“Just live your life, don’t let your disability hold you back. I have never let my disability stop me from doing what I wanted to do.” -Lesley Blake
This year marks the third year of the Owensboro Color Blast 5K run. The anticipation of this year’s race brings about the question, why do we run? Do we do it for the T-shirt or the desire to be splattered in a variety of pastel colors? Do we do it for the competitive edge or to attain a personal best? Are we simply driven to come out to support a worthy cause because it’s the right thing to do? So, why do we run?
The truth is, the reason we run has nothing to do with us at all. We run for Levi Goodall at GRADSA (Green River Area Down Syndrome Association) who loves to ride with his dad on the four-wheeler as fast as it will go. We run for Jesse Gonzalez at Dream Riders, who lets his big brother ride with him on his favorite horse, Tex. We run for Gary Latham, at Wendall Foster Campus, who loves to sing karaoke on Friday nights, and go on ride-alongs with the Owensboro Police Department. We run for Eric Lamaus at Puzzle Pieces who has an enormous heart for helping others and loves going out to eat at Real Hacienda. We run for Lesley Blake of Team Karlie, who will mark this as the first year she will walk the Color Blast on her own and not be pushed in a jogger. This is why we run.
This year Lesley Blake will celebrate her thirty-first birthday walking with her family as a member of Team Blake, rather than a member of Team Karlie. “I’m not giving up Team Karlie…I just want to see if I can do this.” It seems as if Lesley has always had that spirit and the support of her family to guide her through each challenge in life. Lesley is a bright, motivated young woman who understands her disability and the limitations it brings. So many individuals with disabilities have a hard time voicing their feelings and frustrations and are often misunderstood. It is the hope of the Blake family that, by sharing their story, they can inspire hope in others who may face similar circumstances.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
On March 21, 1984, Carol and Terry Blake welcomed two beautiful twin girls into the world, Ashley and Lesley. With a five year old daughter at home and a twin to compare her to, it did not take long to see that Lesley was developing at a different rate than Ashley. By age three and a half months, Lesley was diagnosed by the Child Evaluation Center in Louisville with mild spastic Cerebral Palsy. Although Carol says that initially “their heart dropped” and “I think we cried all the way home,” the Blake family quickly learned to adapt. With two babies that needed attention, Carol and Terry did not take turns, they simply bonded with the baby they were caring for at the time. Jennifer, the oldest, became “a little mother (who) didn’t play with dolls anymore because she had a real baby to take care of.” As they grew, Ashley learned to take care of herself and became very protective of Lesley. A desire to keep up with her twin sister, coupled with weekly therapy at the Wendall Foster Center, motivated Lesley to achieve unexpected milestones. A child that was told she would never walk or stand, learned to do so, it just took a little longer.
Although the initial diagnosis of having a child with a disability may be overwhelming, each family member must learn to embrace their new roles within the family. Be open to an understanding that there are different methods of accomplishing goals and wide-ranging timelines for success.
Accommodating an Education
Preschool and elementary school were enjoyable for Lesley because she was mainstreamed in with the other students. The challenges came in sixth grade when she was labeled “LD,” or as having a learning disability. Although this label acknowledged that Lesley had a disability, she was also expected to complete courses such as Spanish and geometry, areas where she found herself struggling. In seventh grade, Lesley made the pivotal decision to go home and tell her parents that she wanted to move from LD to MMD (mild mental disability) classes. Although Lesley and her family recognized that this would not only affect her schooling, but her future as well, (LD students can earn a traditional high school diploma, where MMD students receive a completion certificate in life skills) they felt that it was the best decision for her happiness and success.
Be an advocate for your child in their education. Understand where their strengths and weaknesses are, and know what accommodations or modifications are best to ensure their success. Embrace repetition and consistency as necessary tools to help your child retain learned information.
A Family of Faith
The Blake family credits many things to Lesley’s incredible development and drive, but first, and foremost, is their faith and their family values. Older sister Jennifer says that her father instilled in them the wisdom that, “your journey is going to be filled with difficult times, but nothing is too big for God.” Their faith and their closeness have helped them to simply view Lesley as a daughter and a sister, not as someone who was disabled. Carol says, “We were just a very close family…we went everywhere together, sports events–everything. We involved her in everything we did.” For Lesley it was most important to have fun and feel like she was part of a team. Sometimes, it involved enrolling her in activities that she could participate in, even if some of the other participants were not in the same age group.
Carol’s advice to parents is to give your children “lots of love and as many opportunities as you can.” Discover what makes them smile and find out how to engage them in these activities. Get involved with your child in one of the many wonderful organizations we have in our community.
Limitations and Frustrations
Everything has not always come easy to Lesley. Walking alone involved three major operations, months of re-training, and years of therapy. Although she feels she made the best decision for her education, she was often frustrated by the fact that she was in the same room all day “like in elementary school.” There are many goals in life that Lesley would still like to attain, but she knows that some of them are beyond her abilities. She would love to be able to drive and get married and have children, like her sisters have. However, she has learned to accept the things that she can accomplish. She has her permit, embraces the role of being an aunt, and has learned to cook and prepare small meals on her own, with her family’s understanding that there may often be a mess to clean up afterwards.
Parents and siblings should take the time to educate themselves on their child’s disability and the limitations it might cause. Together, the family can then help the child discover their feeling of independence and accomplishment. Keep in mind that, although obstacles may come daily, together you can figure out a way to navigate over and around them.
Joys and Successes
Lesley has learned to take pride in each goal she accomplishes in life, no matter small. She works two days a week in the nursery at Walnut Memorial Baptist Church, is a volunteer leader with Apollo Young Life, has worked with the special needs youth group at Owensboro Christian Church, and is the leader of the Capernaum Club. Through Young Life, Lesley has been able to use her love of computers to upload photos and videos to the group’s website, and has also been able to accomplish small goals, such as spending a night away from home. Lesley’s proudest moment by far, is one that she shared with her twin sister, Ashley. Ashley planned her wedding for August 17, 2013, but, sadly, the girls’ father, Terry, passed away in July of 2012, before he could walk her down the aisle. Ashley said that she didn’t even think twice about having Lesley walk with her, “We shared everything our whole lives–why not share my wedding day?” Both Lesley and Ashley walked down the aisle that day in beautiful white wedding dresses. Jennifer recalls, “It was absolutely the sweetest day. When we put that dress on her, the disability disappeared.”
Find areas where your child can experience success, even in the little things, and celebrate them when they occur. Whether it is counting money, floating in the pool, or simply spending time with friends, provide opportunities that instill confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
About the 2015 Color Blast 5K
The Owensboro/Daviess County community is fortunate to have numerous organizations to help serve and enhance the quality of life of individuals with special needs, both young and old. There are five local non-profit organizations involved: Puzzle Pieces, Wendell Foster’s Campus for Developmental Disabilities, Dream Riders of Kentucky, Team Karlie, and Green River Area Down Syndrome Association who are collaborating together to host an event in Downtown Owensboro to honor individuals who have unique qualities and abilities.
What is the Color Blast 5K?
A 5K run/walk color celebration to recognize the positive impact individuals with special needs have on our lives, to acknowledge their abilities, and help spread awareness from families to friends to individuals!
March 21, 2015 @ 8 a.m. at Moreland Park
The objective of the Color Blast 5K Event?
Participants wear anything and everything white and along the run/walk route, participants will be “blasted” with a safe and non-toxic colored powder at each mile marker and the finish line. The color fun continues to the after party for music, food, crazy fun, and a group color shower! Families, schools, church groups, friends, and business groups are all encouraged to get involved in this non-competitive 5K event to have fun and support a great cause!
The proceeds raised will directly benefit the six organizations who are contributing a portion to the WHAS Crusade for Children. The WHAS Crusade for Children, an organization based at WHAS TV studios in Louisville, KY, raise and distributes millions of dollars in Kentucky and Indiana each year for special needs children; last year they raised and distributed over 5 million dollars.