Rick Van Beek’s Inspiration
Rick Van Beek of Byron Center smoked two packs of cigarettes and chewed a tin of tobacco a day, and the only exercise he got was playing in a Monday night softball league.
“And then we would go drink a couple of beers after our game,” said Van Beek, 38.
But two years ago, Van Beek quit smoking, lost weight, whipped himself into shape and started running. Van Beek plans to run in his second Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K on Saturday morning.
It turned out that all Van Beek needed was a little inspiration to get off the couch.
“If you want to be a runner, you have to have something to run for, whether it is your health, it doesnâ€™t matter,” Van Beek said. “For me, it is for Maddy.”
Maddy Van Beek is 12 years old, but she has cerebral palsy and functions as a three-month old. Maddie canâ€™t walk or talk and she is fed through a tube. Van Beek and his wife, Mary, are unsure if she can see.
What Van Beek does know, though, is that running with his daughter puts a smile on their faces. Thatâ€™s why he has constructed a homemade cart and pushes his daughter from start to finish in events across West Michigan, including Saturdayâ€™s race.
Van Beek watched Maddy complete the Grand Rapids Marathon in 2009 with The Ride of Their Lives program, a local club that pushes disabled children and adults in events like the River Bank Run. Thatâ€™s when Van Beek decided he wanted to be the one pushing Maddy.
The Van Beeks also have a daughter, Rachel, 14, and a son, Hunter, 8, and they participate in a number of sports. But with running, Van Beek finally had an activity that he and his daughter can enjoy together.
But he had to make some big lifestyle changes before he could chase his dream.
“I wouldnâ€™t say that it has been easy,” he said. “We do spend tons of time with Rachel and Hunter, and this is the one thing Maddy and I can do together besides just sitting there. Before this, our time together was sitting on a chair with her on my lap.
“I donâ€™t think I can describe the emotions that I have. She was 9 or 10 when we first started this. We were finally, after nine or 10 years, able to find that one thing you can enjoy with your kid.”
Maddy underwent back fusion surgery this winter in which rods were implemented from her neck to her hips, and that should result in a more comfortable run for her this weekend.
The Van Beeks also know Maddy can hear. The cart is even equipped with speakers so Van Beek can play all of his childâ€™s favorite songs throughout the run.
“She loves music, so he runs with either Rascal Flatts or Carrie Underwood,” Mary Van Beek said. “When she was a baby, Rascal Flatts was her favorite. We would play it all night when she cried during the night, and it calmed her down.”
Van Beek is a member of the Fifth Third Road Warriors, and he credited his teammates with helping him train. Van Beek, who also competes in triathlons with Maddy, said that his goal is to complete Saturdayâ€™s race in 2 hours, 15 minutes.
He has set his goal high. Van Beek said the biggest obstacle is maneuvering the cart through traffic.
Not that Van Beek is worried about what his stop watch says, though. Maddyâ€™s face will be the true barometer of how well the race went.
“The more enjoyment she gets out of it, the more he does,” Mary Van Beek said. “The joy of hearing her laugh, the joy of seeing her smile. All the joy that she gets.
When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too…..Paulo Cohelo
story by by Steve Kaminski.