Hate messages don't stop Modesto runner who champions for disabled people

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A Modesto woman who champions for equality and inclusiveness for disabled people, and has completed 70 foot races and triathlons while pushing her daughter in an adaptive racing wheelchair, has become the target of a hate campaign. 

Over the last 10 months, Kelli Tanghe said her next door neighbors have spray painted hateful messages about her daughter’s disability on a side of their home that faces her house, put voodoo dolls in their windows, yelled obscenities in Spanish and English, made obscene gestures toward her and kicked her husband’s car. 

“It’s intimidation,’’ Tanghe said.

The problems started last December when the Tanghes began hearing their side yard gate open and close at night and unrecognizable noises near their daughter’s bedroom window. 

After they put a lock on the gate and installed exterior security cameras, Tanghe said the noises stopped, but the trouble began.

“They didn’t like the security cameras because it put an eye on them,’’ she said of her neighbor’s 12-person household. 

But because the hateful messages are on their own private property, the neighbors aren’t culpable in a crime, said Detective Shawn Dodge with the Modesto Police, who has reviewed photos of the spray painted messages. 

Tanghe said moving isn’t an option because the home, where they have lived for decades, has been adapted for their daughter and her wheelchair and is paid off.

But Tanghe said she isn’t going to let her experience with discrimination stop her from continuing to champion for inclusiveness for disabled people. She’s working with Carlo Facchino, the founder of the Mermaid Series races, to organize an “Erase the Hate” race next year. 

“I feel like this is a way for us to stand up to hate and stand in solidarity with any disabled individual who has ever experienced discrimination and prejudice and hate,'' Tanghe said. 

Tanghe has plenty of experience standing in solidarity with disabled people. 

Her daughter, Arianna “Ari” Tanghe was born with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment and was never expected to walk. But after extensive physical therapy, she took her first steps when she was 6 years old. 

“I had told myself that if she was ever able to take an independent step, I was going to lace up running shoes and learn how to run,” said Tanghe.

She was 43 at the time and not athletic, but determination set in. Over the next six years, she trained hard and became a marathon runner, including finishing two Boston Marathons in 2009 and 2010.

“But every time I would go out for a run with (my two older children) Ari would say, ‘how far are you going to go?  How many miles are you going to go?’ and we felt bad.” 

One day, the determined mother made a promise to her daughter. “I said, ‘we are going to run, I’m going to push you in your chair.’” 

The two soon completed a local 5K race. 

“When we crossed the finish line, she said, ‘mom, I feel so good. I feel like my disability disappeared.’ She said, ‘when can we do another race?’”

The pair completed more 5K and 10K races and then increased their mileage. To mark Ari’s 13th birthday in 2013, the duo completed 13 half marathons in a year. 

“We had a blast,’’ Tanghe said. 

They also inspired plenty of other runners, who tend to push themselves a little harder when they see Ari’s big smile and motivational spirit and realize Tanghe is running while pushing an extra 150 pounds on the course. 

“People say she motivated them to finish the course,’’ Tanghe said.