BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When you first meet Evan White, you do not immediately think, "Distance Runner." The 11-year-old slowly ambles across his Central Intermediate School classroom to a shelf packed with books and plucks his favorite. Then he slowly walks back and hands it to his teacher and sluggishly takes his seat.
Evan was born with a condition called hypotonia. Evan's muscles do not develop as quickly or grow as strong as most kids Evan's age. "He's sort of floppy." Evan's mother Vicki said. "As a baby he did not support himself like a normal baby." Evan did not sit up until he was a year old. "He didn't crawl till he was 18 months. He didn't walk till he was two-and-a-half." Vicki said.
According to Evan's doctors, most kids outgrow hypotonia. Evan has not. As a consequence, it takes him a lot longer to do things than most middle schoolers.
Hypotonia also affects Evan's ability to speak. That is what landed him in the Special Needs class at Central Intermediate, where he met Sam Seidel.
Sam is an 11-year-old with bright blue eyes and an infectious smile that lights up the classroom. Sam is part of the Special Needs class for a wholly different reason. When he was just two years old, his parents found him at the bottom of the swimming pool. They believe he was down there for almost 20 minutes.
Sam clung to life in the hospital for 17 weeks. "He's a fighter." Sam's father Dan explains. "He's tough."
Without oxygen for that long, the damage to Sam's brain left him with the physical traits of someone with Cerebral Palsy. Sam has limited control of his muscles. At times he can barely hold his head up. "He's non-verbal," said Dan, "he communicates through his eyes, through laughter, and smiles, and he'll let you know if he's not happy."
The connection between Evan and Sam was almost instantaneous. "He loves Sam." said Vicki, "He's made a special bond with him. If Evan sees that Sam needs something, he is going to make sure everybody in the room know it." Dan agrees. "It's neat to see how even with their different abilities, or lack thereof, how they can form this bond."
And that is how Evan became a distance runner.
Earlier this month, Dan and Vicki, both avid runners, had planned to run in the Active for Autism 5K race - a 3.1 mile run to raise awareness and money for Autism. "I was talking to Vicki about Evan," Dan said, "and Evan can run, and the two of them just love each other. I just kind of threw it out there."
So, on race day, Evan took to the starting line with his buddy Sam strapped into his stroller. "He runs really fast, then he'll burn out really quickly." Vicki said.
Evan and Sam ran fast. They ran slow, and when Evan was tired, they walked. Vicki and Dan ran along side for encouragement and to help steer the boys through the course. "I'd kind of get behind the stroller," Dan said, "and I'd push and let Evan run up so that Sam could see him. You could tell just the two of them smiling back and for at each other. It was special"
Evan and Sam crossed the Finish Line together. "There, looking on, and seeing one child with special needs being pushed by another child with special needs, and people going, 'Wow! How can that happen?'" Dan said. "And maybe the two of them can somehow touch somebody that saw them in the race."
"We, as parents and family were really excited." Vicki said about Evan and Sam finishing the race. "He just looked at us like, 'What are y'all so excited about? I just ran with my buddy Sam."
In the race of life, we all have special needs. Evan and Sam know that a buddy to push you when you can't push yourself may be the most important of them all.