The crowd roared for Juliana Arias on Saturday as she ran toward the end of the Kauai Marathon Keiki Run.
A few tears fell.
Some of the world’s best runners jogged out and joined her for the final 100 yards, clapping and smiling along the way.
When the 14-year-old girl crossed the finish line, she was beaming with delight.
And Juliana Arias was dead last.
“She’s never run,” said her mom Pamela. “We did a walk, but she’s never run and finished a race before. For her to finish, it was amazing.”
She did on Saturday.
About 75 children took part in the second Keiki Run at the Grand Hyatt resort, There was a toddler trot 100-yard run for 2-4 year olds, a quarter-mile run for 5-7 year olds and a half-mile run for 8-12 year olds. On a picture perfect, sunny, blue-skied morning, parents and grandparents rooted for thrilled kids, each of whom received a medal and praise.
Juliana was perhaps the slowest of them all.
The teen from California has Asperger’s syndrome, which involves delays in the development of basic skills, including the ability to socialize with others and communicate.
Her father, Michael, is running in today’s Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon. The family heard about the keiki run and Juliana was interested.
“This morning, she decided she was going to give it a try,” her mom said.
The teen quickly fell far behind the pack, but she wasn’t giving up. Soon, the crowd noticed this young girl wearing glasses, a lavender shirt and black shorts, well behind the others. As she moved steadily around the green grass of the course, her father running off to the side, the cheers rose.
Volunteer Chris Marchioni linked arms with the girl wearing bib number 8 and ran at her side. Tyler McCandless, three-time Kauai Marathon winner, added to her entourage, as did Ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes and Marathon Goddess Julie Weiss.
She completed the half-mile run with a huge smile and was greeted with hugs and high fives.
“It means so much,” her mom said. “It was truly amazing.”
Juliana’s father still had tears running down his face long after the race was over. He hadn’t expected the spotlight to fall on his daughter. He didn’t know if she could complete the run.
“It got really emotional because everybody was cheering her on at the end and supporting her,” he said.
Juliana, asked how she felt about the race, just smiled shyly.
Asked if she liked running, she shook her head.
“No,” she said, still smiling.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.