Zach Kibler isn't your average junior high cross country runner. Not every runner finishes a race with a smiling face and an escort of 20 other runners.
The Erie County Championships cross country meet was at Osborn Park Tuesday afternoon and I photographed the varsity team races. (Photos can be found HERE.) When I returned to the paper Register sports writer emeritus Butch Wagner asked me if I had any photos of the big finish to the race and I thought he meant the photo finish of the Perkins/Huron runners legging out the final few yards.
Then he mentioned the junior high race and how the Perkins and Edison teams escorted a young runner to the finish line and what a great moment it was. Photographers do not like to hear about great moments that they missed, but I looked into it and luckily there were photos taken.
The Perkins and Edison teams ran with Kibler during his final 400 meters, an inspiring sight to those who were there and still inspiring in the photo snapped above.
But there's a little more to the story. I recognized the name Zachary Kibler from a story we did about 9 years ago as this cute, always-smiling, 3-year-old with Down syndrome was being mainstreamed into the Berlin-Milan school district. You couldn't stop him on the playground then and it looks like you can't stop him on the race course now. I've added a couple photos of Zach from 2003 above.
Jason Howland wrote a letter to the editor and we will find a place for his words an upcoming edition of the Register, but here's a sneak peek...
Dear Mr. Westerhold,
In light of the recent tragedies and sad news plaguing Sandusky news, I found last night’s display of sportsmanship and compassion by the Briar Middle School boys Cross Country team at the Erie County XC Championships, uplifting and encouraging.
Zach Kibler, a member of Edison Jr High School’s XC team with Down’s Syndrome, has been inspiring runners along the course this year. I have watched his infectious smile cross the line at the Tiffin XC Carnival and the Galion XC Festival, to the cheers of the crowd gathered at the finish, but watching Perkins boys as they raced to the corner of Osborne Park to run the last 400 meters with Zach gave me faith that there is, not only good in our community, but there is GREATNESS.
I am incredibly proud of these young men (and the whole team, lest I forget the young women) for the support they have shown each other over the last four months of conditioning and practice. Last night was one of the classiest, most moving moments I have witnessed in sport.
To coaches Jen Galloway and Tammie Brenton, you have done an amazing job, fostering an environment where mutual respect and empathy are just as important as having fun. Keep up the great work! To all the parents, I hope you are as proud of your kids, as I am of mine!
And lastly, to Zach… keep on running and keep on smiling!