1st Lt. Nicholas Lahr and Samuel Butalla share a special connection when it comes to racing the annual Lincoln Marathon in Nebraska.
The Nebraska natives have each completed the annual 26.2-mile race three times. What makes their participation special, however, is the mode in which they completed the races.
Lahr, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot with the Kansas Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment in Salina, ran each of the Lincoln races while pushing Sam, who experiences the competition from the seat of his wheelchair. The pair completed the recent Lincoln Marathon, which also serves as the National Guard All Guard Marathon Team time trials, when they crossed the 26.2-mile finish May 7.
Sam was born with Peroxisome Biogenesis Disorder, which slowly took away his senses. Along with being in a wheelchair, he is nonverbal, blind and deaf, but has a cochlear implant that allows him to be able to pick up vibrations and noises.
“He is nonverbal, but he responds to audio stimulus so when we would run on the underpasses and bridges, I give him a little cheer and he would laugh.’ Lahr said. “Everyone clapping on the side was really making him laugh so it was awesome.”
Their connection began when Lahr was a cadet in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Army ROTC program and met Sam’s older sister Taylor. He learned about how local fire fighters volunteered to run with Sam for a race, which sparked his interest to run with Sam.
"[Running with Sam] just seemed really cool to me,” said Lahr. “It sounded like a cool challenge, and it’s proven to be a really good time every race we’ve participated in.”
As Lahr put it, Sam is a fighter.
“Even though he suffers from that condition, he still has such a great spirit and such an awesome personality, even though he can’t verbalize how he’s feeling,” Lahr said. “He’s always expressive and has a contagious smile.”
Lahr hopes their partnership will encourage others to do the same for those with disabilities by helping them be able to participate in events that usually exclude those with physical limitations.
Lahr said having Sam with him made this race that much more special when he finished with a time of 3 hours, 15 minutes, and 7 seconds, qualifying him for the All Guard Marathon Team. Other Kansas Guardsmen who qualified for the All Guard team were 2nd Lt. Giovanni Popoca, 1-108th Aviation; 2nd Lt. Joseph Nail, 1-635th Armor; and 2nd Lt. Jessica Pal, 1-108th Aviation.
Qualifying for the All Guard Team with Sam made the event more emotional for Lahr.
“I just saw my time and that I pushed him, so it felt good,” Lahr added. “Sam was really happy the whole race and crossing the finish line and seeing the time I wanted to hit, it all just came together, so it was just really special.”
Lahr’s next goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and, if they can coordinate travel, he would like to run it with Sam.