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Mikey Manka competes in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 at Carlsbad’s Legoland. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events
Mikey Manka competes in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 at Carlsbad’s Legoland. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events
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Celebrating kids who don’t run from a challenge

The runners were tackling the mile, which made the spectators feel a mile high.

How couldn’t they when witnessing the strength, courage and dedication of those special competitors in the recent Kids Marathon Mile at Carlsbad’s Legoland?

This event for the tykes was part of the Carlsbad Marathon. It’s open to all youngsters, including those with obstacles others can only imagine.

Hundreds of able-bodied youngsters were accompanied by 18 runners from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, many of them making tracks on prosthetic running legs and other devices that allowed them to scamper.

“They were having a blast,’’ CAF’s Bob Babbitt said.

The CAF is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and what better way to toast this grand operation than by encouraging others to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds?

There goes Rudy Garcia-Tolson, 35, and you bet his face is familiar. He started running the Kids Marathon Mile with Babbitt when he was 7 years old, despite being a double amputee above his knees.

“The first year I ran with him, he finished in 21 minutes,’’ Babbitt said. “The next year, it was 18 minutes, then it was 15 minutes. When he got to like 7 minutes, I said, ‘I’m out, you’re too fast for me,’ and he’s come back and ran it every year.’’

Beauden Baumkirchner, who lost both of his legs after contracting staph, competed in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 in Carlsbad. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events
Beauden Baumkirchner, who lost both of his legs after contracting staph from a scraped knee, competed in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 in Carlsbad. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events

A younger Garcia-Tolson was told he would never sprint anywhere at any time. With his lower legs not cooperating, they were taken away in his youth, as was Garcia-Tolson’s aspiration to run again.

Oh really? Those doctors predicting Garcia-Tolson’s future looked solely at his missing limbs and not his massive heart.

“I said, ‘Yes, I can,’’’ Garcia-Tolson said. “They told me I would never be able to ride my skateboard, and I said, ‘Yes, I can.’ They said I’ll never be able to swim because you need legs to swim and I said, ‘Yes, I can.’’

We say, “Yes, he did!”

Garcia-Tolson, a CAF ambassador, went on to compete in four Paralympics, where he won five medals. Now he displays his mettle to thousands of kids who were dealt a bum hand.

Instead of cursing his fate, Garcia-Tolson swore he would never surrender. With CAF providing the equipment for him to chase down his dreams, Garcia-Tolson did just that.

“CAF has always supported me and helped me get to where I am today,’’ he said. “It has definitely been financially challenging, and without CAF, this just wouldn’t be realistic.’’

It gets really fast when Garcia-Tolson speaks. He’s touched countless lives with his inspirational tale, especially those youngsters who are tasked with carrying such a heavy load.

Like Beauden Baumkirchner, a 5-year-old with a smile that erases others’ tears. The Arizona native ran with Garcia-Tolson, and it was difficult to tell who was having more fun.

Jude Rinard competes in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 at Legoland in Carlsbad. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events
Jude Rinard competes in the Kids Marathon Mile on Jan. 13 at Legoland in Carlsbad. Photo by Finisher Pix/In Motion Events

“In a lot of ways, he reminded me of myself when I was his age,” Garcia-Tolson said. “Super happy, super outgoing and ready to take on anything.”

Beauden’s story is a heartbreaker. He was just a kid riding his bike at Mission Beach when he took a tumble and scuffed his knee.

Some 12 hours later, his parents were in Rady Children’s Hospital trying to save his life. His wound quickly became infected, and sepsis raced through his body. The decision was made to amputate both of his legs.

The verdict for CAF to pitch in was easy when it learned of Beauden. It helped outfit him with two prosthetic legs and long may he run.

The same goes for CAF, and here’s to another 30 years. The impact this local organization has had on dedicated athletes looking for a hand-up, not a handout, is mind-boggling.

Babbitt, a Carlsbad resident, has been with CAF since its inception. At 72, he isn’t slowing down, either.

“We’ve raised over $159 million and sent out over 44,000 grants to athletes in all 50 states, 73 countries, and 105 different sports,’’ Babbitt said. “Our latest sport was pickleball.”

And it’s being played by people like Garcia-Tolson, who were told sports were off-limits.

“At the end of the day, what matters is what you believe,’’ Garcia-Tolson said. “Never listen to people who try to tell you what you can and can’t do.”

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports

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