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Kayley Drake, Runner With Cerebral Palsy, Finishes Half Marathon With Firefighters

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In November 2014, Kayley Drake set a goal for 2015: complete a half marathon. The 24-year-old from Yukon, Oklahoma, has cerebral palsy, and November 19 marked the 12-year anniversary of a surgery she underwent to help her walk, Runner’s World reported. Drake was sitting on the couch when she decided she was taking her ability to walk for granted. In December, she began her training regimen, running for the first time in her life.

On April 26, 2015, she set out to run the 15th annual Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon, a tribute to the lives lost in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Every year, a group of local firefighters walk the half marathon — in full firefighting gear — to commemorate the first-responders who died fighting in national tragedies like the bombing, according to The Oklahoman. Drake’s goal was to stay ahead of the firefighters for the entire 13.1-mile race.

Drake maintained a mostly steady pace throughout the first part of the race, picking up speed each time she noticed a firefighter approaching. This tactic worked well until she reached the final three miles and her energy began to falter. Around this time, she caught up with a group of firefighters from the Midwest City, Oklahoma, Fire Department who were walking together as a group. Caleb Bryant, one of the firefighters, said he could tell Drake needed some support.

“It soon became clear that she was hurting pretty badly, and she began to drop behind us. I slid over and began to verbally encourage her,” Bryant told The Mighty. “I told her to just stay with me. If she could just stay with us… that would be a goal she could attain.”

By the next half mile, Drake dropped to one knee and physically couldn’t get back up.

I thought I’d failed,” Drake told Runner’s World.

At that point, Bryant and Garrett Matlock, another firefighter from the Midwest City station, approached her and continued to offer encouragement. The trio pushed through and finished the race together.

firefighters help kayley cross the finish line
Garrett Matlock (left) and Caleb Bryant help Drake across the finish line. Photo credit Traci Cook

Completing a half marathon is an accomplishment for anyone, but for Drake, it was extraordinary. Before her surgery, doctors told her she would never be able to walk or be able to lead a normal life, The Oklahoman reported.

“Kayley completed the race on her own,” Bryant told The Mighty. “We were there for verbal encouragement and provided an occasional shoulder to lean on, but it was all her. It was her physical abilities that got her through [the race].”

By the time Drake crossed the finish line, the two firefighters walking with her had grown into a significant crowd. Each firefighter wanted to shake her hand following the race, Runner’s World reported.

firefighters help kayley cross the finish line
Photo credit Traci Cook
firefighters help kayley cross the finish line
Photo credit Traci Cook

“We were just doing what anybody else would have done that day. We were in that particular place at that particular time,” Bryant told The Mighty. “The incredible story is what Kayley overcame to accomplish her goal.”

firefighters help kayley cross the finish line
Photo credit Traci Cook

Originally published: May 5, 2015
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