Inclusion means everyone. It means not defining somebody by what they can't do.
That's the motto that Steve Sinko of Pike Creek, Del. lives by. And the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon will be yet another opportunity for Sinko, 40, to practice what he preaches.
This year, Sinko will race his third Philly Marathon (and 14th overall) with a very special running partner. Preston Buenaga, 18, will be co-captaining the big race from his adaptive running chair. Buenaga has mitochondrial disease, which causes damage at the cellular level and leads to low muscle tone and developmental delays.
"Running is the most inclusive sport out there," Sinko said. "Everyone can do it. They just need to be given the opportunity and the resources to do so."
The Fusion Family
Sinko met Buenaga's mom Deb in October of 2014 at Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, Del. where he is a personal trainer. The gym was holding a fundraiser for Preston's March for Energy, a non-profit founded by Buenaga's parents to raise money for adaptive bikes for children ages 6 to 12 who have special needs.
Deb is a runner herself and she has run many races with Preston. In March, Sinko witnessed the sheer joy running brings to Preston as he waited for the duo at the finish line of the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.
Four months later, inspired by the Buenagas, Sinko and Fusion Fitness owner Nic DeCaire founded Fusion Inclusion, a nonprofit that purchases adaptive running chairs and pairs runners with a disabled partner who wishes to participate in races. To date, they have purchased five adaptive running chairs.
"People take for granted that those on the sidelines of races are there just to watch," Sinko said. "Maybe they would love to join the race if given the opportunity."
While not all races allow running chairs — some race directors worry about liabilities — the races timed by DeCaire's own race timing company, Fusion Race Timing, are inclusive.
In October 2015, DeCaire and Sinko held their first "Inclusion Means Everyone" 5K at the Christiana Mall.
"We had 10 athletes participate with adaptive equipment that race," Sinko, who is also involved in the race timing company, said. "We are also trying to raise money for an adaptive playground, Preston's Playground in Newark, Delaware."
To train for the Philadelphia Marathon, Sinko has been doing runs with his co-pilot and on his own. When Sinko runs solo, he places 140lbs of weight (equal to that of his partner) in the Fusion Inclusion adaptive running chair.
"I know the better running shape I am in, the easier it will be to push the chair," Sinko said.
On a recent Sunday, the pair did 20 miles in Newark, their longest run yet.
When they run together, Buenaga has a playlist that he likes to sing along to while running and his infectious smile never leaves his face.
"The whole experience is just as rewarding for the person pushing the chair as it is for their partner," Sinko said.