Runner's Journey Helps Brings NVLD Project To Front Of Pack
BY DAVE SHEA
Eileen Herzog is among the thousands of people who have battled a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) throughout their lives.
People with Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD) struggle with a range of conditions that include social and spatial disabilities. Often they are marginalized and isolated; consequently, they can experience social barriers throughout their lives.
As a child Ms. Herzog was afflicted with epilepsy, a learning disability and severally limited motor skills. But she considers herself one of the lucky ones because of the love and support she received from her parents Bill and Mary Herzog, who were both educators who dealt with special needs students, and the extraordinary support and friendships she found in the support of cross country and track-field distance running.
That support and friendship started with Ogdensburg Free Academy Cross Country Coach Jim Adams, who was the father of a special needs son, her teammates and in a special bond she found with Coach John Casserly and runners from nearby Canton Central School.
Ms. Herzog used cross country and distance running in track-field, under the direction of Coach Penny Sharrow, as a medium to express her determination to overcome NVLD become a member of the one percent of high school students with NVLD who stay with sports. She became a three-sport runner throughout high school and went on to receive a four-year degree in Early Childhood Education at Curry College. She resides with her parents in Greenwich, Conn. and each summer she and her parents return to Ogdensburg to share their love of the St. Lawrence River and with family and life-long friends.
She has also become a very active ambassador and fund-raiser for the NVLD Project which
is dedicated to raising awareness, building support, and creating helpful solutions for children, adolescents, and adults with Non-Verbal Learning Disability. This goal is accomplished through a variety of programs, including educational workshops, research, and community outreach. Long term, The NVLD Project seeks to define and establish NVLD as a valid disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Ultimately the NVLD envisions a world where those with social and spatial disabilities, particularly NVLD, can proudly address their differences and learn to live fuller and more satisfying lives.
NLVD now holding its annual fund-raising efforts through the months of November and December. (See information on how to donate below).
TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Ms. Herzog uses her experiences in cross country as the focus of her message to others dealing with NVLD.
Drawing from the imagery of the famous Robert Frost poem she urges victims of NVLD to "Take the Road Less Travelled", step out of their comfort zone and like the poet said "be the better for it".
"I hope today’s youth consider joining an activity that is challenging for them as it will make you realize how strong you truly are. Cross country not only increased my physical endurance, it is also increased my social skills as my coach and the runners respected me and both of these skills are a weakness for NVLD students. When I think back to everything I went through, I realize I have accomplished what I have largely thanks to running. The reason being is the race is not over until you cross the finish line and not finishing is not an option," says Ms. Herzog.
"Her first step on the road less travelled was mustering up the courage to join the OFA Cross Country program in a season where she would be the only member of the girls team. It took a great deal of fortitude to run the good race figuratively and litterally.
Because of her compromised fine motor skills she struggled just to put on her race bid and because of her reduced spacial perception she ofter became disoriented on the course and was forced to drop out of some races and left with feelings of her letting her team down.
She overcame those hurdles aided by her parents' encouragement and by her association with Coach Jim Adams and friendships she made with her teammates and runners from other teams especially the Canton Girls Team which invited her to join them for warmups before league and sectional championships.
"It was great coaching Eileen. She was a role model because overcame a great deal and she always had a smile. We had so many good times and shared a lot of good times. We remain good friends" says Coach Adams.
"What she has done with the NVLD Project also deserves a lot of credit. My wife Joanne and I are big supporters and make donations each year."
"Mr. Adams made me discover how determined and strong I truly am and made me realize before joining the team I had been underestimating myself a little. Coach John Wooden's saying "A Great Coach Can Change A Life" certainly suits him well because I was able to take the more challenging path because of him and it changed my outlook on life for forever" recalls Ms. Herzog whose inner strength was later confirmed when she was told by her neurologist that running distance is extremely rare for someone with a Non-Verbal Learning Disability due to our low muscle tone and coordination. "(Coach Adams) wanted me to be sure I would have the confidence to do the whole thing, of course. Because of him I broke a barrier."
RUNNING FRIENDSHIPS GO THE DISTANCE
Her ability to break barriers earned her the respect of her teammates and fellow runners from other schools especially runners from nearby Canton Central who joined her coaches, parents and teammates at the finish line to cheer her on.
Golden Bear standout Cara (Pierce) Rumbaugh became a close friend and after 20 years they stay in regular contact.
"One of my favorite things about competing in the sport of cross country was that, while it was still competitive, the fact that everyone is racing the clock as well as competing for points made it possible to be very friendly and supportive even with runners from other teams. Eileen Herzog was a great example of this. We ran against each other for different high schools and yet we are still in touch almost 20 years later. She faced a lot of challenges in high school with learning disabilities, but not only did that not stop her from participating in the sport and socializing with her own teammates, but she also was always friendly, encouraging, and looking to engage with those of us on the other teams as well," says Mrs. Rumbaugh.
"Now she has become an advocate and is helping to raise funds for organizations supporting those with Non Verbal Learning Disabilities because of everything she has learned and experienced in her own life. I'm very happy that she gets to pass that on, and as we used to cheer for one another at high school cross country races: Go Eileen!."
DONATING TO THE NVLP PROJECT
Thanks to its supporters, the NVLD Project is expanding understanding and awareness of Non-Verbal Learning Disability, a complicated and poorly understood social and spatial disability. Anyone wishing to give a greater voice to people with NVLD and facilitate access to treatment, educational interventions and accommodations can do so on the link .https://nvldproject.networkforgood.com/projects/17741-annual-fund and request to put in honor of Eileen Herzog.
Donations can also be made by check to The NVLD Project at: 177 East 87th Street Suite 501 New York, NY 10128 or select the project as a your favorite charity when shopping on AmazonSmile and the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the NVLD Project.
The NVLD Project is a 501(c)(3) organization and contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by the law.