Fifteen-year-old boys are not known for getting up early, but lately Drew Nachreiner has been up before stepmom Ali Miller’s alarm.
“He gets up at 5 a.m.,” she said. “He wakes me up through the intercom.”
The two are working together to help Miller train for her first half marathon, and they usually take to the Baraboo Riverwalk first thing in the morning. Miller laces up her running shoes, and Drew gets ready to go in his new power wheelchair.
The routine is new for the pair.
“We wanted to see how fast (the new wheelchair) would go, so he started going, and I started running, and I was like, ‘Hey, we could do this all the time,’” Miller said.
Drew, who has cerebral palsy, said he enjoys the quality time he spends with his stepmom while the two are training.
“He’s very good at motivating,” said Miller, a trainer with Impact Fitness. “He’s very good at staying positive.”
She said the two of them have talked about Drew serving as a pacesetter and motivator for other distance runners.
“His dad’s going to put a speedometer on his chair,” Miller said.
Drew said his attitude and ability to have fun make him a good motivator. The teenager’s mobility has decreased as he’s gotten older because of scoliosis and the strain of his growing body.
He endured a painful hamstring-lengthening surgery in 2008 that was supposed to help him straighten his legs, but it did not have the desired effect. Drew spent a lot of time in a cast from his chest to his knees.
“There’s like so much pain, and there’s really no happiness,” he said of the physical and emotional effects of the surgery. “All you do is be grumpy. You don’t have an appetite. Your mobility is really limited. You can’t do the stuff you enjoy doing every day.”
Drew and his mom and dad, Stephanie Shanks and Jim Nachreiner, decided that he won’t have any more surgeries.
“It kind of turns your whole life upside-down,” Drew said.
He said that despite the challenges and pain life can deliver, people shouldn’t give up because something is difficult.
“You’ve got to be using that potential when you have it,” said the movie buff and big brother.
Family and unity are important to Drew, who enjoys spending time with siblings Graysen, 6 months, Gavin, 5 and Justyn Nachreiner, 15; as well as the children of his soon-to-be stepdad Ike Lanman, who are Dylan, 6, Kirsten, 9, Bailey, 12, and Conner, 14.
Drew, who mentors a 13-year-old friend who uses a wheelchair, said he’d like to be able to walk someday and have his own family and kids.
“You’ve just always got to stay happy because if you’re never happy, you’re never going to get anywhere in life,” he said. “You’re always going to be just sitting in that trench, and if you’re happy, you’ll be able to dig yourself out in like five minutes.”
Miller hopes that Drew will be able to participate in the half marathon with her this fall – either using his electric wheelchair or in an adult stroller she can push as she runs.
“If I have to push him, then we’ll have to switch up the training a little bit,” she said.
Miller recently read about a local heroes contest on the National Mobility Awareness Month Facebook page, and her thoughts turned to Drew.
The observance and contest, sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association and various corporations, will award three winners with customized wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
Hundreds of people submitted their own stories or the stories of loved ones for a chance to be considered for the prizes. Adults and children whose lives could be improved with access to a new wheelchair van shared their stories, their hopes and their dreams on the site.
Drew is among them. Currently, his parents don’t have access to a wheelchair van. He used to travel in a converted van owned by his mom, but that vehicle had many problems.
When he stays with his dad, the family uses ramps to help put the young man’s wheelchair in the back of Nachreiner’s truck. Drew sits in the back seat. The truck holds six people, and there are six people in the family, so they usually end up taking two vehicles when they go out.
“We don’t travel a lot because it’s just hard,” Miller said.
Drew’s mom has an SUV with a lift on the back to transport his wheelchair. But with seven children in her blended family, travel presents a similar struggle.
A new wheelchair van could cost about $80,000, Miller said. Even a used one would be quite expensive, she added.
Miller said making sure Drew has what he needs to be comfortable and happy can be a struggle sometimes.
“I never understood how hard it was to have a special needs child,” she said. “ … It’s crazy how hard you have to fight for anything for him.”
For the Local Heroes contest, people can vote once each day until May 10 at the National Mobility Awareness Month website, at http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/ on the web.
Winners will be selected by contest organizers from among the top vote-getters.
As of Wednesday evening, Drew had close to 1,450 votes. His stepmom said she got his name into the contest late in the game, but they hope to enter again next year.
Some of Drew’s friends, classmates and the community have been trying to encourage people to vote.
“I’m voting every day,” said Vicki Wiegand, Drew’s teacher.
Wiegand said the young man is a great conversationalist with a caring nature.
“He just makes me feel good about being here,” she said about Drew, who has also become a friend.
Drew said he sees his own potential to make a difference in others’ lives. Whether that makes him a hero, he wasn’t sure.
“I wish I could be a hero, but what can I do? There are lots of things that are out of my reach, and I’d like to get hold of them,” he said.
“They’re only out of your reach if you let them be,” said Miller.
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