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Woman becomes the first person with Down syndrome to finish Austin Half Marathon

TODAY logo TODAY 2/24/2017 Meghan Holohan

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As Kayleigh Williamson ran the course of the Austin Half Marathon, the humidity, hills and an injured ankle slowed her down. Sometimes she walked. Sometimes she ran.

Soon, it became clear to her mom, Sandy Williamson, that the pain was hobbling 26-year-old Kayleigh.

"If you want to stop, this is your race, you can stop," Williamson said, hoping to spare Kayleigh, who has Down syndrome, more agony.

But Kayleigh had been dreaming of finishing a half marathon; she couldn't give up now.

"No, I am not quitting," she told Williamson. "I can do this and I am going to do this and no one is going to stop me."

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This determination helped Kayleigh become the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Half Marathon; she completed the 13.1 miles in six hours, 22 minutes, and 57 seconds.

"I wanted to get to the finish line," Kayleigh told TODAY. "I was proud of myself."

Her mom wasn't surprised. Her daughter's always been determined. She took Krav Maga for three years, swims and plays basketball with the Special Olympics.

"She doesn't seem to have it in her to say 'OK, I quit,'" said Williamson.

While Kayleigh's attitude helped her achieve her dream, she also had a little help from some friends. About two dozen people and a goldendoodle named Chuck ran and walked with her.

"I saw them taking turns building her up," Williamson said. "It was very emotional."

© Kim Davis/RunLab Austin

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Kim Davis, owner of RunLab Austin, has been helping Kayleigh with her ankle injury, ran with Kayleigh throughout the entire race (though she thinks her dog Chuck truly motivated Kayleigh). When the crowds died down because the marathon finished, Davis called friends to come cheer for Kayleigh.

"By the end of the race she had about 15 or 20 people there," Davis said. "It was really cool."

Because Kayleigh was the last runner they also needed police officers to close the intersections. This disruption annoyed some drivers, but soon they, too, became cheerleaders.

"They would stop and start yelling and encouraging her. The whole city was watching her," said Williamson.

© Kim Davis/RunLab Austin

Kayleigh's performance wowed Davis.

"She is a super inspirational human," said Davis. "Anyone that spends six-and-a-half hours on a hilly humid course like that even though they can't run the whole thing, it was touching."

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The marathon organizers put the finish line back up so that Kayleigh could cross it and get her medal. When she spotted the finish line, she stopped, took down her hair, put her arms in the air and ran across it.

"It was a day us that made us feel good about humanity," said Davis.

© Kim Davis/RunLab Austin

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Watching Kayleigh taught Williamson more about her daughter.

"I spent so much time trying to protect her," she said. "The race changed my perspective; I didn't need to protect her from the world. She could take on the world."

© Sandy Williamson

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And, Williamson hopes Kayleigh inspires others.

"Don't let others' concept of what you can and cannot do define you," Williamson said.

Kayleigh approaching the finish line of her first half marathon race. © Kim Davis/RunLab Austin Kayleigh approaching the finish line of her first half marathon race.
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