There were cheers and a few tears when Princess Meeshe Robles crossed the finish line after completing a 5K race at Port Elgin Regional School.
Robles has cerebral palsy and completed the race on a Rifton tricycle.
Over the school term, the Grade 8 student went from needing help to biking uphill without assistance.
“To watch her put her hand out and give the high fives to everybody on the way through — you did cry. It was great,” said Grade 5 teacher Tamara Carter.
Carter and her colleague Breanna Saulnier, who teaches Grade 7 and Grade 8 late French immersion, were looking for an activity for the kids. After a long winter that involved mostly staying inside, they decided to start a running club.
“We thought maybe we could offer couch-to-5K running, so we got together and it gave us an opportunity to co-teach, because we don’t teach the same grade and it kind of started rolling out from there,” Saulnier said.
About 40 kids decided to join, running from 8:15 to 9 o’clock each morning.
Saulnier says Meeshe, as she’s called, signed up with her classmates.
“Tamara and I looked at each other and went, ‘OK we’re going to make sure that we understand.’ This is running every day. So we went to Meeshe and said ‘We’re going to be running every day kiddo — is this something you want to do?’ And she said yes,” Saulnier said.
“Her goal was to get stronger, so when a kid tells you I want to get stronger how do you say no?”
Saulnier was put in contact with Para NB and drove to Fredericton herself to pick up two loaned Rifton tricycles — one for Meeshe and one for other classmates to use occasionally to train by her side.
Saulnier says it allowed Meeshe to go wherever the group was going.
Tamara Carter says in the beginning, the group would run ahead, and then walk back to where the bikes were. But that changed over time.
“The strength and the determination of that kid was just incredible, and it really was motivating to anyone that thought ‘I can’t do this,’ because we just had to look at this bike and look at how Meeshe is passing you and you knew that you had to do it, you could do it, because if she can do it so should I,” Carter said.
When Meeshe first heard about the 5K, she didn’t think it would be hard. But it turned out to be a challenge.
“My legs are starting to hurt. But my legs are getting better and better,” she said.
Grade 5 student Zoey Dulenty, who takes media classes, was intrigued by Meeshe’s story and did a report for the school.
“When I saw her at the 5K run I was just so surprised at how long, how far, she came from when she first came here [to] the end of the year,” she said.
Dulenty says Meeshe’s story shows what determination is all about.
“Keep saying to yourself you can do it, you will do it,” she said.
Meeshe continues to embrace new things. She just returned from a class field trip where she went canoeing and tried rock climbing, among other things.
“We did horseback riding and I know the horse’s name. It’s Shadow,” she said with a smile.
The two teachers behind the running club say everyone came together to help Meeshe reach her goal.
But Breanna Saulnier says the young girl is the one who taught them a valuable lesson.
“Over 6 weeks going from needing assistance to … doing it on my own — that growth mindset of ‘I’m doing this, I don’t care how long it takes me. I don’t care what I need to do to do it, I’m doing it.’ That’s to me the biggest growth I’ve seen in her,” Saulnier said.
Meeshe has a message for other kids who might be facing challenges of their own.
“Never give up yourself. Keep doing it and never give up.”