Can Do 5K celebrates what special needs kids can accomplish

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

Whether you cross the finish line with a walker, in a stroller, supported by a friend or on your own two feet, the crowd will still cheer you on at the Can Do 5K.

The sixth annual race, hosted by Northwest Special Families (NSF) and the Northshore YMCA, celebrates what people with special needs are capable of achieving.

“My favorite part of the day is seeing my son’s best buddy Thomas, who’s in a walker, walk over the finish line,” said Amy Young, a parent volunteer for NSF. “It makes me cry every time...and just to see the kids react to applause for them, because that’s not something they usually hear.”

Can DoAt the Can Do race, now in its sixth year, competitive runners and people with disabilities run side-by-side. Proceeds benefit Northwest Special Families and the Northshore YMCA. (Photo courtesy of Jim Eagan)The Can Do race is meant to raise both money and awareness for NSF. The organization started with a family potluck in a school gym 10 years ago. Families with children with special needs gathered, and paraeducators from the school took care of the kids to give parents a break.

“Being a parent of a child with a disability can be very isolating, for a slew of reasons,” Young explained. She added, “We all have a common passion of creating awareness of what our kids can do.”

Now, NSF, a program of the Center for Human Services, serves more than 100 local families with activities throughout the year. Summer Pals, a program at the YMCA, pays for an aide to attend camp with special needs children so they can go to camp with their peers. In the winter, NSF’s Special Santa program gives kids with disabilities a chance to meet Santas who are comfortable dealing with medical equipment or nonverbal children.

Throughout the year, NSF also hosts parent lectures and workshops, sibling workshops, a spa night for moms, groups for dads, and family events such as river tubing and gymnastics.
“Often we are limited by what we can do as a family, so any event where we can go out and celebrate as a family is great,” Young said.

The Can Do 5K is one of those events, and it also funds NSF’s other events throughout the year.

Young said her 14-year-old son, Sam, who has cerebral palsy and autism, loves the race because he loves being a part of the community.

“Sam loves high fives,” she said. “Any place where he gets to get attention, he loves. He gets so excited when he sees familiar faces,” like teachers and therapists.

Michelle Shaw, event coordinator for NSF, likes seeing the progress kids have made throughout the year and the camaraderie among the community.

“It’s a good experience to come together with the other families that are facing the same difficulties you are,” Shaw said. She added, “It’s heartwarming to see that the community really does care, that you’re not alone in this.”

NSF is still seeking donations and volunteers to help on the day of the race or before.
The race, which will take place on April 26 at the Seattle Times North Creek Facility in Bothell, includes three events: the 5K run/walk, a 1-mile walk and, new this year, a 1-mile competitive run. For more information, and to register, see

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