This Former Collegiate Athlete Now Helps Disabled Folks Compete in Endurance Races
Meet Amanda Piccirilli-Hall, the southeast Pennsylvania ambassador for Ainsley's Angels of America — and one of our Health Hero Challenge semifinalists.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with our semifinalists in the 2019 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge to give you a glimpse of the people who are helping Philadelphians live healthier lives. Vote once a day, every day, to help decide which of these 10 semifinalists become one of three finalists — and get a sizable donation to a charity of their choice — here.
Name: Amanda Piccirilli-Hall
Role: Southeast Pennsylvania ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels of America, a nonprofit that pairs able-bodied runners with those who wouldn’t be able to complete an endurance race without assistance.
What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?
It’s mile 16 of a marathon, and the day is getting tough. My legs are tired, my lungs are burning, my mind is starting to hear those negative thoughts. But as I look down at the road, always right in front of me sitting in a racing chariot is an Ainsley’s Angels rider athlete — an individual who is relying on me to physically push them to the finish line because their personal medical issues hinder their ability. Due to their special circumstances, many are non-verbal and their physical movement is limited, but their squeals, screams, and smiles as the wind rolls across their face with each mile is what motivates me and tells the true story.
Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.
Rewind to January 2011 – I was at the lowest possible place in my life. It was two years post-college, during which I’d been a Division I athlete, and I decided to move back to my hometown to regroup and think about my purpose in life. ‘I’m an athlete,” I said to myself. “Well, not anymore — you’re an old washed-up athlete now. Think harder.’ What could I do with a sport I love to give back to someone in the community? It was at that time that I found a Facebook group called I Run 4, which pairs runners with individuals who have special needs, through Facebook. After waiting six long months, I was paired with my buddy – his name was Liam and lived in Ireland.
On August 1st, 2014, Liam helped me find my purpose in life. I am supposed to be supporting others, to use my legs for them, but more importantly, to share my heart with them. Fast forward to October 2015. I typed up a long email to a guy named Kim “Rooster” Rossiter who is part of Ainsley’s Angels of America, an organization that pairs able-bodied runners with those who would not be able to complete an endurance race without assistance. I’d followed them for well over a year on the IR4 page, and I needed some help I knew he could assist me with. It was my dream to travel to Ireland and race with Liam, me lending my legs, him experiencing his first race ever. Three hours later, an incoming call from Virginia Beach popped up on my iPhone, and my life forever changed. Before I knew it, a racing chariot was being shipped to my house for my trip to Ireland, and I was named the southeast Pennsylvania ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels of America.
What “policy” would you institute to make greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
No matter the race distance, size or location, all individuals deserve to be included, and that includes individuals with special needs. As an Ainsley’s Angels ambassador, I work tirelessly with race directors across the country to educate them about our organization and the positive impact it is making on people’s lives. However, not all race directors are welcoming to our group because they fear our wheels on the course can be dangerous to the flow of the race. Safety is Ainsley’s Angels’ upmost concern, and all of our runners are trained properly to participate in all endurance races (from Ironman to 5K). My policy would be to mandate that all race directors give Ainsley’s Angels one chance to participate in their event so they can witness the pure joy our angel rider athletes give to the running community. Their smiles and sweet souls bring such an excitement on race day. It is infectious. Our organization makes runners of all kinds appreciate that they are capable of running on their own two feet, something our riders would cherish to do just once on their own.
What’s the most important part of your personal health or wellness regimen?
Whether I’m training for an Ironman, a marathon, or a 5K, there are three aspects I always focus on. 1. Mental strength — Your mind plays a bigger role than your physical skills 99 percent of the time. When your body wants to quit, dig deep for that mental toughness you’ve been building 2. Keeping a schedule – By following a schedule, it keeps me motivated to stay on track and keep my eyes on a set goal. 3. Community – Find your tribe and love them hard. Fitness and training are really tough, especially alone. Find a group that motivates, loves, and encourages you day in and day out. They make getting up at 4 a.m. worth it.
What is your number one piece of health-related advice/encouragement?
Inclusion is everything! Days when you don’t feel like lacing up your sneakers or jumping in the pool, never forget that someone else who is physically unable to do the fitness activities we take for granted is wishing they were in your shoes. Also, fitness media is toxic. The majority of us don’t “look” like athletes in the magazines. No matter your weight, size, disability – you name it – everyone deserves to be included. I’m not the skinniest. I’m not the fastest. But I do know one thing – my heart is big. Each and every day I’m encouraging my family and friends to be the best version of themselves, to realize that just because you look a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish big, scary goals, and most importantly, realize how truly incredible you are.