Aidan Doyle remembers feeling frustrated as he struggled to finish his first two-mile run as part of the Highlands Middle School cross country team.
His teammates had already crossed the finish line, but Aidan, a sixth-grader, still had a good distance to go.
Soon, he was no longer running alone. A group of eighth-graders noticed him and doubled back to help him through the final stretch.
“It took me by surprise,” said Aidan, now an eighth-grader who soon will run his final race as a member of the Highlands team.
That show of support has become a regular event for the Highlands team. At every meet since, Aidan’s teammates have provided encouragement to help him finish the race.
“This team has taught me about teamwork,” Aidan said. “I like being with my team.”
Fueled by the support of his teammates and coaches, Aidan posted a personal best Oct. 8 and is just under 90 seconds away from his goal.
“As good as it is for him, it’s good for us, too,” said Nina Hoffman, an eighth-grader from Western Springs.
“We just want to cheer him on and keep him motivated,” said eighth-grader Nick Jacobs of Western Springs, who, despite having an arm in a sling, ran the final stretch with his teammate Oct. 8.
The actions of Aidan’s teammates have had an effect on competing teams, too. At a recent meet against Pleasantdale Middle School and Washington Middle School of Lyons, members of both competing teams joined in to help a runner they had never met make it to the finish line.
“It was just absolutely moving,” said Aidan’s mom, Michele Doyle.
She said her son’s teammates have taught him and their fellow runners lessons that go far beyond how to run a race. For that, she credits coaches Matt Yena and John Anagnostopoulos.
“It really starts with them,” she said.
Janet Mitchell, parent of two Highlands runners, said the cross country team is an example of true sportsmanship.
“The definition of sportsmanship is about doing your best,” she said.
Yena said that definition suits Aidan, who gives his best to every race.
“I give the kid credit. He never gives up when he’s racing,” Yena said.
Aidan will graduate eighth grade without ever coming close to winning a race, but he helped to turn an entire team into winners.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Pleasantdale Middle School Principal John Glimco, who was there to witness his students stepping up to help a runner from another team. “It was a powerful moment and a proud one as well.”