Breaking down physical barriers

By TERESA HAMMOND

The novelty of being a two-time marathoner at age 11 is one lost on Jiya Jimenez. Add on to that living with spina bifida since birth, the first four years of her life spent in an orphanage crib in India and now living life in a wheelchair … still no big deal.

Eleven-year-old Jiya is the living definition of inspiration.

As I look to new opportunity for challenge and continue to work on physical and mental growth, it’s hard not to be inspired by those who surround me.

Young Jiya is the adopted daughter of Jesse and Jenni Jimenez of Stockton. She is the youngest of four and their only daughter. Among the many things she enjoys, Jiya loves to race. So much so she completed the LA Marathon in 2013 and 2014 as a member of Team Spina Bifida, raising money and awareness for a cause close to her heart.

“I felt like kinda nervous,” she said of her first full marathon (a 26.2 mile distance), “but now I get excited.”

“They were the first children on Team Spina Bifida,” mom Jenni shared of Jiya and her older brother Enrique, their biological son who also has the developmental disorder. “They were also the first on the team with spina bifida and in a wheelchair. It worked out well because they had parents who could run with them.”

Jiya began ‘running’ at age 7. Both of her parents are avid runners.

“That was very long,” Jiya said of her first LA Marathon, which she completed with her family in just a little over six and a half hours.

As mom Jenni made sure her daughter stayed properly fueled, hydrated and comfortable, Jiya was busy taking in the beauty of her ability.

The 11-year-old is what the purist would call a ‘true’ runner. She does not use music, e-books or any electronics when she races. In her words she “just keeps wheelin.”

“People would get on their knees to high five her,” Jenni shared. “It was the energy exchange that kept her going.”

This was not the life many might have envisioned when the India native was born and turned over to the Ashraya Orphanage in Bangalore, India. A child with challenges too big for many to face, but not the Jimenez family.

As a result of her condition, trips to the hospital and extensive stays are not foreign to Jiya. Much of her care is dependent on her family.

“She’s been on her deathbed I don’t know how many times,” her mom said. “Just her zeal for life keeps us going. She really lives life. She knows in that little heart of hers that she is blessed.”

For Jiya, the dreams are simple. Like most children she wants to run and run fast. Physically for her that will always be from a chair, but that does not restrict the dream.

“It feels good to push all by myself,” she said. “Sometimes I go out ahead of my mom. That feels pretty good. I feel pretty happy by myself.”

“It won’t be much longer before she’s going to outpace me,” Jenni confessed.

“I’m having a good time,” Jiya continued. “Being there with my friends, we’re all just having fun.

“I can do anything. I can run races with my parents and my brothers. You can’t just give up. You have to try harder so you know you can do it.”

Jiya’s next big goal is to run the Avenue of the Vines Half Marathon in Lodi this May.

“She doesn’t want me pushing,” mom said of the assistance she sometimes offers.

“Nope,” Jiya confirmed. “I’ll just be wheeling along.”

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