Noah Lukach feels the excitement of the race just like every other 5K participant.
Before the pop of the gun signals the beginning of the race, he shares smiles with others, fist bumps his family, and after he crosses the finish line, he is ready to lay down in the grass.
Noah began participating in 5K races with his mother over 8 years ago when both were bored over the summer months. Licia Lukah, a special education teacher in the Mahomet-Seymour Schools, ran in high school, then, like many moms, got too busy raising two kids and working a full-time job.
But, once her daughter was in college, she decided it was time to take up the hobby again; only this time, she would push her son’s wheelchair.
Although Noah feels the same as every other 5K runner or walker, his story to get to the start line is very unique.
From the time Noah was born, his parents suspected that Noah was not developing like other babies the same age. At birth, he was very jaundice and spent time under the phototherapy lights. The doctors checked for brain damage, but did not find any.
All Noah’s parents knew was that seemed “very floppy.”
“At the first-month check, I said there is something wrong,” Licia said. “At his second-month check, I said there is something wrong. I kept saying there is something wrong. Then at six months, when he couldn’t sit up, they said something is wrong with him.”
Over the first three years of life, Noah went from doctor to doctor, only to learn that each doctor did not know what was going on with him.
The search to name Noah’s condition ended when Licia and Greg visited a doctor in Peoria who was upfront with them in saying the doctors could not place a diagnosis and that the doctors also could not fix what was going on with Noah.
“That was a tough day,” Greg, Noah’s dad, said. “But we knew we could plan a direction.”
“We are going to do what we can to make Noah’s life as happy as we can,” he continued.
And part of making sure Noah had the best life he could possibly have was to tell doctors that Noah would not be poked and prodded just for research.
“My test with the doctors is, ‘tell me if this is going to make Noah’s life better?’” Greg said. “If their answer is that it will help us learn something about Noah, and if you can’t turn that into something that makes his life better; then I don’t care what you know about Noah.”
Doctors told the Lukachs that Noah would probably live to be 10. But Noah is still spreading his smiles at 27.
When Noah was 5, the Lukachs decided to move to Mahomet from Bloomington. Noah enjoyed being in the Mahomet-Seymour School District until the day before his 22nd birthday.
“It’s been amazing to get Noah out and to be part of society,” Licia said. “Mahomet-Seymour was amazing at integrating Noah into the classroom and made his time in school a positive experience for all of us.”
And that is the best way to get to know who Noah is.
“He loves interaction,” Greg said. “It doesn’t matter who you are; if you come and say, ‘Hi,’ to Noah, he will get a grin on his face.”
As Noah transitioned from his school at Mahomet-Seymour to spending his weekdays at the Developmental Services Center (DSC) in Champaign, running local 5K races, including the MAYC 5K, has helped Noah stay involved in the Mahomet community.
The 2017 MAYC 5K was Noah’s eighth MAYC race. His parents said he has enjoyed the consistent cheers coming from former Sangamon Principal Mark Cabutti at Mile 1, and other elementary teachers along the course throughout the years.
Although Licia still runs, she does not push Noah anymore. After a couple races, Licia had to undergo foot surgery, so Noah’s sister, Kaycee, took over pushing the chair that year during the Illinois Marathon 5K.
Although Kaycee, Licia and other family members do push Noah in the 5K races from time to time, Greg is often the power behind Noah these days.
The Lukach family participates in 5K races all over Central Illinois. They have been in the Not Your Average Joe 5K, Decatur’s French Fried 5K, the Cupcake Run, the Chris Craig 5K, and the 5K in the Champaign County Freedom Celebration.
Since Licia and Noah began participating in 5K races, their extended family in Minnesota has also joined in on the fun. Each year, aunts, uncles and cousins join the Lukachs at the Illinois Marathon 5K.
The Lukachs even traveled to Minnesota to celebrate the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Minnesota Vikings play, by participating in the 5K. Noah’s chair was decorated as a Skol Viking.
But when the start of the race is 7 a.m., Licia and Noah are up at 5 a.m. to make sure he can get two feedings before they take off. Noah has to eat every two hours, so Licia feeds him to make sure he’s hydrated and that his food settles.
Another hurdle the Lukachs face is making sure Noah stays comfortable during the race. Because Noah cannot speak, his family has a difficult time knowing if he gets too hot or too cold.
Whoever pushes Noah, warms up pretty quickly. But the Lukachs are never certain that Noah, who is notorious for throwing off blankets, is warm enough.
They have learned, though, that Noah does not like anything on his hands, so when it is chilly, Noah wears a snuggie.
Greg said the beginning of the race is Noah’s favorite part.
“Noah will have a great time early as we make our way through the crowd,” he said. “There’s all these people around and he loves the crowds and interaction.”
The difficult part comes in waiting for the race to begin, though.
Noah has severe scoliosis, so being in a chair is uncomfortable. If the duo has to wait a long time, Noah will get upset. Greg said, though, when they get into the race and people start cheering for him, he usually calms down.
After being in the chair for the race, the family will gather, find a quiet spot and let Noah stretch out in the grass.
“Laying down is Noah’s happiness,” Greg said.
More than five years ago, the Lukachs named their race team “Team Noah” because Noah was also diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The Lukachs printed Team Noah t-shirts to sell to family and friends in order to raise money for DSC. Noah has since passed the treatment phase for the cancer and is in full remission.
And just like any parent, Licia and Greg love to shine light on their son’s race accomplishments.
Noah has a collection of medals and family photos from every race. He has placed first in the Jingle Bell Run and third in the MAYC run.
But for the Lukachs, participating in the 5K races is just a part of normalcy.
“In running, we thought this is the one thing he can do and feel normal. It’s something that our family can do because Noah can’t play baseball or ride a bike. This something that he can do and enjoy; have that breeze in his face.”