A triathlon can be a grueling event for an adult, much less a child, so it’s no wonder an English 8-year-old with cerebral palsy has become an international inspiration for the way he crossed the finish line. Cheered on by hundreds of spectators as he approached the end of the race, Bailey Matthews ditched his walker and began heading unassisted toward the finish line. He fell twice, but immediately got up each time and continued on his way as his father rolled the walker behind him.
After crossing the finish line, Bailey turned around to give his father a celebratory hug. “You can see his little face when he came round and saw everyone; that was his way of finishing in style and showing everyone what he could do,” the boy’s mother, Julie Hardcastle, told The Yorkshire Post. “It was the response from the crowd that pushed him to do that.”
Bailey finished a 100-meter lake swim, a 4k bike ride and a 1.3k run before crossing the finish line Sunday at the Castle Triathlon in Yorkshire, England. “He is a truly inspirational little boy and there was not a dry eye at the finishing line as he pushed his walker away to run the last 200 meters by himself,” race director Brian Adcock told TODAY.com. “We are very proud to meet him.”
Born nine weeks premature, Bailey was diagnosed at 18 months with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects movement and muscle tone. Yet despite his physical challenges, Bailey was determined to participate in a triathlon like his father, who used to train by pushing his son in a wheelchair during weekly races. Jonathan Matthews helped his son prepare for the triathlon by taking him to local lakes to swim and adapting a walking frame so he could navigate the event course by himself. He also put special training wheels on Bailey’s bike.
“The majority of what he does is self-propelled. He sets his own goals when he is swimming and says, ‘I am going to do x amount of meters today,'” Matthews told The Yorkshire Post. “He is more than eager to get out and do something. If we can make that easier for him, than that is what we will do.”
For Bailey, small chores like getting dressed every morning can be a daily struggle, but he never complains, his mother said. “He doesn’t see himself as different to anyone else,” she said. “We have always tried to make sure that if there is something he wants to do, there is no such word as ‘can’t.'”
Both parents said they were completely overwhelmed by the crowd’s response to their son. “He had made his mind up, we knew he would do it but I didn’t expect the reaction from everyone else,” his mother said. “The difficult thing is that for us it is normal. We know how amazing he is but the response we have had from other people has been amazing. He inspires us all the time.”