In This Special Fathers Network podcast, David Hirsch talks to special father and just retired U.S. Marine, Kim “Rooster” Rossiter. Rooster and his wife Laurie are parents of three children, Briley, Kamden and Ainsley who had Infantile Neuroxinal Dystrophia. Rooster is also president and founder of Ainsley’s Angels a not for profit that builds awareness for the special needs community by making sure that everyone can experience sporting events like marathons and 5k runs. Ainsley’s Angels helps those with special needs cross the finish line all across the country. We’ll hear the story of Rooster and his family and how Ainsley’s Angels made it possible for everyone to feel the thrill of competition. It’s a glimpse into the life of another inspirational Dad, Kim “Rooster” Rossiter.
Dad To Dad 29 – Kim “Rooster” Rossiter, founder of Ainsley’s Angels, talks of his daughter with Neuroxinal Dystrophia.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch. This is the special fathers network podcast. Stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom Couch. Today David talks to special father and just retired us Marine Kim “Rooster” Rossiter.
Rooster Rossiter: Again, David, just like I said earlier, it’s the people that people I met in the Marine Corps that shaped my experience.
Tom Couch: Rooster and his wife, Laurie are parents of three children, Briley, Camden, and Ainslie who had infanttile neroxinal distrophia.
Rooster Rossiter: We went places. We did things we didn’t let it slow us down. We kept living.
Tom Couch: Rooster is also president and. Ainsley’s Angels a not for profit that builds awareness for the special needs community through inclusion, making sure that everyone can participate in sporting events like marathons and five K runs.
Rooster Rossiter: One day a physical therapist named Peggy said, we should go down to the local ocean front and allow Ainslie the chance to roll with the wind.
We saw how the wind blew and Ainsley’s face lit her up.
Tom Couch: Ainsley’s angels helps those with special needs. Cross the finish line in these races and events. All across the country.
Rooster Rossiter: So every person that’s part of our effort is called an angel. The idea is that everyone’s Ainsley’s angels
Tom Couch: We’ll hear the story of Rooster and his family and how Ainsley’s angels grew to become a nationwide organization.
And to make everyone feel the thrill of competition is gestures.
Rooster Rossiter: There was this sense about how easily his presence was. It was almost like she was a calming presence during that journey.
Tom Couch: It’s a glimpse into the life of another inspirational dad. Kim “Rooster” Rossiter on this Special Father’s Network podcast.
Here’s David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Being a father is very important to me. I’ve started a number of charitable organizations designed to increase the role of fathers. One of them, the Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. We’ve been interviewing some exceptional fathers of special needs kids, and we want to share their stories with you.
Tom Couch: So let’s get to it. Here’s David Hirsch’s interview with special father Kim “Rooster” Rossiter.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my friend Kim “Rooster” Rossiter, her of Virginia Beach, Virginia, father of three, a career Marine and president and founder of the Ainsley’s angels. A not-for-profit that builds awareness about America’s special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life.
Rooster. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Rooster Rossiter: An absolute pleasure, David, thank you for the invitation.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Laurie had been married for 20 years and other proud parents of three children, Briley 17 Camden 13 in the middle child daughter, Ainsley who had infantile neurotoxin, all distro feel.
Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family
Rooster Rossiter: and siblings. Well, I was born in New Jersey actually, uh, which some of the people that hear this, that know me actually might be surprised by that because we only lived there for about eight years. And when I say we, it was my mom and my dad, of course my sister, I have a younger sister named Christine she’s about two and a half years.
My younger. Um, we lived there and like I said, until I was about eight and then we moved to Louisiana. So when people ask me where I’m from or where I grew up or what my story is, it usually starts off with, uh, well, I’m from Louisiana. And that usually gets people going, obviously, because Louisiana has just this amazing way of life about it.
And everybody has their perceptions. You know what I mean?
David Hirsch: Yep. So Lake Charles, Louisiana, where is that?
Rooster Rossiter: So I used to tell everybody it’s about 30 minutes from Texas and 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. But of course that’s back when the speed limit was only 55. So, so now that you can travel 75, uh, on the interstate, I I’ll have to change that up and say, it’s, you know, it’s approximately 20 miles from the Gulf and 20 miles from Texas.
Uh, so down there and the heel, the Louisiana. Okay.
David Hirsch: So, uh, your sister is two and a half years or younger. What does she do?
Rooster Rossiter: So she still lives there. Uh, she is, she is working at a hospital actually, and like the surgery and scheduling branch, but she, but she’s also somebody that I talked to quite regularly.
Cause she also, uh, is best con best known or should I say is a co founder of, of the charity that we managed together. Okay,
David Hirsch: awesome. So how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Rooster Rossiter: Oh, goodness. I mean, my relationship with my father. Was amazing in the sense that I had him in my life, meaning he married my mother.
He stayed committed to my mother and to his kids. And from the day I was born until the day I went off into the Marine Corps, my dad was married to my mom and therefore a member in our family every day. And I think that that’s important. So, so without even getting into any details of the relationship.
The fact that he was there and was the dad of the family of four, I think speaks volumes just in comparison to some of the other challenges that, that I know my friends have faced, um, not having their father there.
David Hirsch: When you think about your dad, is there an important lesson or something that you took away from your relationship with your dad?
Rooster Rossiter: Yeah, I actually did. I I’ll tell you what, you know, a lot of times I think that sometimes you have to be able to identify how, when someone plays to their strengths and, and they bring that to the environment. It’s amazing. But sometimes if you take a step back and you can identify potentially what might not necessarily be considered a strength and, and kind of pull the string on that and talk to them about those things, it can open up new doors and new conversations that you never would have imagined.
And the analogy that I’m trying to make here is let’s say that your dad is a professional baseball player. He knows quite a bit about baseball, but when you ask him a question about fishing, He may not have any insight on that. And so then you find yourself in a position where you may be able to explore those spaces together and learn those things together, which is what I would say.
I learned from my father wasn’t that there are things that he was really, really good at. And then there are things that he might not have been as good at. And it’s the things that he wasn’t as good at that I was able to develop my knowledge through working and watching him. To get to a point where I’m pretty comfortable in that, in those scenarios now.
David Hirsch: So, um, did your grandfathers play an important role in your life or not?
Rooster Rossiter: Well, like I said, we lived in New Jersey until I was about eight and so my, my dad’s dad lived there and so we would see him at holidays. Um, occasionally go over there and have Sunday, Sunday dinners. But of course, the formative years, meaning after I moved to Louisiana from eight.
Onward up until the Marine Corps, quite frankly, 18, 17, 18. Um, my mom’s dad lived there and when we first got to Louisiana, we actually lived with my mom’s parents. And to have this. Totally new male figure. Quite frankly, enter into my life, turn out to be one of the biggest blessings of my early years. So my grandfather and I developed a very, very wonderful relationship, very, very quick.
And thank goodness because I only really had about three to five years with him before he passed at a young, young sixties. Quite frankly. But during that time, his impact monumental to say the least, you see, he was a CB. In fact, he told me that, uh, in, in months before he passed away that he was one of the men that built the runway that the NOLA Gates took off of and the Pacific ocean.
Wow. And that’s just, that’s just historic, but that man, my grandfather, herb taught me some so much in such a short amount of time.
David Hirsch: Now that’s wonderful. I’m wondering if there’s anyone else who has served as a father figure while you were growing up?
Rooster Rossiter: Well, it’s funny that, that you met, you asked that because I almost got into that just a moment ago.
My uncle, who is my mom’s youngest brother, his name’s Bobby. He was only 12 years older than me. Well, by the time that we got to Louisiana, You know, I was eight, nine years old. Bobby was, you know, 17, 18. He was at a point where he was wrapping up high school. He stayed around the home a little bit longer, meaning he didn’t go off to college out of town or go off to the, to the military.
And so we actually shared a room just based on circumstance. Uh, there were some bunk beds in his room and we shared a room for about six to maybe 12 months. It feels like to me and wow, this man went on to become my best man at my wedding. Just to put that into perspective. So my uncle Bobby amazing influence and role model who did things and introduced me to things that, that no one else had an example how to change oil on a, on a truck.
You know, how, how to put a shrimp on a, on a hook to go fish. This is South Lake Charles, Louisiana. You know, this is what you do. You change your own oil. And you go catch fish and then he would take me hunting. And I remember my grandfather would take me hunting too, down there in Southwest Louisiana. And one of the things that stuck with me to this day is that if, if you’re going to shoot it, you have to eat it.
And so we would go duck hunting and we would go goose, hunting, and rabbit and teal and the whole thing. And today, David, guess what I don’t hunt. I don’t hunt. I don’t hunt because I don’t enjoy duck or goose or teal or rabbit, because back then we shot a lot of it and we had to eat it all. And so we ate a lot of that type of food.
So today I don’t eat it, but I know how to do it. I can tell you that.
David Hirsch: Well, it sounds like Bobby played an influential role in your life. Uh, even though he wasn’t in the military. And, uh, I know that when you graduated from high school, If I remember the story, you know, you went straight into the military.
Why don’t you recall that story?
Rooster Rossiter: Yeah, for sure. Thank you. Um, all through all four of the people, uh, that I’ve mentioned so far, my own father, actually five of the people that it’s, it’s ironic that, that in this whole conversation, we’ve talked about five people, really men, and those were, uh, my grandfather, my own father.
My uncle Bobby, and then my mom’s other two brothers that went into the, into the, into the air force, actually Kurt and Benny. And so those five people were the influences in really my decision to seek military service. So first I went to my own father. I said, dad, you know, Hey, I’m looking at graduating high school.
You know, this is the summer before my senior year in high school, I’m going to be graduating high school in may. And, uh, I’m entertaining the idea. Of of the military, uh, because I really want to be an FBI agent. And I understand that the best way to do that is through a couple of different lines. One is to go into military intelligence and another one is to go to college and get a pre law or a law degree or an accounting degree, which that kind of surprised me in my research, but now I understand exactly why the FBI wants accountants.
Anyway, I, uh, I went to him and I said, dad, I’m thinking about an opportunity or a life in the military. Uh, and he said to me, and I’ll never forget this. My dad said it is a young man’s decision. And in the moment I had no idea really what that meant, but as we started to kind of talk through it some more, it became really clear when you’re 35 years old.
You’re not really a young man anymore. Quote, unquote young. And certainly when you’re older than that, you’re far from a young man. But when you are 18, 17, 18, 1922, 26, like you’re a young man still. And, and the opportunity to go into the military is a young man’s decision. Cause once you get a certain point, it’s not an option anymore.
I was like, wow, that was insightful. Of course, talk to my uncle Bobby, because I talked to him pretty much about everything, especially at that point in my life. And, um, went on down to the local recruiting office. I saw the air force recruiter first because I had two uncles that had done that. Um, I went to the Navy recruiter because I had my grandfather who served at a CB.
But it was when I walked outside of the Navy recruiter office and I turned to my left and there was a man, he was 230 pounds of solid muscle. He was blacker than coal and he was six foot two in full dress, blue Marine Corps uniform. And I said, that is what I want to do. I want to be that. The rest is history, David, the rest is history.
David Hirsch: That’s amazing. Um, so let’s just take a step back. Uh, how did you meet
Rooster Rossiter: Laurie? No, my gosh, I love this story. So I, back in that day, this is like 1990, 1991. You would go and you would get in your vehicle with your friends. You know, one of them could drive and, and you would just drive down the main strip. It was called Ryan street Lake Charles, if anybody’s ever from there, your listeners heard of it and you would look around and you would wave and you would act cool and you would honk your horn and maybe listen to your music.
Well, whatever the thing was, and I, my buddy that was driving the vehicle, had a class with the young lady who just drove by and one thing led to another and we went ahead and said, let’s pull over. So of course that’s how you did it. You went and you found a local parking lot and you pulled over and that’s how you just kind of.
Started the conversation. Well, I couldn’t talk quite frankly, because the young lady that got out of that vehicle, um, her name was Laurie and, uh, I was so shy. And so just a taken back by her presence that I didn’t say much of anything, uh, to the point where I later learned that one of the things that attracted her to me.
Was the fact that I was so shy, whereas these other individuals were a little bit less shy, I should say, fast forward the clock or the little bit here, a couple of weeks. And we talked on the phone a few times and I’ll never, never forget. So you gotta remember Lori was about a year older than me. So she was a sophomore and I was a freshmen and back then she could drive and I couldn’t and she goes, so what do you think would you, would you like to go, would you like to go out one night, maybe see a movie or grab a bite.
I immediately just froze. And I said to her, yeah, I think maybe, uh, I gotta go, I gotta go. I gotta go talk to my dad and I hung the phone up and I, and at that point I was like, Oh my goodness, what will just happen? You know? And I was just totally taken back by the fact that this beautiful young lady was so nice.
Uh, actually wanted to go and spend some time. So, of course you fast forward that clock about 25 years. And we’ve been married now for, for 20 years. So as you said earlier,
David Hirsch: that’s fabulous. So, um, you joined the Marines at age 17, you’ve served for 24 years. Uh, you mentioned that you plan to retire here in October.
You’ve done tours in North Carolina, Washington, DC, Virginia, California, Okinawa, Africa, Korea, and Norway. And you’re a veteran of operation, Iraqi freedom. What is it about your career when you look back on it, as you’re about to retire that you think are some of the highlights or the most important things that you’ve taken away.
Rooster Rossiter: Well, I kind of have given a whole lot of thought to this recently as a preparing to give a retirement speech I’ll stand before everyone that goes through the official process of retirement, ceremonially there’s three phases or three big things in my life that have formed kind of who I am. Really. The first one, of course, we kind of talked about just now the upbringing, you know, the influence of key figures.
Whether it was my father and my grandfather, my uncle, my friends, my football coaches, you know, um, and then the Marine Corps phase. And, and it’s the influences by key people, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s so much about the people, the people from my senior drill instructors and regular, you know, drill instructors early on, right out of the gate.
And then all those people at all those duty stations that had an impact, they took the time, quite frankly, to lend their hand Lin their ear, Lin their experience to mold me, to shape me to become better than I was yesterday. And along that journey, the people that I have run into is what is, what has been most memorable and most appreciated.
For me across that entire journey, you know, the, the Marine Corps career is amazing and it has shaped me into who I am right this moment. But of course there are other factors that take into play with that. That’s my long answer, David, and thanks for letting me kind of elaborate a little bit, but it’s the impact of the people, right?
David Hirsch: let’s talk about this. The special needs community on a personal level initially. And then you will on a professional level before Ainslie was born, did you or Lori have any connections to the special needs
Rooster Rossiter: community? Actually, yes. On Lori side of the family, um, her father was the youngest of three and was born to a husband and wife who actually.
Back then it was referred to as being deaf and mute, which now that I think that’s like very taboo, you don’t use that type of, of language, but that’s how they referred to them themselves back then. So neither one of them could, um, could hear and neither one of them could speak, uh, the, the verbally. And so as a result, um, living in Southwest Louisiana, Lori’s dad had to learn sign language at a really young age.
That was, that would be our connection.
David Hirsch: So she had some connections, but you didn’t really, other than by marriage to Laurie?
Rooster Rossiter: Yeah, that’s correct. Okay.
David Hirsch: Um, what was your first reaction upon learning of Ainsley’s diagnosis of infantile and neurotoxin? All this trophy at age three and a half.
Rooster Rossiter: Uh, it’s about, it’s about as ugly as it sounds.
David, I’ll tell you. My first reaction was I have to put some context into it and say that. We knew that we were going through some genetic testing and nerve biopsies that were going to take some time for the results to come back. And we knew that those studies were looking solely at this specific dystrophy called for short.
So therefore I knew what it was and I had read up on its potential implications. And Lori and I had talked about the reality of what that is. If indeed that’s the case. But I deployed, I deployed in January of 2007 and, uh, we got the word in April of 2007. So I was on a Navy ship off the coast of Africa somewhere when I got word that I needed to call home.
And, uh, eventually got to a point where we could make that phone call. And of course I’ll never forget it as Lori shared with me and very broken. Emotional tone that, um, that it was confirmed that that Ainslie indeed has I Nat. And, uh, as a result of that, my immediate reaction was one of, uh, w what, now I need to fix this, but at the same time, I knew because I had done my research that this isn’t fixable, there is no cure and I am.
Thousands of miles from, from home. I’m thousands of miles from her. So w w what do you do, but to turn to your right and to your left, quite frankly, to your Marines and sailors that are on the ship with you, um, you have to confide in them about what you’re feeling. And I went through all the phases, David.
I was, I was upset and that’s to say it nicely. I was, I was in shock. I was sad. I was lonely because I couldn’t get to her to fix it, but by my Marines and sailors to my left and my right, um, they helped me get through that. I also would tell you that it was during lint and I’m Catholic. And so I spent a whole lot of time with the father praying and on my knees, uh, reflecting.
And trying to just get some sense of what it was all about. Of course, the father that was on the ship with us, the Catholic priest, I’ll never forget when he handed me a book. And when he handed me that book, I looked at the title and I said, when said, when, when bad things happen to good people. And then I saw who it was by, it was by a rabbi.
And I flipped it over and I looked at the back and I looked back at the Catholic priest a bit surprised, frankly, and he could sense my surprise. And he said immediately, don’t you worry about a thing, read the book. It doesn’t matter who wrote it and what it’s about. And then none of them just read the book.
And at the end I have a Catholic priest handed me a book written by a rabbi. Who examines this through multiple lenses to include a scientific lens. And he provided me with just such amazing perspective on the realm of possible. I coupled that with my prayers emotionally, and I coupled that with the support of my Marines and sailors for what ended up being a month or so before I could get back to Lori and to Ainslie, Briley and Camden and be there with them.
But I felt like I was so much more prepared. And you never are prepared for that day when you, when you, when you reunite, whether it’s good news, bad news. But I felt like I had time to do some internal reflection and I’m, I’m frankly grateful for that in hindsight, because I don’t know that as men, we typically have this desire to fix.
And, and we, we get so wrapped up around wanting to fix that. We lose sight of, of really trying to look at things holistically and to take time to really think about our, our, our feelings and our emotions. And if I didn’t have that time to kind of ease into my homecoming, I’m not really sure how I would have responded to the whole situation.
David Hirsch: Yeah, you can only look back and put that in perspective at the time. It sounds like it was an overwhelming experience to be thousands of miles away from your family. Get this shocking news, the reality of it all sinking in. And, uh, I can’t even imagine what that was like. Uh, so you got some good advice from this priest that was on the Naval vessel that you are, um, Was there any other advice you got early on, whether it was from doctors or healthcare professionals or just other people that helped you put this all in perspective?
Rooster Rossiter: Yeah. So, so the pediatric neurologist that ordered the nerve biopsy, he had been practicing medicine for a really long time. And so therefore I really appreciate his approach in hindsight, but he handed Lori and I have a piece of paper. In fact, he handed her a little piece of paper. He goes, now when y’all get home, we were at UNC at chapel Hills.
We still had like a two hour drive to get back home and things. He goes, just take this out and kind of look up, uh, look it up and read a little bit about it because you know, the tests that we’re going to run are going to. I’m going to be with an eye towards confirming or denying if, if it’s, if it’s this diagnosis, so don’t worry about it right now.
But when you get home and he gets settled, just kind of take a look. And so that’s what we did later that night. Um, Laurie was getting ready for bed and I went in the, in the computer and. Of course, this was a, it was a dial up. It was making this weird noise ringing anyway, dial up modems. So they pull this thing up and I get it an infant neuro excellent dystrophy.
And I read about it and, and it was in that moment that I saw the word terminal and progressive and a description of what that meant it was, it was, it was immediate denial, but I knew that I needed to go share it with Lori. So. I went and met her in the room and kind of share it with her. And I think it hit us both pretty hard right there together in a moment, the realm of possible.
And that if it was indeed this, how, how, how fast it acts and our limited time that we were going to have with, with Ainslie. And I think that, I think that was important for both of us to kind of experience that together. Especially knowing that in hindsight, you know, months, months go on. And, and when we get the diagnosis, we, we weren’t together.
Um, you know, we were separated by miles, but, but we knew exactly what we were both kind of aware of what it was all about. So.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like with the experience that this pediatric neurologist had, you know, instead of just dumping some really heavy information on you, it was a way to ease into it.
Cause he doesn’t know what the results of the tests were going to be. And you know, why knock you out with a really hard punch, um, if that’s not what the situation was going to be anyway, so
Rooster Rossiter: right.
David Hirsch: So, uh, what were some of the more important decisions that you and Laurie made raising three children, including one with special
Rooster Rossiter: needs.
I love that question because the answer is that we were going to live. We were not going to hide. We needed to make sure that, that our children understood that life’s going to throw you some challenges from here and there, but you’ve just got to keep on keeping on. And we were not going to get ourselves in a position where we were like, not going to go out to eat as a family of five, because somebody might stare at Ainslie or pointer a wheelchair or something like that.
Rather, we were going to go out and be. Visible and be present and live because by God, that’s one of the freedoms we have as Americans. We’re not restricted to our actions. You know, we’re not told that you have to keep that person hidden and in seclusion because they’re not like everyone else, we have this amazing country with these amazing freedoms.
And as a Marine, I I’m going to live these freedoms to my fullest and ensure my children get to truly understand and experience. That blanket of freedom. So that’s what we did. We, we went places. We did things. We didn’t let it slow us down. We kept living. I love it. We also didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to like.
Find the cure. And I’m not, I’m not saying that people that spend their time trying to find a cure for dystrophies or diseases, I’m not knocking them. I think that’s important. We need, we need to have some focus on that, but we knew in this moment that if we spend all of our time doing that, that we may not have any time to truly enjoy making memories with our family of five.
So, so we lived that’s great.
David Hirsch: Simple thing, but, uh, these are to talk about, I think, more challenging to implement, um, not to be overly aware socially about what other people say or might think.
Rooster Rossiter: Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. So you’re right. It is easier to talk about less, less, easy to execute. So, so how did we execute?
Well, we, we received orders to Virginia. And when we got to Virginia, we had to get the physical therapy and the occupational therapy and the speech therapy and all those things in place. We had to reconnect the network and along that way, because we were living and because we were active in our efforts is when the physical therapist mentioned that maybe Angela would enjoy going out for a run.
And the idea of taking Ainsley out for a run was something that I would have never envisioned as an option. What do you mean take her out for a run? And of course the physical therapist talked more and assumed that because I was a Marine I could run, which is, which is comical. And just assume that that’s what we should do.
And at the end of the day, wow. What a life changing recommendation. Yeah. I love that.
David Hirsch: So, um, I don’t mean to go backwards, but, uh, what were some of the bigger challenges that you encountered during H Ainsley’s life
Rooster Rossiter: during these of these lives? Some of the, some of the huge are the big challenges, quite frankly, just, just watching the dystrophy, take it, take its toll.
I mean, th th that’s what’s unfortunate about progressive terminal, is that the skill she used to have, she loses and you have to sit and watch her lose those things while, whereas you’re supposed to continue with occupational or speech therapy or physical therapy, but when it comes down to it, like any therapy is going to hopefully make her strong enough to where she can retain skills.
But the reality is that those skills are going to be diminished. And to see her lose the ability to pick up food and eat it and is, is, is soul crushing. You know, she could not eat her favorite food spaghetti anymore. So, so what do you do about that? You know, like, no, by gosh, she needs to eat the spaghetti.
She loves spaghetti, but she can’t because as time went on, she found her way onto her feeding tube. And, you know, then we had to learn that world and then. It’s just watching those things that we take for granted as, as abilities, uh, watching her lose those abilities. That is a challenge. And then how do you explain that to her siblings?
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, speaking of her siblings, I’m wondering what impact has Amy situation had on Briley Camden and the rest of your family? Not just your immediate family, but the rest of your family for that matter.
Rooster Rossiter: Every single person that came in contact. With Ainslie or even comes in contact with her presence today is impacted in ways that are unforeseen.
I would have never imagined that I would have a nine year old daughter named Briley who would be so motivated by wanting to spend time with her sister, that she would actually like go out and run three miles with her. And, and I say it like that because like in the Marine Corps, our test is a three mile run.
I never thought my nine year old daughter would go on a three mile, run much less with her sister. And so the impact that Ainslie had on her sister was one that was unimaginable, unimaginable. And then the same impact that Ainsley had on, on her brother that teaching by her presence to him to have empathy, or to have this ability to connect emotionally.
Like, I don’t know about you David, but like what kind of emotional connection did you have with, with siblings or friends even under the age when you were under the age of eight? I mean like really, I mean, that’s a pretty advanced thing to develop emotional. You know, relationships and I get it like we’re from the wound and where we are emotionally connected to our mom, but like to watch my son develop really his emotions about his sister and his love for his sister, and then his ability to express his emotions, that, that that’s, that’s amazing for a young boy to be able to do.
And I think that’s going to carry him so far in life because a lot of us don’t learn how to express our emotions until much later in the game. Yeah,
David Hirsch: well, that is really amazing that a Camden had that experience at such a young age. I would say that most men are not emotional creatures. So to have that nurtured or developed at a young age, let alone at all.
That’s very powerful. So I’m wondering what supporting organizations did you rely on during Ainsley’s life?
Rooster Rossiter: Well, of course, there’s, there’s a lot of things that day to day, we had to rely on when it came to like her care. And of course, as a Marine, you know, there were multiple facets of her care, whether it was our Tri-Care, our local doctors and these things.
But I want to say though that when it comes to like organizations that truly had large impacts, um, such as Make-A-Wish. You want to make a wish foundation, send our family down to Disney and they give kids the world village in 2007. So this was after my deployment, after the diagnosis. Um, in September, I got home in like July, July timeframe in September, the family went to Disney compliments and Make-A-Wish, and we stayed at the give kids the world village.
And I’ll tell you what David was during that time that I truly got introduced to the whole idea of, of philanthropy and the whole idea of. Of people doing good things for others with no expectation of anything in return. It was eye opening in a way that I had not ever experienced before. When it came to charitable works, they took our family.
Picked us up in a limo, brought us to the airport. Southwest flies us down. We get to the Orlando, they bring us to give kids the world village and at this place, I mean just if you’re a listener and you don’t know what give kids the world villages, just give it a quick Google. Uh, it’s it’s amazing facility that just does so much for the special needs community, especially those that have terminal diagnosis.
And then the experience at Disney, you know, the five days that we spent down there and doing that, it was just truly special, David. And it came at a time when Ainslie still had that smile. That she could radiate a room with. Whereas if we did an experience that like four or five, six, seven years later, her smiles just became less and less because of all the muscles it takes to, to smile.
Quite frankly. Um, I, I think that the timing of that was just so special and, and forever grateful for Make-A-Wish and give kids the world for that experience.
David Hirsch: So that is amazing. And one of the things I want to just paraphrase from what you’ve said is that. You are blessed to have the opportunity to have a Make-A-Wish do what they did.
And instead of like postponing that or waiting, maybe, you know, things will improve or get better. You know, if you know, you have a situation which is not likely to get better, embrace that gift. Take advantage of it. Don’t be reluctant is what I know the message is coming through loud and clear
Rooster Rossiter: 100%. And that goes right back to the idea of living.
You know, we, we, we had an opportunity to go do those things and we knew that we needed to do them because that’s part of living. And not hide under a rock or wait or, or be in denial about the fact, it may well make a wishes for those that, that have terminal illnesses or, you know, don’t, don’t get wrapped up around the labels, get ramped up about, around the experience of living.
And that’s what we did. I
David Hirsch: love that. So let’s talk about Ainsley’s angels, which is a seven year old. Not-for-profit the names to build awareness about America’s special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life, and to ensure everyone. Experienced endurance at
Rooster Rossiter: odds. I’m Kim rooster, Rossiter, co founder, and president of Ainsley’s angels of America.
And perhaps most importantly, Lee’s dad. It gives me a great opportunity to come together with this inspired family here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we’re feeling I get is a huge acceptance. A feeling that you get from running them is just. Awesome happiness. It’s just kind of that simple. I felt like I, I wasn’t disabled one day a physical therapist named Peggy said we should go down to the local ocean front and allow Ainslie the chance to roll with the wind.
We saw how the wind blew in Ainsley’s face and it lit her up. We saw how she reacted to that. Just wonderful excitement of the crowd telling her that yes, she can accomplish a five K road race, despite the fact that she’s never. We’re taking a step in her life. It makes me feel empowered. I feel like I can do anything in the world.
David Hirsch: What was the impetus for creating Ainsley’s angels?
Rooster Rossiter: So I mentioned to you that the physical therapist said, let’s go out, go out for a run. You’re a Marine, take your daughter. Let’s go. Well, a lot of your listeners may have heard of, of, of our hero Dick and Rick wait. Well, Dick and Rick Hoyt, there’s a long story behind what these gentlemen do.
And of course you have to listen to David’s podcasts with Dick. You have to do that. They had allowed their name to be applied to the local running group called teen white Virginia Beach. And it was the only location that they allowed their name to be extended to. And so when we went and that had just happened.
So when we arrived in town, we were like the newest members of some of the first members of this brand new sing, which was a ride along program in Virginia Beach. And so we went out there and did that. And the experience was so special for, for how Ainslie was able to respond to the wind and their smile.
And it was, it was just so positive. That I knew that that’s something I wanted to do more of. I wanted to run with her as much as she wanted it to be Ryan ran with. And, and from that point on, um, because she wasn’t a ballerina up on, on a, on a stage doing dance or, or out there in a hockey net protecting the goal from the puck.
You know, she became an athlete, a runner, and I had the opportunity to do that with her. And so that was 2008. And by the time 2011 came around, we were getting ready to run the Marine Corps marathon. Which is just amazing that we’re actually now going to run 26 miles in DC as a Marine with my daughter.
It was just amazing. And my sister and I were talking about the idea of getting some tee shirts made and that led to multiple conversations in a very short amount of time about the idea of establishing. Uh, something that we could spread across the country, but actually specifically in Louisiana at the time, we just wanted to take this experience that Ainslie was enjoying and have, have our friends and family be able to spread that goodness in Louisiana.
Um, and then that, of course, we’ve got legs of its own in S now. Brought us to where we are today in 33 States and 66 locations. Um, but, but it was during that time from 2008 to 2011, where our racing experiences and in running with team white, Virginia Beach was so very special that I got to go to a Dick’s house.
Our family went up and met Dick, uh, in 2000, uh, 2009, 2009, 2010, 2011. We went back year after year. And it was during those, those trips that, uh, really got to see the amazing man that his Dick and, and get to know Rick and, and see just, just exactly why Dick, you know, didn’t hesitate to answer. Rick’s request to take them on that run, uh, back in the late seventies.
And so it was during that time though, that the conversations would come up from time to time about the idea. Of of spreading this thing of, of, of, uh, creating team points across the country. Um, and really at that time, Dick was not ready to do something like that. Um, it wasn’t necessarily where, where he was focusing his energies and that’s what led to the idea of, okay, well, we’ll, we’ll do that through Ainsley’s angels.
And of course, Dick was, was instrumental in giving us his blessing. And of course, team point foundation helped us instrumentally in the early years. Um, with, with the forming of that and getting it going so much that eventually we did decide to create team white, new England theme, white San Diego. In fact, I was the executive director for team white new England for quite a few years, um, before Ainsley’s angels got to a point where it demands so much of my time and energy, um, as it, as it has spread to it’s from, from coast to coast.
So that’s kind of a long answer to kind of describe that, but I think it’s important to point out those details and to really pay homage to. Two different Rick and the pioneers for athletic inclusion.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well like yourself, I hold Dick on a very high pedestal for the role model that he has been to me, to you and to millions and millions of others and the triathlon community and the running community.
And my wife would describe this as a decades long man crush. That I’ve had on deck. And I guess I just have to own that. I’ve admired him from a distance for decades and decades. And when I had a chance to meet him not so long ago at his house, and it was like a surreal experience, right. Just being in the presence of this iconic individual.
Who’s very, soft-spoken, who’s just an ordinary guy who, you know, has been an extraordinary role model. And I think of him as the poster child for the word commitment. A commitment that a father makes to his child. You know, there’s a lot of things that could be taken away. Uh, from the work that he’s done from the work that you’re doing.
So I just admire you for putting your thoughts into action, as opposed to just
Rooster Rossiter: thinking about things. I appreciate that David, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that in 2013, when Dick and Rick were inducted to the Marine Corps hall of fame, uh, at the Marine Corps marathon, he stood before us. We were, we were assembled, there were 30 plus teams of us duos and he said, Dick Dick said, Rick and I are getting older.
W we were not going to be able to do this for decades and decades to come. And he said, and we need to pass the torch. And when that man said, we need to pass the torch, it was just like this beautiful, like, message that just came so clear to me in that moment, which was to take that torch and to carry that message as far and wide as I could.
Um, because, because Dick tasked us that day to do it. And today to have over 2,500 riders that are registered with Ainsley’s angels across the country and the 66 locations. And to see the work that team is doing now with their, with their four to six locations across the United States and other organizations, my team triumph is across the country.
The Kyle peace foundation out of Atlanta, where those two brothers, you need to talk to them. My friend, they’re going to go do a Kona. They’re going to do the full one, one 40.6, the two brothers, and also inspired by, by what Dick and Rick pioneered. So it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. And I love the opportunity to execute this mission every single day.
David Hirsch: I love it. So a lot of stories over the. Seven plus years that you’ve been doing this, just share one or two stories that come to mind of the transformative impact that you’ve had on some people’s lives.
Rooster Rossiter: Um, my, uh, there’s so many, um, from, from the gentleman who’s 106 years old and, and got a chance to, to be pushed by his great grandson and a five K being a small part of making that happen through our efforts.
Wow. Right. Who would have thought that he would ever get a chance to go for a run with his great, great grandson again? To the, to the young mom, you know, who has this child that, that has been born into this world with, with some challenges. And, and the opportunity for the young mom to, to take that child and to go and do things together that otherwise they wouldn’t have even known as possible.
And to, for us to be able to play a part in getting them the equipment that they need, I could sell so many stories. You know, that the man who’s legally blind, who had an opportunity to push his friend, Who is a teenager with high functioning autism. Who’s probably, you know, a hundred, maybe 50 pounds heavier than him to push him in the Boston marathon.
You already see that happening in the end. It ended in to train with them and to get to know them. And David, just like I said earlier, it’s the people. The people I met in the Marine Corps that shaped my experience, the people that I’m being introduced to through this journey. Um, I, it just really completes the trifecta.
It’s the upbringing, it’s the Marine Corps experience. And it’s all the things that Ainslie made possible just by being born. And as a result of those three things, it’s brought me to this place as a young 40 something to just have decades ahead of me that I can build upon these experiences to just do good.
And, and to do good every day and to be pure and positive and to give people an opportunity to, to smile instead of worrying about their next treatment.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What’s amazing. Um, you introduced me recently to a young woman here in Chicago. Her name is Kathleen and she is your ambassador local ambassador.
And, uh, I’m inspired by the commitment that she has made and just share with our listeners for a minute. What is it that you’re looking for? How does the whole process work? I know that there’s chairs, there’s money to be raised and there’s different ways for people to engage. So just lay it out, you know, very clearly.
Rooster Rossiter: Yeah. So every person that’s part of our effort is called an angel. The idea is that everyone’s Ainsley’s angels. You know, whether they’re the athlete rider angels, whether they are the angel runners, guardian angels, who are volunteers to help out at race day or to help with advocacy. So there’s three things we aim to do.
We aim to advocate. We aim to educate. And ultimately, because life is so very shortened, we ain’t to celebrate. So advocate, celebrate, educate things that you can do every single day. And so our angels across the country, they do those things on behalf of the mission statement. So let’s just say that you live in a small city in the middle of Montana.
Well, you go to our website and you see that we don’t have Montana execution occurring right now because the state is not colored pink. And all you have to do is tell us that you’d love to see Ainsley’s angels come to your state. And we have an ambassadorship program that takes people from the first to, to the 100th step and ensuring that we arm them with the skills to educate, to advocate and to celebrate and all aspects of life.
This idea of, of everyone should be included. And we do this primarily through athletic events, through five K’s and half marathons and full marathon, swimming events, biking events. But the thing that often is misunderstood is that you don’t have to be a world class athlete to be able to do this. Like you met, you met on the phone with Kathleen.
Kathleen is not a, you know, going to Hawaii to do iron me, right. It, Kathleen is a lady who has a big heart. And a desire to ensure everyone can be included. So she’s, she said, I want to bring this to Chicago. So she is now entered our program. She’s going through the training of being brought up to speed on exactly what it takes to do this mission set.
And we’re, we’re overly grateful. I mean, this young lady is dedicating a lot of time and energy to ensuring that goodness comes to Chicago for everybody. And I’m grateful to David that you’re going to potentially assist her in that process by being present. You know, that’s all we ever ask is that people are present in this journey and play to their strengths and give us a hand.
David Hirsch: So one of the things that I find most touching about the Ainsleys angel organization is that you created it during Ainsley’s life. She’s had a direct impact on so many lives during our short 12 years on our planet. Um, and so continue to impact people for years and years, decades, and decades, generations into eternity.
What is it that you’re experience has been? What, what does this look like from your perspective?
Rooster Rossiter: I mean, perennially, I mean, wow. What I mean, what, what, what just an opportunity. I mean, we. We have our children, we raise them, we send them on their way and we hope that they become, you know, beneficial parts of our societies.
And we never imagined that we’re going to have someone that’s, that’s born with an illness that takes their life way earlier than anybody should, should be taken. But, but during that time, like, Being able to inspire this action by so many other people and being able to do that quite frankly, by her, just to her presence and our smile.
I mean, you, you gotta understand like Ainslie is a strong spirit, like whether she was with us, whether she’s she’s passed on off of earth in the flesh, like her presence is strong and to, into, to be. Fortunate enough to be like the father to someone who has that, that strength. I mean, what a, what an opportunity.
I mean, it does it, does it sock that she’s not here anymore? Yes. Sucks. We miss her every single day, but the only way that I’m really able to kind of accepting cope and get through that thing is to just to try to take a step back and not be selfish and look at what she’s done. And that stuff is just powerful and strong and it continues to happen across the United States every single day.
And quite frankly, I am proud of her. For for, for, for that, you know, I mean, that’s just, that’s just strong and the whole time that she was here, she never complained. She didn’t, she didn’t, she never took time to, to say, is it feels sorry for herself. She lived a life that was one of, of, of just continuing to move forward.
And I don’t know, man, I’m just fortunate enough to be able to, to be your father, you know, and, and that’s special.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what a great legacy that she’s left. You Laurie are siblings and the wider society. It’s just a wonderful testimony to her short
Rooster Rossiter: life. Most definitely. And, and, and, and, and, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that, like I mentioned earlier that everybody handles situations of, of travesty in their own way.
And, and I mean, even when, when I look back on, on quite frankly, how. How Lori and I have had them navigate through this thing. Like Laurie navigates her way, like the way that she copes in grieves as her way and the way that I cope and grieve is my way. And, and if, and if you attempt to like, try to like implant your way on one another, it can create a level of, of, of, of stress.
It can create a level of tension and in that right there is not what you need in the moment. That is trying to kind of navigate this thing together. But, but I’ll tell you, like, there was this sense about how Ainsley’s presence was. It’s almost like she, she was a, she’s just a calming presence. And if you paid attention to that calming presence, it would really take its toll, um, in terms of bringing you to a calmer place.
And so I would say that when you go down this journey, The thing to reflect and remember is that everybody accepts at a different pace. Sometimes people don’t ever accept and that everybody works through this journey in their own way. And sometimes, you know, finding yourself, trying to fix something or trying to impose kind of your way on how the journey should go, can actually create more.
Bad than good. And so, so trying to communicate about how that’s feeling, you know, what you’re feeling and what you’re doing is important. It’s a lot easier said than done to do in a lot of cases. But, but hopefully getting to a point where you can share with your partner and or with your children, you know, exactly kind of what you’re feeling as you’re walking through and going through this journey together.
So, so I would just say that the answer is to respect one another’s process and one another’s journey.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s a words of wisdom. So under the banner of advice, I’m thinking about, uh, what advice can you provide dads who have a child with a physical or intellectual disability
Rooster Rossiter: when it comes down to it?
The one thing that that is being requested salt desired is your most valuable commodity, which is your time. So if you can provide that and you can do that with intent, that quite frankly, there’s nothing else. That would be more important.
David Hirsch: So. Why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the special father’s network
Rooster Rossiter: to become a mentor?
Father has got everything to do with the idea that I feel like. I didn’t just simply meet David or come across David on a whim. I think that it’s a, there’s a reason why I was introduced to this opportunity and why I now have this opportunity to, to take that and, and to share that, um, specifically those experiences that I’ve had, because at the end of the day, there’s always going to be somebody that’s got a question or, or is in a dark place and needs to reflect upon that dark place and might feel lost.
So, I guess I would say that there’s a lot of different mechanisms out there that what you have started and what your team is doing. David is, is absolutely wonderful because when I started looking for resources and things that was father to father type of opportunity from likeminded people, um, I, I had, I had a hard time finding it.
I, in fact, uh, I couldn’t find it. And there was a lot of things I had to kind of figure out on my own. And so to be a father mentor to those that are just starting their journey, um, reminds me a lot about, you know, the opportunity to be a mentor, to young Marines, to be an active role in my, in my own son’s life.
And then at the same time to be able to be, um, to be able to give to those who may not have the knowledge, because they’re just turning this journey on. So that’s why David, I hope I’ve answered your
David Hirsch: question. That’s fabulous. So let’s give a special shout out to Dick and record of team Hoyt for putting us in contact with one another and for being such a big inspiration to not only us, but the millions and millions of other people, um, that they’ve touched either directly or indirectly.
So, is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up
Rooster Rossiter: again? Thank you for the opportunity. I look forward to the, to the realm of possible in terms of where we can go from here. I think it’s unlimited. And if we just open up our imaginations and quite frankly, our minds to the, to the realm of possible, uh, we can get there together.
I love it.
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to get information on Ainsley’s angels become an athlete rider, athlete, runner, a guardian angel, a sponsor, make a donation, where would they go? Or how would they contact you?
Rooster Rossiter: Everything about what we do is on our website. Ainsleysangels.org. And it’s we tried to make it extremely easy to understand exactly when you get to the site.
There’s even a little video, a little video right there, and that little Viet it’s 90 seconds. And it tells you exactly how to join the family and the roles that everybody takes and how to sign up and how to determine if there’s a, an active ambassadorship in your town. If there isn’t, it’s as easy as sending an email to info at Ainsley’s angels.org and letting us know.
Hey, I want to bring this program to my community. I want to see inclusion celebrated in my community and we can, we can talk through that process from there. Of course, David, we’re also active on all social media. You know, our big, big ones are probably our YouTube channel. Just search Ainsley’s angels. We put out at least once a week, really great content that captures what we’re doing across the country.
It’s actually edited and produced by my oldest daughter. Ainsley’s sister Briley. And she’s done that consecutive for the past 134 weeks. I don’t know what you were doing when you were in high school, David, but that’s pretty doggone impressive if you asked me and I appreciate her efforts.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous.
So Rooster, thank you for taking the time and many insights. As a reminder, Rooster is just one of the dads. Who’s agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or. Are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation, your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thanks again. I really appreciate it.
Rooster Rossiter: Thank you so much for the opportunity, David.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support, or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Fathers Network podcast, stories of fathers, helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The special fathers network podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio, and again, to find out more about the Special Fathers Network, go to 21stcenturydads.org, 21stcenturydads.org.