|
|
Examiner
  • Inspired running

  • The two solitary figures strode side by side, past the tennis courts and junior varsity football field located just east of Fort Osage High School, and headed for the home stretch.

    • email print
  • The two solitary figures strode side by side, past the tennis courts and junior varsity football field located just east of Fort Osage High School, and headed for the home stretch.
    As parents, fans and fellow runners saw them in the distance they lined the cross country course and began to applaud.
    The applause grew louder as St. Mary’s freshman Nathan Hoppman and his running buddy, Oscar Bichara, approached the finish line of the junior varsity race.
    Hoppman finished the junior varsity heat of the Independence City Championships 6 minutes and 3 seconds behind the 39th-place runner, bringing an end to the 40-man event.
    But in the minds of everyone in attendance, the young man who deals with autism on a daily basis was the biggest winner of the hotly contested race.
    “Do you know how many people who don’t have anything wrong with them just sit around and do nothing?” asked freshman junior varsity runner Loki Lowki, a teammate of Hoppman’s. “What Nathan did here today is amazing. What he does every day at practice is amazing. He inspires every one of us. We’re proud to call him our teammate.”
    Bichara, a sophomore runner on the varsity squad, makes it a routine to run the junior varsity race with Hoppman before competing in the varsity event.
    “The first time I ran with Nathan, I went out and ran a PR (personal record), so Nathan is my good luck charm,” Bichara said, grinning from ear to ear. “He inspires me. He inspires the whole team.”
    Hoppman has high function autism, which allows him to attend classes at St. Mary’s and mix with the student body on a daily basis.
    “The St. Mary’s student body – especially the runners on the boys and girls cross country teams –  have really accepted Nathan,” said Hoppman’s mother, Christa, who is also a runner. “He ran track in the seventh and eighth grade, and when we went to St. Mary’s, we asked if he could be on the cross country team, and he was accepted with open arms.”
    Tom Bates, the veteran Trojans cross country and track and field coach, said he has never turned down a runner.
    “I don’t see any need to start turning them down now,” Bates said. “The kids on the team love Nathan. When he joined the squad, I told the guys that someone was going to have to run with him, and Oscar stepped in and just took over.
    “I don’t think we could have anyone else run with him if we wanted to, because Oscar really enjoys it. And they are great together.”
    When asked if Hoppman’s autism creates any problems for the team, Bates just chuckles.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We had one problem,” Bates said. “We were practicing by running quarter miles, and Nathan came up to me and said, ‘Mr. Bates, I can’t run anymore.’ I was afraid he was hurt or sick.
    “Then he said, ‘I have grass on my shoes.’ I told him that cross country runners get grass on their shoes and that they have to run through grass and mud and puddles of water. And he looks at me and said, ‘OK.’ And I haven’t heard another word from him.”
    Nathan doesn’t really talk on the course. When asked about cross country he quips, “Like to run. Like to run and swim.”
    He might not have much to say, but his smile speaks volumes as he accepts hugs and high-fives from teammates and runners from other schools.
    It’s the smile of a champion.
      • calendar