KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – For Paul Codispoti, running was second nature ever since his first Half Marathon Training in 2018. But when his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was read out to him in 2020, he knew his running days were numbered.
Paul was 53 at the time, and had run a race only three days before his doctor informed him that it may well be his last in March of 2020. Now, two years later, he’s still on the road in a surprisingly familiar way.
One of Codispoti’s first experiences with ALS was when he passed Josh Wandell, another man who had been diagnosed with the disease. Wandell was completing the route in a specially-designed cart, and had done so several times before. After Paul’s diagnosis, he learned that he would need his own.
“It was amazing to be part of the running community, and then when I got the diagnosis, you know I lost the ability to run,” Paul said. “But I had seen others in carts, so I reached out to my friends. And we had such a good time that they decided they’d get me a cart.”
His first race, the 2021 Kingsport Crazy 8, was run in a chair loaned to him by Ainsley’s Angels, an organization dedicated to advocating for those with special needs and mobility challenges. The vehicle was pushed by other runners as they went, and his running team dedicated themselves to having Codispoti alongside them for every mile.
“It reminds me of the Bible story of the men who lowered their friend through the roof to see Jesus. And every time I ride in this cart, it’s my friends and I feel him,” Codispoti said. “And it’s just, it’s unbelievable that they would lift me up in that fashion and sacrifice their own race, their own time so I can ride in the race. It’s unbelievable, it’s truly a love beyond explanation.”
The next time, he was riding in Wandell’s chair for the Haunted Half Marathon in Jonesborough.
“That just means the world to me, every time I ride in the cart it’s a joy beyond joy,” Paul said. “It’s better than any race I’ve ever run because I’m being pushed by my friends, and my brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s just, it’s unbelievable.”
What he didn’t have, however, was a chair of his own. For that, he’d have to wait.
During his on-foot running, Paul got involved with the Travis Hager Running Club and local runners throughout the Tri-Cities. After his experience with cart races, his friends Travis, Rick Eldreth and others set up a fundraiser that netted over $6,000 in under four days.
With that money, a custom chair was ordered and built to make sure Paul has a seamless experience on the road once again. The gift was unveiled on Sunday, in the parking lot of First Broad Street United Methodist Church. Done up in Ohio State red and sporting his face on the wheels, Paul’s new ride was just right for him.
Once he was in and warmed up, Paul took off for the FBC AmazinGrace 5k that very same day. He doesn’t plan on keeping the cart’s mileage low, either.
“They’ve got a whole schedule for me,” Paul said. “5ks, half-marathons, we’re going to be in this thing all summer long throughout the Tri-Cities. Hopefully also spreading the message of ALS awareness, maybe bringing some awareness to this disease, maybe generate some support. Because I’m not the only person in the Tri-Cities facing this disease.”
One big part of Paul and his family’s journey has been the Tennessee ALS Association, and he was quick to point out that much of Sunday wouldn’t be possible without their help.
“They’ve been beside us from day one,” Paul said. “The money to them not only goes to research, but it goes to supporting families like ours.”
On October 22nd, Paul said he’ll be hosting his own ALS awareness walk for the public to bring support to those who may not have received as much as he has from his friends and donors. For those that lend a helping hand, he’s more than grateful.
“I know they can’t ride with me, but I carry them with me everywhere I go,” Paul said. “And this day has just been incredible.”