In 2017, Kayleigh Williamson made history by becoming the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin half-marathon. Now she’s a seasoned pro.
The 28-year-old didn’t only run her third straight Austin Marathon. She crushed it. After finishing the 13.1-mile course in 6 hours, 22 minutes and 57 seconds the first year and 4 hours and 36 minutes the second year, Williamson shaved even more time off her run in 2019 by completing the route in 4 hours and 8 minutes.
“The running community and everyone connected to it has been so welcoming,” her mother, Sandy Williamson, told ESPN in 2017. “It has given us a home in a world where it isn’t so easy to find one.”
Three years ago Kayleigh Williamson made history as the first athlete with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Half Marathon. She just finished her third straight.#RunAustin19 #inspiration #AustinHalfMarathon pic.twitter.com/qlyYHGHnRS
— austinmarathon (@austinmarathon) February 17, 2019
Williamson began running and training in 2016 with RunLab in Austin, and was quickly added to the elite roster. She reaped the benefits of community and fitness, making friends quickly and losing 50 pounds.
“I think fitness is such an empowering and important thing for people with special needs or not,” RunLab founder Kim Davis told The Statesman. “People with Down syndrome get pigeonholed as unable to run. We want to change that, and Kayleigh’s a great poster child.”
According to The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, individuals with Down syndrome typically have lower levels of muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. Research shows that physical inactivity among adults with intellectual disabilities is problematic, and according to one study, less than 46 percent of participants engaged in the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day.
Not Williamson, and she’s enjoying the benefits.
“She sleeps better — her sleep apnea has improved — and she is no longer prediabetic,” according to her mother. “These don’t have to be lifelong worries if people with Down syndrome are getting good aerobic activity and solid nutrition. Running provides it.”
And so does Special Olympics basketball, swimming and Krav Maga, the other sports and activities Williamson is involved in.
As for Williamson’s return to the Austin half-marathon in 2020, I’m guessing she’s all in. And, ready to clock sub-4:00