Down syndrome won’t stop this woman from finishing a half-marathon

Kayleigh Williamson takes aim at her second Austin Half Marathon on Feb. 18


Highlights

Last year, Kayleigh Williamson became the first woman with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Half Marathon.

This year Williamson hopes to finish the race in less than six hours.

RunLab has formed a group called Kayleigh’s Club to encourage nontraditional runners to exercise.

It took Kayleigh Williamson six hours and 23 minutes to run and walk the Austin Half Marathon last year.

The finish line had been dismantled when she got there, but race organizers put it up again. When Williamson crossed, followed by an entourage of police and trainers from a local chiropractor’s clinic, the 27-year-old flipped her hair in triumph. She had just become the first woman with Down syndrome to complete the 13.1-mile race. Someone put a medal around her neck, and later one of her coaches gave her a personalized belt buckle.

“I loved it,” Williamson says.

This year, she returns with two new goals in mind — to finish the half-marathon in less than six hours, and to encourage others with Down syndrome to get running and register for the Paramount Break a Leg 5K, part of the Feb. 18 Austin Marathon and Half Marathon slate of events.

Williamson’s coaches at RunLab, a clinic tucked inside Rogue Running, think she can reach her goals. In the past year, she shaved 40 minutes off her time at the 10-mile Run for the Water and dropped her pace from about 30 minutes per mile to 18 minutes per mile.

“My mom told me I am inspiring to other people,” Williamson, 27, said before a treadmill session at RunLab on a recent chilly day. “I run a lot. It’s hard.”

Williamson began training at RunLab in July 2016, after her mother brought her to Rogue Running to get new shoes. Chiropractor Kim Davis, founder of RunLab, which analyzes gaits and treats running-related injuries, offered to check Kayleigh’s running technique.

“At the end of the day, mechanics are mechanics, Down syndrome or not,” Davis says.

After their visit, Davis decided she wanted to help more. She invited Williamson to train with RunLab coaches, and eventually added the athlete to the shop’s roster of elite runners. Since then, Williamson has lost about 50 pounds. Running has boosted her confidence and allowed her to connect with other runners. It has also inspired Kayleigh’s grandmother, who suffers from dementia.

ALSO IN FIT CITY: Gear up for Austin Marathon at Friday’s Prep & Pump session at Rogue

“I think running is fun, and it gets you healthier and faster,” says Williamson, who also competes in basketball, bowling and swimming through the Special Olympics.

Today, Williamson runs three or four times a week and participates in core strengthening classes and weekly track workouts. She’s finished a slew of races, including the Silicon Labs Sunshine Run, Schlotzsky’s Bun Run, Zooma 5K and the Run for the Water 10-miler.

Her mother, Sandy Williamson, 51, runs alongside Kayleigh. It’s a point of pride for the single parent of a child doctors said would be lucky to walk by age 5.

“I want to quit before she wants to quit,” says Sandy Williamson, who has finished more than a dozen half-marathons herself. “She says, ‘Toughen up, buttercup.’”

That makes Kayleigh Williamson laugh.

After seeing Williamson’s success at the half-marathon, Davis decided to put together a team of nontraditional runners for the Zilker Relays last year. She drew enough interest to form three teams, and realized a community need. The Arc of the Capital Area invited Davis to join its board of directors, and Davis created Kayleigh’s Club to encourage other nontraditional runners to start exercising. Participants work on gait mechanics, strength and stability.

“I think fitness is such an empowering and important thing for people with special needs or not,” Davis says. “People with Down syndrome get pigeonholed as unable to run. We want to change that, and Kayleigh’s a great poster child.”

Brandon Ramirez, 14, who has Down syndrome, joined Kayleigh’s Club and has finished several mile-long races. On Feb. 18, he’ll run the Paramount Break a Leg 5K. It will mark his longest run to date, and he’s excited about the chance to earn a finisher medal.

“He saw our (race) medals and wanted one,” says his mother, Adriana Ramirez, 38, who is also a runner. “He wants to be as fast as everyone else.”

That’s the kind of motivation Kayleigh’s mother hopes her daughter can provide.

“What’s really cool is the running community as a whole and how our kids have just been brought into it,” Sandy Williamson says. “The people we’ve met, the friends we’ve made, the support on the course — it’s been amazing.”

It reminds Sandy Williamson of a young woman with Down syndrome she saw on the side of the road when she ran the 3M Half Marathon several years ago. “I thought, ‘Why does she have to be on the sideline?’”

It turns out she doesn’t.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

Today’s birthdays - Sunday, February 25
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, February 25

Today’s Birthdays: Actress Ann McCrea is 87. Actor Tom Courtenay is 81. Former CBS newsman Bob Schieffer is 81. Actress Diane Baker is 80. Actress Karen Grassle is 76. Former professional wrestler Ric Flair is 69. Humorist Jack Handey is 69. Movie director Neil Jordan is 68. Rock singer-musician/actor John Doe (X) is 65. Rock musician Dennis...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, February 25

ARIES (March 21-April 19). It’s difficult not to get attached to things today, especially when they fall so perfectly in line with who you think you are. Of course, we’re never who we think we are, any more than we are who others think we are. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). Should you maximize your gains or minimize your losses? It depends on...
Gear up for rodeo, spring and more Austin family fun, Feb. 25-March 3
Gear up for rodeo, spring and more Austin family fun, Feb. 25-March 3

Events Rodeo Austin Cowboy Breakfast. Eat breakfast like a cowboy. 6 a.m. Friday. Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive. rodeoaustin.com. Texas Independence Day Parade. Celebrate the history of Texas. Free. 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Congress Ave. celebratetexas.org. Explore UT. Find activities throughout the University of Texas campus. Free. 11 a.m. to 5 p...
Dear Abby - Sunday, February 25

Dear Abby: I am a 70-year-old male former teacher and social worker. I stopped dating 30 years ago because the only women I had loved had all dumped me. I felt I was only a temporary convenience to them. Since then, I haven’t been romantically involved with anyone so I would not be dumped again. However, I am lonely for female companionship and...
Flu shots less effective than normal, CDC report says

It turns out the rumors were true: This year’s flu shot is indeed less effective than usual. An unusually resilient strain of influenza called H3N2 has been the predominant assailant this season, and the vaccine rolled out last year was ill-suited to protect against it. While previous analyses from Canada and Australia on its H3N2 effectiveness...
More Stories