PAXTON, Ill. (WCIA) — A cross-country meet on Thursday turned into a joyous moment of triumph for a Ford County middle school.
Coaches said the young runners showed a level of sportsmanship they’d never seen before. Runners from several teams rallied behind one boy to help get him across the finish line.
Evan Hudson has Down syndrome, but he wanted to celebrate his 13th birthday by accomplishing a personal goal. Usually, he only runs half of the two-mile course, but this time, he pushed himself to the limit and he didn’t do it alone.
“It brings a tear to my eye,” said Coach Mariah White. “Whenever we were at the meet, everybody was crying and so it was just very emotional.”
Hudson has been on the Paxton-Buckley-Loda Junior High School cross country team for the past two years. But this year, he did something he’s never done before: he tried out the full two-mile course.
“We were very excited and pleased that he was going to try it,” White said.
“I was actually right next to Evan, and it was pretty awesome,” said Hudson’s teammate Zachary Miller.
Family and coaches said seeing all of the kids run with and cheer Hudson on made the moment special.
“I decided to go and run with him,” White said. “And then about eight minutes away, I started hearing chants: ‘Ev-an! Ev-an!’”
“Everybody was cheering ‘Evan,'” Miller said. “Like, that was the only word anybody was saying at that point.”
Team coaches said the moment filled them with hope.
“It’s just so great to see all the other schools going and being inclusive with Evan, and then our other runners as well,” White said.
“These are the kids of our future,” said Assistant Coach Torrie Jones. “So, this is very promising in a world where sometimes we maybe get a little discouraged.”
Miller said helping Evan in the last stretch was nothing more than helping his friend finish the race.
“He’s a nice person and thank you for helping him get across that finish line,” Miller said. “Without all those people, I don’t know if he could have done it. But he’s our Evan.”
Coaches said because of how well he did, they hope to see Evan run more full courses in the future.