COLUMBUS — Carson Biltoft’s grin became a full smile as he made his way toward the finish line.
Gripping the handle bars of a gold-colored walker, the 3-year-old completed the final few yards with his family by his side. The group wore blue T-shirts with the words “Carson’s Crew” written across the front to show their support for the young boy from Brainard.
His mother Tara Biltoft helped him maneuver the final few steps, her eyes filled with tears as she watched her son at the We Can Run, Walk and Roll event Saturday in Pawnee Park. They were happy tears, she assured.
“We didn’t know if he was ever going to be able to walk, even if it was with assistance. I’m just happy he is able to do that,” Tara said.
Carson was born with spina bifida, a condition he was diagnosed with while still in the womb. Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spinal cord does not properly develop. Tara and her husband Shawn decided to have fetal surgery performed in Philadelphia to fix Carson’s back.
Tara said the surgery helped Carson avoid having a shunt to help drain fluid in the brain that many children with the condition need. He still gets physical therapy.
Carson gets around using a wheelchair and other devices. He was in his wheelchair most of the event, which featured a 5K and 1-mile race. As the finish line inside Pawnee Park’s Memorial Stadium came into view, though, he was able to take those last few steps on his own.
“He doesn’t like to get in his wheelchair, so when he was able to walk it made him happy,” Tara said.
The annual We Can Run, Walk and Roll sponsored by Columbus Community Hospital is geared toward those of all abilities. The event, in its sixth year, featured about 320 participants.
“We enjoy having an event where people of all abilities can participate right alongside each other, from competitive runners to first-time walkers to people who need assistance with wheelchairs,” said Doug Janssen, director of rehabilitative services at CCH.
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The event draws people of all ages and participants often compete with their families. It can be an emotional and motivational event for everyone involved.
“Many times, standing at the finish line, you see someone else with a disability and it is inspiring to us. Hopefully it is inspiring to everybody,” Janssen said.
Ben Dush, a 26-year-old from Columbus, took part in the event for the second time. He also has spina bifida, and made his way around the course in a wheelchair.
“It’s a good thing. I like to race and be active when I can,” Dush said.
The local man said he enjoys being part of a race that is for everyone and encourages others, whether they have a disability or not, to join in.
Kristen Gausman of Columbus has brought her son Reece to the event each year. The 9-year-old is wheelchair-bound and has spina bifida and other developmental delays.
Gausman appreciates the opportunity for her son, who loves to be outdoors.
“This is something that is very specific for him. He has two older siblings and we really work around their schedules, but this is very much for him,” she said.
Participating in We Can Run, Walk and Roll is emotional for Gausman, who sees the benefits for everyone involved.
“My friends, they walk with us almost every year, and it’s great for their kids to see that they are including everybody and everyone is all together,” she said.