“It was one of my proudest moments in my 30 years of working for School District 78,” said Coquihalla Elementary school secretary Sandra Loring.
She’s also grandma to two students at the school so on May 30, she was stepping out of the office to check on the sports day afternoon races, still wearing her phone headset.
On one visit, the crowd of hundreds of students, teachers and parents were loudly cheering, “Go Carter, go! Go Carter, go!”
Coming across the field — well over a minute behind his peers — was six- year-old Carter Perry-Sweeting, determined to finish the 50-metre race in his four-wheeled walker, despite his cerebral palsy.
“A lot of us had cameras in our hands — but we were all caught up in the moment and didn’t think to use them,” said Loring.
Gary Lewis had come to watch his grandson Gavin… and got volunteered to serve as first-place-ribbon-distributor for the afternoon races and tugs-of-war. When Carter was about two-thirds done, special education teacher Jennifer Wright stepped over to Lewis and told him something.
From my vantage point, as race-starter, I figured that Wright had a plan. I left my post, with camera rolling in video mode.
The crowd was getting more intense, calling, “Let’s go Carter, let’s go!”
Carter was slowing down, with about five meters to go, then — perhaps buoyed by the crowd — he surged across the finish line, with Wright bouncing in celebration.
In typical fashion, Carter was grinning with his whole body — and he kept it going when Lewis stepped up and handed him a first-place ribbon.
It was a magical moment for everyone that witnessed it, including his sister Autumn, who had put him in the race.
“Mrs. Kuhn (a special education assistant) and I asked him if he wanted to do it and he said ‘yeah,’” said Autumn, who is 15 years old. “We asked him if he wanted to go ahead of the other kids and he said ‘no.’ He even put his hand on the ground for the start, like the other kids.
“He wasn’t ready for the start, though. He was a little distracted,” she said, smiling.
When the other 20 boys took off running, Carter started perhaps the longest-yet walk of his life, with Autumn following behind him.
“He stopped for a bit to play with some flowers,” she said. “I had to remind him that he was in the middle of something!”
Nearing the finish line, Autumn went ahead and joined the crowd to wait for her little brother.
Later on, she put him in the Grade 1 tug-of war and his blue team won first place.
“He was their anchor and I think he really helped his team. I just helped him stand up,” said Autumn, who brings Carter to school most days, on her way to Hope Secondary.
Growing up with such a special little brother has given her a career goal.
“I want to be an S.E.A. (special ed assistant),” Autumn said, confidently.
Mom, Charlotte, wasn’t able to see the race — but the photos, video and Facebook comments have helped her share the moment.
Before he started school, Carter was harder to deal with, she said.
“He had separation-anxiety for years but school was the turn-around for that, with Mrs. Williams giving him a friend-for-day and kids taking turns.
“It’s crazy, how everybody treats him so great,” she added. “I was worried that kids wouldn’t understand or be as accepting as they are.”