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NEWS | May 24, 2024

NSWC Crane employees volunteer to include children with special needs through running

By Sarah K. Oh (ctr), NSWC Crane Corporate Communications

Figure 1: Mallory, Jeffrey, Cohen, and Ella Lamson pictured at the Indianapolis Mini Marathon in May 2024.“I’m not a runner—I don’t do this,” said Mallory Lamson, a Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) employee. “I only do what I do for my daughter.”

The Lamsons have four children who are involved in extra-curricular activities.

“Three of our kids play their own sports,” said Mallory Lamson. “They get to hear their names called when people cheer or when they are called up to bat.”

Mallory and Jeffrey Lamson’s daughter, Ella, was born in 2017 with Aicardi syndrome, which is a rare genetic disorder affecting the brain and eyes. It also causes seizures that can be difficult to treat.

The Lamsons help their daughter Ella participate in races through a non-profit organization, Ainsley’s Angels. They ran in the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, also known as the Indy Mini, with a local Bedford chapter of Ainsley’s Angels in early May.

“It’s a great way to recognize kids who typically wouldn’t get to hear their names called,” said Mallory Lamson. “The race environment is very encouraging; the other runners pass you and encourage you to keep going.”

Organizers pair runner volunteers with individuals with special needs who are unable to run on their own. Ainsley’s Angels has chapters in most U.S. states. The closest chapter to NSWC Crane is based out of Bedford, Indiana, and was started by an NSWC Crane employee, Brent Voigtschild, and his wife Kathy in 2019. This chapter had 26 runner volunteers for the Indy Mini race in May, and about 65 runners ready to help with races throughout the year.

NSWC Crane employees volunteer for Ainsley's Angels in the Indianapolis Mini Marathon 2024.“Our family began the ambassadorship because pushing the kids with disabilities of family friends opened our eyes to the impact that could be made locally,” said Voigtschild. “Kathy and I pushed our friends’ kids in two Indianapolis races and then hosted one 2019 Bedford race, when the Northern Indiana Ambassadorship offered to bring their equipment to Bedford. At that time, our high school daughter, Amber, recruited riders for this race by reading a related book on inclusion at local schools’ special needs classes. Our community’s reception to Ainsley’s Angels mission, joyful tears of the riders’ parents, and the special finish line moments inspired us to start the local ambassadorship. Since then, generous donors in our community have met all needs, including funding five adult and 12 youth wheelchairs. Ainsley’s Angels has always been welcomed and embraced in races, exceeding 25 events since 2019.”

The Lamsons signed Ella up for her first Ainsley’s Angels race three years ago.

“We first were introduced to the Ainsley’s family in 2021 where Greg and Angel Reece were volunteering to push Eleanor (Ella),” said Jeffrey Lamson, an NSWC Crane employee. “They were texting us as the race went on and sent pictures. Ella enjoyed it so much; we knew that we were in her sport.”

The Lamsons running with EllaMallory and Jeffrey Lamson realized it was an experience they wanted to share together with their daughter.

“Shortly after watching her being pushed my wife and I talked about pushing ourselves,” said Jeffrey Lamson. “Thinking if she was going to do it, we could put the running shoes on and do it with her. We love this experience we get to share together; it absolutely melts our hearts as parents to watch her react to the crowds and other runners. We are so appreciative of Brent Voigtschild and the other runners for what they do for these Ainsley Riders, these are some truly special runners.”

For Mallory Lamson, she hopes the event brings awareness to including people with special needs.

“It’s about inclusion awareness,” said Mallory Lamson. “Before I had a handicapped daughter, I didn’t know how hard it was to get around and simple things like find parking or go to her siblings’ sports activities.”

Ainsley's Angels volunteer to run during the Indianapolis Mini MarathonGregory Reece, an NSWC Crane employee, volunteers as a runner during Ainsley’s Angels races. He and his wife ran with Ella the first year she participated in the event. He said the event creates excitement for the Riders.

“Ainsley’s Angels runs are always incredibly inspiring and uplifting, but the Indy Mini is next level,” said Reece. “My favorite part is how thousands of other runners and spectators cheer for our Riders by name—their name is posted on signs on both sides of their racing “chariot”—as we pass by. This year my buddy and Rider, Landon, received thunderous applause from the crowd at the finish when we stopped, and he got out of his chariot and ran the final yards across the line!”

Michael Wallace, an employee at NSWC Crane, also volunteered for the Indianapolis half-marathon race.

“I volunteered for this event because I love running,” said Wallace. “This event is a great opportunity to combine running with service. The run went very well. The weather was great, and it was fun to team up with another runner to serve our Rider. The Indy Mini is the most fun half marathon I know of, and Ainsley’s Angels is an amazing organization - they do a great job!”

Travis Summers, an NSWC Crane employee and Ainsley’s Angels volunteer, said he participates to support the community.

Group photo of Ainsley's Angels volunteers and participants. “This is my second year as an Ainsley’s Angels runner and it has been such a fun and rewarding experience!” said Summers. “I volunteered for the race because their values really resonated with me, and I felt like it was a great opportunity to support the community. It has been great getting to know the Riders, Jerry and this year Addy, and be a part of the team effort to complete the races. I have been extremely fortunate to have two great friends help me with the races, and I am thankful that Brent asked me to be part of the Ainsley’s Angels family!”

For those interested in learning more about the organization or volunteering, visit their website:

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