UT-Austin student campaign raises funds for racing chairs at Longhorn Run

Sara Schleede

In spring 2017, finance senior Amie Jean left the hospital in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Last April, she completed the Longhorn Run pushed in a pink wheelchair on loan from a local nonprofit organization. Next spring, Jean could be at the starting line in an orange UT racing chair with other disabled students at her side.

Jean started a campaign called “Ready Set Go” through UT’s HornRaiser to raise money for racing wheelchairs at the Longhorn Run. She said she wants others to have the experience she did and to start a larger conversation about disability advocacy on campus.

“It’s a natural instinct for me to see how I can better what’s around me, even if it’s a small thing,” Jean said. “What can I do with what people have noticed (about my platform)?”

The fundraising goal is $20,000 — enough for three chairs and extra money for repairs. The project has raised 13 percent of its goal since its launch Sept. 12.

Jean said she would like to raise money for an endowment so that UT RecSports can supply racing chairs for those who want to push themselves and create intramural adapted sports teams. 

“The chairs transcend beyond the actual chair,” Jean said. “By donating, you’re planting a seed, and we’re hoping to really grow.”

Social work senior Danielle Redhead, who is helping Jean publicize the fundraiser, said conversations about disability advocacy usually center solely around academic accommodations. She said able-bodied students often do not realize their disabled peers’ struggles outside of the classroom.

“When you’re thinking about participating in activities on campus, how often do you think of the people who don’t have opportunities?” Redhead said. “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have opportunities to do what they wanted to do, whether it be sports or anything on campus?”

Patrick Olson, program coordinator of the Office of Admissions, said he hopes the campaign will direct people toward learning about other accessibility issues for students.

“It’s a hard conversation to have because we haven’t even scratched the surface on making sure we’re accessible for all students yet,” Olson said. 

Olson, Jean’s boss at the UT Visitor Center, pushed Jean through the 6.2-mile course. Olson said he started with a goal for the entire office to participate in the Longhorn Run. Now, he said he is emailing Ellen DeGeneres every day to highlight Jean’s efforts on a national scale.

“The HornRaiser technically ends in (24) days, but (Jean) is not going to stop advocating for students like herself,” Olson said. “We want to start thinking about how we can continue this tradition.”

While Jean’s diagnosis leaves her with the possibility of someday running the race on her own, she said completing the race with Olson’s help made her realize the importance of teamwork and creating opportunities for those who may not have that chance. 

“At the beginning of the race, I was wishing it was me pushing Patrick,” Jean said. “By the end, I understood that it was larger than myself.”