Twenty years ago, a young, lost college student, Nick Langer, channel surfed while nursing a shoulder injury that ended his prospective wrestling career in Stevens Point.

A documentary caught Langer’s attention.

It was about Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father-and-son racing team that competed in thousands of races, including multiple Ironman competitions and Boston Marathons despite the younger Rick having been born a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy.

Learning all the Hoyts had accomplished, against such odds, inspired Langer to end his own pity party and start training.

Within two years, Langer competed in his first Ironman competition in Florida. For years, he continued to train and compete.

Even throughout finding love, courting then marrying his wife in 2006, he raced. In 2009, the happy couple welcomed their first child into the world; just days later, Nick raced. On his first Father’s Day as a father, he carried his newborn son across the finish line of a race.

In 2012, Nick’s racing finally needed to take a backseat to the needs of his family.

That year, the Langers’ second child, Ellery was born, a month premature. She had experienced numerous strokes in utero and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As the family faced a multitude of new challenges for the next few years, they struggled in this new way of life.

Then one day, Nick’s sister reminded him of the Hoyts and what had inspired him to race in the first place.

When Langer had originally been inspired by the triumphs of the Hoyts, he had no idea that he, himself, would one day be the father of a child with cerebral palsy. Now that it mirrored his own life so much, the story touched him close to home.

That is when Team Langer, the family’s charity, was born. Its mission is to raise awareness of inclusion of people with disabilities, while also helping families affected by childhood disabilities.

The Langers hope to normalize seeing people with disabilities participating in the world; doing all the things that people without disabilities do.

Team Langer was inspired not just from the documentary about the Hoyts, but from the bonds of love and support Nick got at home – and his daughter’s smile.

Ellery had already beaten many odds. At birth, doctors said she would never walk, yet she had learned to scoot around anywhere she wanted to go, could pull herself up on things and could walk with assistance.

Doctors said she would never talk, yet that never stopped her from communicating her needs and preferences.

She also faced every obstacle before her, with a big smile.

“She’s such a happy girl,” Langer said of Ellery. “She just has the most beautiful smile.”

Nick also found inspiration from his wife, Nicole, who didn’t hesitate to support his racing dreams even while also pregnant with the couple’s third child. She even encouraged him to go after the Ironman title, again and took their three small children to support him at finish lines all over the country.

As the Langers built their charity, they were introduced to My Team Triumph, a nonprofit organization that provides specialized racing gear and other equipment to special needs athletes, so they may race alongside able bodied people.

My Team Triumph made equipment specifically for Ellery and Nick to be able to compete in several types of races together. It also sponsors some of the races and other events Team Langer participates in.

With the help of My Team Triumph, Ellery was able to compete in her first triathlon in 2016. Now, the athletic members of Team Langer (Nick, Rowan and Ellery) compete in races, triathlons, and other competitions.

Someday, Nick hopes to cross the Ironman finish line with her, just as his hero Dick Hoyt, crossed it with his son, Rick. He’ll have to wait, though, as all participants in the Ironman competition must be 18 or older.

In the meantime, Team Langer wants to normalize seeing children with disabilities in regular classes in school and participating in games, clubs and teams with other children who do not have disabilities.

“The more they are seen, the more they are accepted.” Langer said. “40 years ago, a child like Ellery would have been put in a home. Now we’re fighting to have them put in regular classes and to let them play on regular school teams.

“Everything they do at my kids’ school, I think why can’t my daughter do that too?” Nick said.

Team Langer adopted the quote by Robert Ingersoll “We rise by lifting others” as its slogan, and it aims to also support the families of individuals with disabilities.

Couples who have a child with disabilities often find that the stress can take an incredible toll on their relationship. Team Langer raises money to help parents find respite and get any help they may need.

Being a sibling of a child with disabilities can also be extremely difficult. Team Langer is there to lift up those, children too. It organizes special events and outings so siblings of children with disabilities can have some fun and just be kids. These events also bring together children who are dealing with similar situations, creating a support network for them.

“We hope to inspire other people, while at the same time help families like ours where help is needed,” Langer said.

Visit www.teamlanger.com for information on how you can donate or support Team Langer. You can also find a racing schedule and calendar of other upcoming events on the website.