By Trena Packer Street

Since the YMCA opened a facility 12 years ago in Collierville, Tennessee, a thriving town some 20 miles east of downtown Memphis, thousands of healthy-living enthusiasts have used the wellness center, pool, courts and workout classes to fine-tune their fitness goals.

Gene Carter is one of those enthusiasts. Gene is a Technology Services Consultant at FedEx World Tech Center located not far from the Collierville Schilling Farms Y. “I chose to be a part of the Y because it gives me more than just a fitness opportunity,“ he said. “Not only do I get a great workout, the Y atmosphere is wonderful…no chaos, just a happy place with smiling faces.” Carter, a 5K, 10K, half & full marathon runner, regularly uses The Y for racquetball, weight training and treadmill exercise. “I have my family, daughters, Danielle, Sarah and Hannah and then I have my Y family,“ he stated. “The Y is a comfortable place for me. “The Y is just right for my personal Faith, family and fitness values.”

Gene loves to run but he doesn’t run just for himself. “I run with Paul,” Gene said, 24-year old Paul Appleby. Gene and Paul’s parents became friends as members of Raleigh Assembly of God Church. Paul has cerebral palsy (CP), as a result of oxygen deprivation at the time of birth. Paul may be wheel-chair bound, but thanks to Gene, he’s a runner and a very good one at that! Not long after Gene met Paul and his parents, the Church pastor showed a video to the congregation of a young man with CP whose father used a wheel chair to run with him. The message was being a strong ‘believer.’ Gene recalls, “I told Paul. You know, we could do that!” And they have been running together ever since.

“I strive to use my fitness regimen and running passion to serve others, not just me, so when Paul was 16, we found a three wheel running chair, and off Paul and I would go.” The first chair was provided by The United Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the next by their Church and the chair they now use was paid for by many outstanding friends at FedEx. To date, they have mutually completed more than 70 racing events including nine marathons, proudly crossing the finish line with Gene pushing the chair but with Paul pushing Gene verbally like ‘We’re going too slow, Mr. Gene…we need to go faster! Often, while racing and as they cross the finish line, Gene hears Paul say over and over, ‘I love you Mr. Gene.‘ “It’s not just about winning for us. We race against ourselves, always trying to better our time from race to race.” Even with Gene pushing an added 120 lbs with Paul and the chair…they still finish with great times. Upcoming events include the 26.2 mile St. Jude Marathon and others around the Mid-South area.

“Being a part of Paul’s ‘life marathon’ and my involvement with the YMCA have worked together to teach me patience, endurance and how to take life’s challenges one day at a time.” Often, while running with Paul, Gene pops in one ear-piece to listen to music and keep the other ear listening to Paul give him instruction. When asked what music he chooses for the runs, he responds with a soft smile as his eyes begin to tear. “I sometimes listen to a song by Journey,” he says. “Their song, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’…that’s the motto I want to live by. Paul taught me how to be a better believer, to believe in myself and never stop.”

Founded in 1855, the YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South is a fully inclusive non-profit organization that serves approximately 160,000 Mid-Southerners each year through 9 full-service branches. The YMCA serves 3,000 children each year through before and after school care, youth sports and summer day camp. The YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South is a member agency of the United Way of the Mid-South.


1. Select a physical activity that you enjoy. 2. Outline personal improvement goals to excel in your activity. 3. Identify one or more people that can join you regularly in this activity. 4. Together, look for opportunities not just to do the activity, but also grow spiritually. 5. Document your experience. You don’t have to win a race or get media exposure. You DO have to find and accomplish God’s purpose.

Trena Packer Street is a free-lance journalist and member of the Board of Directors of the YMCA at Schilling Farms and YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South.

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