Kayleigh Williamson laced up her shoes and hit the ground running.
Tracking a path of 26.2 miles alongside 50,000 runners, a 33-year-old Texas athlete, Kayleigh Williamson, made history as being one of the first women with Down syndrome to complete the New York City marathon.
Not a small feat, the woman crossed the finish line at a little over 10 hours, and her mom, who raced at her side, said the journey was filled with dancing, music, tears and many high-fives.
Austin’s Kayleigh Williamson, 33, is letting the world know that having Down syndrome isn’t going to slow her down.
When Kayleigh first started running in 2017, she made history as the first person with Down syndrome to complete the Austin Marathon. Since then, she has raced many half and full marathons.
Her relationship with running started when her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her own mother, Sandy Williamson, 56, made some healthy lifestyle changes for her and her daughter.
“It was at about the same time my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” said Sandy, also a marathon runner. “So, I implemented some healthy lifestyle choices. We just started running and I was already running, and Kayleigh wanted to do some races with me.”
Speaking of her mom, who died in 2021, Sandy adds, “My mom used to tell us she escaped from the nursing home and had traveled to all these places like California and Colorado…So what we started doing was finding races in those states to turn her temporary memory into permanent ones. Kayleigh would take her medal back and show it to my mom.”
Shortly before tackling the NYC Marathon, Kaylee tried the 26-mile Boston course in September 2023. Unfortunately, due to inclement weather conditions on race day, she was forced to abort her mission.
But that only pushed the athlete work harder.
Running for grandma
On November 5, 2023, Kayleigh ventured to New York, determined to complete one of the more difficult courses, running 26.2 miles from Staten Island to Central Park in the NYC Marathon.
The New York run was special to Kayleigh, who raced in honor of her grandmother, who frequently talked about taking her granddaughter to see the holiday lights brighten up the Big Apple.
“She told me, ‘I will help carry you through the race,’” Kayleigh told Runner’s World, of her first New York run.
Sandy adds, “On the back of her shirt it said, ‘Running in memory of my grandma, memories matter, Alzheimer’s awareness.’”
Throughout the course, Sandy recalls that Kayleigh stopped her to remind her that she, too, was running for her mother. “My daughter has this ability to just see into people’s hearts…That for me was that pivotal moment because during the race, she kept saying ‘Mom you’re running for grandma too.’”
The next day, a clip of Kayleigh crossing the finish line was shared on Instagram, where Kayleigh is seen falling into a deep embrace with her mom, sobbing from her painful and exhausting accomplishment.
Flooding the comment section with praise, fans complimented the runner and called her an “inspiration.”
One writes, “You are an inspiration girl. You made me cry tears of happiness and joy. Never give up on being the incredible inspiration that you are.” A second shares, “Kayleigh, I am so inspired by your strength and courage! Every run is such an accomplishment, but wow this is incredible.”
And a third netizen writes, “she is truly an inspiration beyond words, boundaries & stigmas!!”
Meanwhile, immediately after Kayleigh finished the race and caught her breath, she spoke with People and said she’ll always remember how she felt when she made history at the marathon. “I am a diva,” Kayleigh said. “The whole race I was always fixing my hair. I did a victory dance at the finish line.”
Beaming with pride, Sandy reflected on her daughter’s achievement: “New York changed the way I saw my daughter. Every time she heard music she stopped to dance. It was very emotional for her at the end, the last two miles.” She continued, “But then someone turned up music on their phone and she would dance a little. Then she would cry. Her muscles were sore and they were bothering her. Things like that. But Kaylee didn’t stop. She didn’t want to give up.”
Kayleigh and her mom are now training for half-marathons in December, January and February. When asked why she runs, she simply replied: “I like to run because it makes me feel happy.”
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