Runners with autism play key roles on state qualifying XC team

SPRINGDALE, Wash. - When the yellow school buses leave from the front entrance of Mary Walker High School in Springdale, a team of students stay behind. They run in the trees and on the track behind the school.

"Winning is not a natural thing," said cross country assistant coach John Willey. "It is a learned process."

At Mary Walker High School, which has an enrollment of 100 students, ten cross country runners have learned to win.

"They've seen the wrong shoe fall and every now and then the right shoe falls," said Willey. 

This season, Mary Walker has firmly planted its feet at the starting line with a third state 2B cross country meet on November 4. 

"What's special about it is we have the autistic spectrum athletes on this team," said Willey. 

There's Wyatt and Keegan, two athletes who love to run.

"It's addicting," says Wyatt.

""They're just part of the team just the same as everyone else," said  Willey. 

When Wyatt and Keegan first joined the team several years ago, there were some questions. It was apparent that the two were not your typical runners.

"I think your first fear is, 'How is that going to work?'" said Willey. "There were some times, you know, I'm not going to paint it soft, it was an absolute struggle. They have no form for running but it's just pure guts and mental, you know?"

You can add heart to that list, as well.

"We're all fighting battles and so are they," said Willey.

"I think about everybody on this team and if I don't get there, the team will fail," said Wyatt. "I'm feeling good. Ready to kick butt at the tournament. I mean State."