The extremely active and energetic Jim Kinnard is a high school cross country and track athlete with special needs whose spirit can’t be beat. He loves sports and supports his school’s teams, cheering them on, and they in turn support him.

Jim, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lake City High School, was born with cerebral palsy. As an infant, he sustained multiple seizures. Doctors told his parents that he might never walk or talk, but they persevered with him. The two are avid runners and hikers and enrolled him in a running program in kindergarten, and he has not stopped running since.

“I like it because it makes me run faster and healthier,” he said one morning in July before cross country practice.

Although he loves running, Jim needs a partner to help him stay safe. His mom, Jann, said that he would get lost or cross the street unsafely. At first Jann or a school paraprofessional helped him keep the pace when he was in elementary and middle school, but as Jim got stronger, he needed someone faster. Now, his teammates support him as well as two good friends: Caitlin Conway and Emma Bohl.

Jim met Caitlin, 16, a senior at Coeur d’Alene High School, two years ago when she volunteered at SNR (Special Needs Recreation) and became his summer training partner and friend this summer. She goes to practice with him and when she can’t, they go running on their own.

“I really try to help him embrace that he’s a good runner and capable, and I just push him to keep pushing himself,” Caitlin said. She keeps him safe and aware of his surroundings, and she’s there when he crashes and needs to take a break. When that happened recently, she bandaged him up and treated him to a smoothie.

Jim agreed, saying, “Caitlin always says to pace myself. It helps me do better,” he said.

Jim’s other friend, Emma, is his best friend. She’s known him since the 8th grade and has been able to help “translate” for him if he has trouble expressing himself to a teacher. 

“After being a student at Woodland for little less than a month, he asked me to arm wrestle, and that’s what we did every day for the rest of the week. After that, we were together all the time,” Emma recalled. “I help him at school when people are being mean to him or (when he) just wants to get out of class and talk because he’s having a bad day.”

The support his teammates give him goes beyond the sport and into school. They look out for him and might help him in social situations where he’s not sure how to act or respond. Often this happens in physical education classes where it’s less structured. Jim is very competitive and is often the one who the boys set out to beat. Having a teammate there helps keep the playing fair.

“It’s neat to see typical kids grow with special needs kids and carry that to school so that they aren’t outsiders,” Jann said. “They all work a little harder having a special needs player.”

Jim also participates in track and is the softball team’s biggest fan and attends all their games. He’s quite the lady’s man. Last year, the softball team gave him a signed softball as a token of their thanks. He jokes about following them to California. His mom and coach, Heather Harmon, laugh, but Jim’s persistent in a jovial way that he’s going. Heather and her husband, Kelly Reed, both have taught Jim. They are also part of his emergency plan if he needs someone to talk to at school.

This was the support system his parents were looking for when they decided to move from Colorado to Coeur d’Alene. Both of Jim’s parents grew up in Whitefish, Montana and had visited Coeur d’Alene. They both thought they would retire here, but when the opportunity arose three years ago to move, Jann chose Coeur d’Alene because of the opportunities available in the special needs community. She cited the Special Olympics chapter, the United Way, SNR, the Real Life Ministries Special Needs basketball program and Spotlight Cheer. She also mentioned businesses such as Northwest Recumbents that do custom work for individuals with disabilities.

“We chose Coeur d’Alene because of the lifestyle and what it offers for the special needs community,” she said. “Many times, parents don’t want to expose their kids, but here, the community has been very accepting.”

They first enrolled Jim in SNR and Special Olympics, but his friendliness drew him outside of those circles. Being involved with his peers not only strengthens him but them as well.

“It’s so neat to have all this support because most Special Olympics kids don’t go out for regular sports, but it’s been the whole social aspect (that’s helped him),” Jann said. His teammates help him tie his shoes or find a lost water bottle. These little things help him live life the way he wants, with his peers. And although he’s often one of the last runners to finish a meet, he’s out there competing with them. 

“Being in the nursing profession, I see so many people who can’t do. This is sort of my attitude. We run because we can. It’s a good hurt,” she said.

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