in the North Carolina High Country and even the State of North Carolina is only days away.

Eight years ago, husband and wife, Adam and Brooke Burleson of the Mitchell County town of Spruce Pine, formed a foundation that sponsors the yearly “Run For Holland” race named after their daughter, Holland, who has Down syndrome. The race impacts an entire community and region in a zenith manner. It raises awareness and monetary funds for the local community to help other parents who have children with physical and mental disabilities and to support charitable and civic organizations that help disabled persons and their families in various manners.

The Run For Holland Family includes (Left to Right): Lucia Burleson, Adam Burleson, Brooke Burleson, and the race’s namesake, Holland Burleson. (Picture Courtesy of Adam Burleson)

This year’s Run For Holland will be held in Spruce Pine on Saturday, May 7th. All the event’s activities will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Riverside Park, located at 200 East Tappan Street.

The race consists of three different divisions. The 5K is 3.1 miles in length; the 10K is 6.2 miles long; and the Fun Run is open to anyone–from kids who want to show off their super speed, to adults just looking to participate and anyone with a disability who wants to do a fun run instead of the 5K. The Fun Run starts at the Spruce Pine First Baptist Church.

The race is especially held for special people known as “Track Commanders.” They are individuals with disabilities who are pushed by volunteers in especially designed race chairs. This helps highlight those disabled people so they can be honored and celebrated, while raising awareness for the disabled community.

Adam said hundreds have participated in the race since its inception and that there are several ways for those interested to get involved with the Run For Holland Foundation. Those include 1) Signing up to run the 5K or 10K race; 2) Signing up to push a wheelchair or other apparatus with a disabled person in the 5K race; 3) Signing up to volunteer to help with the race in various capacities; 4) Making a donation to the foundation; 5) Signing up to be a Spirit Runner; and 6) Come hang out, cheer, make a sign to show support and clap your hands- we would love to see more people in the community and elsewhere come and take part of this special day!

Anyone can register for the race by using the following web site link: https://runsignup.com/Race/Register/?raceId=26138

Adam added that many of the participants in the race are from Mitchell, Avery and Yancey Counties, but that they have also come from Boone and various other places across the High Country and some from even hundreds of miles away.

He encourages anyone to participate in the race even if they just walk in it or stand by and applaud all those running in it.

“I challenge everyone who can and will to try and walk it,” Adam declared. “Most anyone can walk a 5k. The point of the event is for people to interact with those who have disabilities and to raise awareness, while helping provide much needed financial funding.”

The race’s inception came is a most inspiring and heart-touching story—one of unspeakable love.

In 2014, the Burlesons learned that their daughter, Holland, would be born with Down syndrome. The ensuing weeks were a blur for the Burlesons, who had many questions and uncertainties about what the future held for them and their daughter. Adam and Brooke were scared, confused and uneducated about how to raise and provide the necessary care for a child with that type disability.

One day the couple received an email from their genetic counselor containing Emily Perl Kingsley’s “Welcome to Holland,” a story about having a child with a disability. It uses a metaphor of excitement for a vacation in Italy that becomes a disappointment at first when the plane instead arrives in Holland.

“It’s just a different place,” an excerpt of the story reads. “It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills and Holland had tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.”

The story gave them a new positive outlook on the situation in particular and on life in general, while inspiring them to name their daughter Holland. Following Holland’s birth, her parents decided to start the Run For Holland Foundation.

Adam, an avid runner, said he had wanted to organize a race in Spruce Pine for a long while. Holland’s birth served as the catalyst for him to make that goal a reality and an event to raise awareness for individuals who suffer from physical and mental disabilities. While planning and laying the groundwork to have a run the Burlesons met members from the running community who also had children with similar disabilities.

“We got the ball rolling for our run, had a goal in mind, went all-out for it and saw it to fruition,” explained Adam. “Everything kind of barrel-rolled at once and has continued to do so. Foremost, it’s been because of God. With His help, all things are possible, and our race and the many wonderful things that have happened because of it provide proof.”

In fact, the support for the race that first year is labeled as “amazing” by Adam. The ways the race has continued to make significant impacts include raising more than $81,000.00 in grants to local and regional organizations who work to help those with disabilities. Schools, day care centers, camps, inclusion alliances and a YMCA have all had grants approved because of help from the Run For Holland Foundation.

This year the Run For Holland Board of Directors has allocated money for a special needs friendly playground to be constructed in Spruce Pine. Most recently, the Run For Holland has donated more than $4,000 to Mitchell County Schools to help with lesson plans and safety features on a playground for students with disabilities.

For more information about the race or to make a donation, log online to: www.runforholland.com. Further details can also be obtained by calling Adam Burleson at (828) 385-2341. Those wishing to donate via U.S. Mail can do so by sending a check or money order to: The Run For Holland Foundation, C/O Adam Burleson, 141 Highland Avenue, Spruce Pine, NC 28777.

Below are pictures of teams of pushers with their special needs “track commanders.”