Teammates rally around runner with cerebral palsy

(WOOD-TV Photo)

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a rare moment when the student became the teacher — or rather, the athletes became the coaches.

At a track meet in Greenville Tuesday night, three runners from the Forest Hills Northern Middle School track team ran a race they’ll never forget. Noah Jacobs, Victor Santillan and Benjamin Hood ran alongside their teammate Nathan VanDyken.

Nathan, a 7th-grader, has cerebral palsy. He was born 16 weeks early at just 1 pound and 16 ounces. His mother said his whole life has been a race.

Forest Hills Northern Middle School students Noah Jacobs, Victor Santillan and Benjamin Hood run alongside their teammate Nathan VanDyken during an April 28, 2015 track meet in Greenville.
(Noah Jacobs, Victor Santillan and Benjamin Hood run alongside Nathan VanDyken during the track meet.)

Tuesday’s 70-meter dash was the first he won.

“I got first place yesterday,” the 14-year-old Nathan said, beaming.

It was a last-minute decision by his teammates to run with him. They didn’t want the spotlight or attention, they simply wanted to give Nathan a message — one that’s universal.

“I mean if you see someone different, just look at them and say, well yeah, they’re a part of who we are, they’re the same person,” Noah, a 7th-grader, said.

“We want people to be inspired, just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do something,” 8th-grade teammate Victor added.

“People should all be treated the same and if you have a disability, you should push yourself and tell yourself you can do it,” Benjamin finished.

The crowd rose to their feet, many with lumps in their throats, as the boys ran together and Nathan earned his win. Even head coach Patrick Stecco was moved.

“He was just yelling for joy and we were all together,” Victor said.

“It made me feel happy that someone can have fun and win,” Benjamin added.

In the marathon of life, the sprinters seem to have the right stride to make it to the finish.

Nathan is confident and full of energy. He says he’s ready for another win — this time in the conference championship.

That’s scheduled for May 18 at Kenowa Hills High School. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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