James Ridgeway, a Navy veteran, says “it’s all for her. He has pushed his non-verbal 24-year-old daughter in a wheelchair in 10 half-marathons, saying “she’s got so much joy,” which photos clearly show.
Dad has pushed nonverbal daughter for 10 half-marathons in wheelchair
Navy veteran James Ridgeway said he’s always had a knack for running and did a lot of it during his military service.
“You have to be in shape at least enough to pass your physical tests,” James told People. “I’ve always ran short races like 5Ks. I don’t think I ever did a 10K.”
Recently, James participated in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Series’ Half Marathon weekend in Las Vegas, where he pushed his 24-year-old non-verbal daughter, Gaby, in a wheelchair. He’s done so in 10 half-marathons so far.
Gaby was born with a rare genetic disorder called Oculocerebrocutaneous (OCC) syndrome, which limited her speech and mental development. In addition, Gaby was also born with cerebral palsy and scoliosis, and although she is able to stand for limited amounts of time, she is unable to walk on her own.
Oculocerebrocutaneous (OCC) syndrome is defined as a rare congenital disorder (apparent at birth) characterized primarily by eye, brain, and skin malformations. Affected infants and children often have an intellectual disability, as well as episodes of seizures, according to rarediseases.org.
How dad began taking his daughter on marathons
It all started when James returned from a deployment in 2019 to his home in Visalia, California, where he went for a jog with his son.
After the run, Ridgeway said his daughter, Gaby, was upset she wasn’t able to participate in the fun with her dad.
“She can’t put sentences together,” Ridgeway explained. “She has vocabulary words, but she’ll tell you when she’s upset.”
“We would go out on the weekends and as soon as she hears somebody leave, she wants to know where you’re going,” Ridgeway continued. “We would come home from a run and she would be visibly irritated and we asked her, ‘Are you mad?'”
“[She said] ‘Yeah,'” Ridgeway recalled. He asked her, “‘Why are you mad? Because we go running without you?”‘
Gaby responded: “Yeah.”
“So I asked her, ‘Do you want to run with us?'” Ridgeway added. “And she’s like, ‘Yeah!’ I was like, ‘Oh, wow. How do I do that?'”
Ultimately, through Ainsley’s Angels – an organization focused on inclusion for activities such as biking and running – James and his wife Lorena were able to get a wheelchair for Gaby so she could participate in the races with her dad. In 2019, the Marathon duo of “Team Ridgeway” was formed, says James.
“I’ve always wanted to do a half marathon,” Ridgeway says. In pushing his daughter in the wheelchair, he says he was testing the limits of how much she could endure and “really enjoy it.”
One thing they did to enhance Gaby’s experience was to add music to the journey.
“We got a speaker, put that on the chair and that was it,” James said. “She’s a music lover, loves to dance, loves to scream her favorite song and that was the start of it.”
From there, James learned how to train for races and all types of weather and terrain while adjusting accordingly to suit his daughter’s needs.
“I train in the winter months without her,” James pointed out. “It’s too cold. I try to do most of the training with [the wheelchair] because that’s going to make it easier. If I train by myself, it’s too easy to go faster, so I can’t judge how my progress is.”
Vegas marathon finish brought multiple special moments
In 2023, Team Ridgeway participated in their 10th half-marathon in Las Vegas, running down the strip at night alongside 12,000 other runners.
The moment had an extra special meaning. James says: “This is where she was born and raised.”
Another special moment came at the finish line when the duo stopped and allowed Gaby to get out of her wheelchair.
“We walked across the finish line,” James said, crediting assistance from Hoyt Racing, a non-profit that supports people with disabilities at races.