Superheroes in Sweaty Socks: Why one team runs the American Odyssey Relay

It’s 5 am on the C&O Canal — Team Cirque du Sore Leg’s (CdSL’s) first American Odyssey Relay.  Runner 3, affectionately known as “Boots,” is heading out for his final leg. The rest of Van One lies snoring, sore and smelly, across pleather seats, dirty socks and pretzel bags. And then Boots is back, knocking excitedly on the van window.

“I love you guys!” he says with exhausted emotion. “Just have to tell you. I love you guys and I love the kids and I love that we are out here together doing this for them!”

In the same race, a few hours earlier, CdSL’s Runner 10 is lost somewhere amongst the hills of the Antietam Battlefield. She runs two legs instead of one. Actually, she runs two legs instead of one with an undiagnosed case of mono! Up and down she goes, thinking it’s taking so long because she “just isn’t feeling great” and is having a bad run.

In last year’s American Odyssey Relay, CdSL’s Runner 6, a 4’11” special education teacher who runs like Hermes, outruns a 6’4” marine, racing through the transition point in Boonsboro to the cheers of multiple teams. “Who’s kid is that?” someone asks. “Not ours–she’s 25 years old!” we laugh back.

We all have crazy stories from our American Odyssey adventures. We all run the Odyssey for different reasons. For Team Cirque du Sore Legs, we run to raise money for families raising children with intellectual disabilities. We are the special education teachers and staff who make up Ivymount Outreach and we are running the American Odyssey Relay to change the world for our kids.

Endurance relays are great symbols of what the parents of special needs kids go through on a daily basis.

When we run American Odyssey, we are sleep deprived for 36 hours. The parents of our students are exhausted and sleep deprived on a regular basis, for years on end. They are often worried, emotionally stressed and overwhelmed. But they keep going. They dig deep and find the strength and courage to push through and just keep running.

Despite great planning and support, sometimes we Odyssey runners get lost. The parents of our students don’t always know where they are going or what’s coming next either. For many of them, this is a whole new world.

You and I choose to run the American Odyssey Relay. We train and plan and read the handbook 100 times. The parents of Outreach students, however, did not sign up for their race. They just woke up one day running it. There’s no handbook; no directional signs; no Freddy.

Finally, none of us run the Odyssey alone. Even if you are a team of one, you have Race Director Bob and his great logistics team plotting the route, giving you directions and engaging hundreds of volunteers to help you.  As for the rest of us, we also lean on our teammates to cross the finish line. Parents raising children with special needs also lean on a team of people invested in their success: parent mentors, teachers, therapists, doctors, behavioral experts, financial planners, political leaders, and, most importantly, the family and friends who are there to offer support.

As members of our families’ endurance teams, the teachers and staff who make up Team Cirque du Sore Legs are running the American Odyssey Relay for them. So, this year, when you see a bunch of super heroes in sweaty socks or capes waving to you at a transition point or from a van, please think of all the families raising children with special needs across our country, doing their best every day to run well and finish the race.

For more information about Ivymount Outreach and Team Cirque du Sore Legs, visit our website:

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