You may know adventurers Summer Jo Nowicki and her 16-year-old daughter Ellie from around the Snoqualmie Valley community or their popular Instagram page @FindingMountains.
Summer and her family have lived in North Bend for 15 years. She has two daughters, one who is 19 and off at college and Ellie, her youngest child a junior at MSHS, who has Cerebral Palsy.
Finding Mountains started when Summer took Ellie on a few hikes and found that her daughter loved them. Ellie began asking every morning to go hiking which started her mom on a path to find trails that were accessible for the pair to explore and document all their adventures.
In addition to the hiking, Ellie and her mom run together. Says Summer, “I hated running, but one day I was talked into taking her for a short run. She was so crazy happy. I think she was about two and a half. After seeing her so happy, I became a runner. We have now been running together for over 13 years. We have run six marathons and numerous other races. She loves to be out in nature moving.”
One day Ellie’s classroom teacher, Erik Tierney, reached out to Summer after hearing from the cross-country coach that all students were welcome to participate in the sport at school. Tierney knew Ellie loved to run, so he worked with Coach Steven Crane and Summer to get her all set to join by obtaining special permission from the other teams to participate in the meet.
Teacher Tierney said the whole thing started when MSHS Coach Steven Crane was putting a little plug in for Cross Country at a back-to-school staff meeting, saying he encourages all to join the team and that everyone is welcome.
Said Tierney, “I took that in the most literal way, went up to Coach Crane and asked him if a student were in a wheelchair and had a person pushing her would that be possible?”
From there, the pair reached out to Summer to talk about the idea. Crane loved the idea saying, “The cross-country team doesn’t make cuts, and everyone is welcome. We have some of the state’s best runners on our team and some students whose goal is to finish a 5k by the end of the season.” Summer was open to the idea if Ellie was included in the community aspect of the team and not just pushed in an isolated environment.
From there, the threesome met with the Athletic Director and got the direction of what needed to be done to make it happen. Next, Crane reached out to MSHS teacher Dave Preston to see if he would run with Ellie.
Preston, who has a son who ran cross country for four years at Mt. Si, knew what a benefit being a part of the team was; his son now runs cross country in college. So, he says, “I was happy to help Ellie participate in an extra-curricular activity that I really believe in.”
Then with the help of Kim Mackey at the District Office, they were able to get the final pieces together and start running.
Ellie attended practice every day and joined in with warm-ups, stretching, and running. Teacher Dave Preston noted that everyone was a little surprised to see a big jogging stroller show up at practice and the meet. Still, everyone was immediately accepting of Ellie’s participation.
Some teammates had known Ellie for years and would come and talk with her before and after practice. “I think some were surprised at Ellie’s cheery personality and chattiness,” noted Preston. Coach Crane agrees, “I think the students loved having Ellie out there. Her genuine passion for the sport is evident by her smile and excitement.”
Already a lover of running, Preston said running with Ellie made his days, listening to her chat and laugh. The pair ran 12 total days, and each run was 3-7 miles. So, it wasn’t always necessarily easy, but any difficulty of running up even a tiny incline was far outweighed by the fun he could see Ellie was having and says he would do it again.
At MSHS’s last home meet, Ellie’s first, the ASB and Mrs. Mizuno’s class helped prepare Ellie for the noise of a meet by lining up and cheering as she and Preston ran through the hall. Ellie was nervous at first but, by the end, was wanting more.
This last meet was the state championships, which went very well. Crane guided the girls’ varsity team to a 6th place team finish as head coach in his first year, placing two individual runners in the top 10 overall in the state championships.
Inclusion in activities and sports is very important to the coach and Mt Si High School. Crane says he would encourage anyone to pursue their passions. As a school counselor, he tends to be solution-focused and look for ways to make things happen. In the past, he’s observed students compete blind, with prosthetics, and in wheelchairs. He continues to be inspired by them and thinks how awesome that is.
Coach Crane said, “Through this experience, I have gained awareness around inclusion, cerebral palsy, and ADA standards for accessible design. It’s been a rewarding experience for me.”
Mom Summer remarked, “I am just grateful for this opportunity. I never imagined my daughter would participate in any sports or any school activities for that matter. I appreciate Coach Steve for being willing to take on this project and making it all happen. It’s been such a special thing for me to see and so special for my daughter to get to participate.”