It started with the shirts. It continues, for Achilles athlete Mike Tubiak and his frequent guide, Laura LaRiviere, with their being named Achilles Connecticut Chapter’s Athlete and Volunteer of 2017.
Ask Achilles athlete Mike and his frequent guide, Laura, how they got first got involved with the Connecticut Chapter of Achilles International, and for both, the distinctive, neon-yellow shirts played a pivotal part.
“In one of the last big races I did by myself, the New York City Marathon, I struggled visually,” says Mike. A Naugatuck resident, Mike lacks peripheral (side) vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that he was diagnosed with at the age of 14.
When he asked a runner in his pace group about the yellow shirts, he learned how Achilles provides guides and support for people with disabilities.
If you’ve ever met Mike, you know that when he says, “I got pumped about it!” he means it – in a big way.
Likewise, Laura wasn’t looking for Achilles when she first got involved. She says it “kind of found” her, when she was running the Cheshire Half Marathon a couple of years ago.
“I saw the fan support for people in Achilles shirts, how that helped build awareness of what it was and how people could get involved,” recalls the Clinton resident. “Harry [McKinstry] was there, and had just done the 5k, and I was amazed.” (A longtime Achilles athlete, Harry has minimal mobility due to a traumatic brain injury sustained in a construction accident. But with the help of his “Team Harry” guides, he regularly competes in races throughout the year.)
After the race, Laura started talking to volunteers at the Achilles table, and later signed up to volunteer. In 2017, she’s guided Mike in the Bradley Road Race 10k, the Hartford Marathon, the Sunshine Kids Race, and the Spartan Beast Race.
The Spartan Beast is a grueling 12-plus miles obstacle course that takes runners straight up a Killington, VT, black-diamond ski slope.
On that co-endeavor, Achilles Connecticut President Erin Spaulding notes, “Laura was our first guide to run UP a mountain with one of our athletes!”
On a recent Friday morning in early December – the first real frost-on-the-windshields day of the season – you might have been surprised to see a duo starting off their day in a way that would make many others, well, shudder. Mike and Laura are at the Naugatuck High School track, defying the cold during intervals that include squats and crunches, and culminating in Mike carrying Laura around the track, piggyback-style.
Why the piggyback? Laura was a sponsor of Mike’s “Team Believe 923,” in support of funding equipment for athletes who are paralyzed or are amputees. Upping the ante on Relay For Life-type fundraisers, Mike had promised he’d carry his donors around the track.
As another way of “giving back,” Mike also gives all his race medals to a disabled child, who he simply refers to as his “buddy” Rylan.
On their cool down, when asked why they do what they do, Mike pauses, and responds, “Achilles is about just showing what anyone can do. Whatever the condition, there’s always a way to get things done, and there are awesome people out there.”
His final thought: “I couldn’t do what I do without Laura and the other guides.”