An Austin runner who in 2017 became the first woman with Down Syndrome to complete the Austin Half Marathon shaved an hour and 45 minutes off her finish time this year.
Kayleigh Williamson danced happily as she crossed the finish line of Sunday’s 13.1-mile race. Then she and her mother celebrated with a burger and fries.
“She did amazing. It’s hard for me to put it into words,” said Sandy Williamson, Kayleigh’s mother.
Last year, Kayleigh struggled, walking slowly up the daunting hill on Enfield Drive. This year, when she approached the same spot, she looked at her mother with a worry in her eyes. Sandy Williamson reassured her daughter, and together they ran most of the way up the steep slope.
“The whole way I let her know it was her race and she determined what that race was. It had to be her, and it was,” Sandy Williamson said.
Race organizers kept the finish line open for Kayleigh, and volunteers manning water stops cheered her and chanted her name along the way.
“It empowered her,” Sandy Williamson said.
Kayleigh had hoped to finish the race in less than 6 hours. She blew that goal away, with a finish time of 4 hours and 36 minutes. She has said that she wants to encourage others with Down Syndrome to run and get fit.
She was more fit this time around, said her coach, Kim Davis, founder of RunLab, which analyzes gaits and treats running-related injuries.
“She looked so happy when we saw her at Mile 7,” Davis said. “Last year she was crying.”
Williamson began training at RunLab in July 2016. Her success should stand as an example for others with developmental delays, Davis said.
“I think if you get out there and work on the same thing that every other runner works on – endurance and biomechanics – they can run too. That’s the big message from my end. They have to work on all the same things the rest of us work on, and as long as someone is there to help them through it, they can do it to,” Davis said.
Already, Kayleigh has a goal for next year – to finish in less than 4 hours. Plus, she plans to run all the races in the Austin Distance Challenge.
Twenty-two runners, including Kayleigh, were part of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas team, which raised more than $25,000 to support programming for individuals with Down syndrome and their families in Central Texas.
Two other members of Kayleigh’s Club, a group of athletes with special needs, finished the half marathon as well – Bonnie Bratton and Melissa Grice.