Kayleigh Williamson breaks barriers by being the first person with Down syndrome to cross the finish line of the Austin Marathon.
“Running makes me happy,” Kayleigh said, with a wide smile on her face. “I’m going to keep on going.”
At 32 years old, Kayleigh shakes the world with inspiration with each step she takes, having completed five half marathons, an uncountable amount of 5K and 10K runs, and one extraordinary full marathon. No matter what trial lies in front of her, she pushes on with laser focus. Nothing is going to stop this determined woman. She has goals to reach.
Kayleigh’s running journey began to surface in 2008 when she was diagnosed with ITP—a blood disorder characterized by a low count of platelets. With platelets assisting in the stop of bleeding, she was more prone to bruising and other bodily bleeding. And soon after, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism—the thyroid gland lacks the production of crucial hormones, causing obesity, heart diseases, joint pains, etc.
Kayleigh’s doctor pointed out her weight and warned of the future, telling Sandy, “It’s not gonna end well for her.” A warning like this could send a paralyzing scare through someone, but Kayleigh and Sandy were determined to rewrite the story. There had to be a way to make a change, and the change came. Kayleigh’s diet became cleaner, and more activity was added to her lifestyle.
Their journey began just outside their front door—walking and running. Though it seemed like a small change, Sandy knew it would to make a huge impact and fight against the battle of the autoimmune diseases as time went on. Kayleigh stood, ready for the challenge, with her mother doing it with her and hearing her grandmother’s words alive and well in her head, saying, “Get up and do something, like getting on a treadmill every day.” Kayleigh was ready and set to go.
First thought as a small step became big hurdles as Kayleigh’s weight began to come off and a competitive personality began to shine through. It became a challenge to see who got the best weigh-in, walked further, ate better. Kayleigh took things into her own hands as she wanted to see who could run the farthest. She walked great distances to shop, on her treadmill, and even in the early dawn. These were no single-digit miles. These were double-digits. Some days, she’d end up walking 17 miles. Kayleigh was determined and focused, even as the hours grew. This drive brought her and her mother to set a new goal that ultimately led them to prepare for the marathon.
Her shoes hit the pavement at 5:00 a.m. on February 20, 2022, at the Austin Marathon. With her mother right beside her, Kayleigh ran her first full marathon in the fresh air of Texas and crossed the finish line, timing 8 hours and 40 minutes. She was the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Marathon, and everyone felt the world-changing achievement.
“I am so proud of you,” her mother cried. “You’re a marathoner! You’re a marathoner!”
Kayleigh not only crossed that finish line but crossed out every trial she had faced. She tore a barrier, and the City of Austin felt the ground shake. The people were beyond inspired and couldn’t help but pour out their emotions, seeing this hero shine a new light in this world. On March 24, 2022, the City of Austin gave a proclamation to her at City Hall, announcing February 20, 2022, as “Kayleigh Williamson Day.”
When Kayleigh set out that day, she only planned to finish the race. What she didn’t expect was that she’d change the world. Kayleigh crossed the finish line, and now she – and the world – can never go back. Kayleigh recalls the moment she finished her race, saying, “The moment that I crossed the finish line, I started crying. I was hurting. And then I was happy. Because I did it. I finished my race and crossed the finish line.”
As Kayleigh continues to collect more medals across the United States, she’s firmly set on her path to good health and she realizes her journey is inspiring many. She won’t let anything stop her. Quitting clearly isn’t an option: “I’m doing it for them. I’m going to keep on going.”