An incredible photo of a father carrying his baby across the finish line of the New York Marathon has gone viral — and it turns out, that baby boy has Down syndrome, and his dad was running the race in his honor.
Elizabeth Griffin is a photographer who was waiting for a friend of hers to cross the finish line in Central Park, she said in an interview with NBC New York. When she saw the man run by with the baby in his arms, she immediately took a picture. “I’m not sure too many folks noticed because the baby was so fast asleep, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” Griffin said. “He kissed his head and kept running.” She then took to Twitter, sending out a plea to identify the devoted dad and his adorable baby.
Folks, if you could help me find this father carrying his baby across the finish line of the @nycmarathon I’d be most grateful. Thanks!! @nycgov @NYCMayorsOffice @NYCMayor @CNN @NY1 @MSNBCPhoto @MSNBC @NBCNewYork @ABC7NY pic.twitter.com/vjkVXIEp0c
— Elizabeth Griffin (@frogpajamas) November 6, 2018
The photo quickly went viral, and the dad was soon identified as scientist Robby Ketchell, who spoke about his experience to Runner’s World. His son, Wyatt, was born in March and spent 67 days in the NICU, and initially had to have a feeding tube after leaving the hospital. As he has Down syndrome, he also needs several therapies, and he will also need open heart surgery next year.
“I wanted a way to honor him and everyone else affected by the syndrome,” Ketchell explained. “So I decided to run New York in his honor, to raise funds for others with the same circumstances.” Wyatt, he said, has trouble eating because he, like with other people with Down syndrome, has low muscle tone and the anatomy of his mouth is different.
“There’s not a ton of research on how to improve that, so it’s important to fund further interventions and resources that can help him and others,” he said. “I connected with LuMind Research, a charity for people who run to raise money for research on Down syndrome, and came up with the idea of breaking 3 hours and 21 minutes at the NYC Marathon, to represent Wyatt’s three copies of his 21st chromosome. My fundraising goal was $3,210. Symbolic, right? We ended up raising more than $11,000.”
But his training had to take a backseat with Wyatt being in the hospital, and on marathon day, Ketchell was also injured with plantar fasciitis. Still, he refused to give up, because he wanted to show that anyone — including people with Down syndrome — can push past the obstacles placed before them. “The main thing I want to do is to remind people that it’s not about setting limits on yourself—it’s about pushing past them,” he said. “That’s a big thing for anyone who has Down syndrome. We struggle with this every day, as people try to limit Wyatt or just see him as a diagnosis. For me, running a 3:21 was a big deal. I had to really work for it, and as you can see I didn’t make it. But I went all-out pushing for it.”
By mile 20, Ketchell said that he was in serious pain, but he texted his wife to let her know that he was coming to get his son, to carry him across the finish line. She handed Wyatt to him at mile 26.
Left nothing out there, couldve backed off & did 3:40 but thats not what I came 4. Finished w/ my best friend Thx 2 our tribe for ur support pic.twitter.com/e2fltenqWs
— Robby Ketchell (@RobbyKetchell) November 5, 2018
“To me, it was almost better than breaking 3:21,” he said. “I had pushed my limits, which was the point. I couldn’t go any farther. And we got to share the moment of going across the finish line together.”
I’m not really a crier, but tears were definitely starting to come. People around us were crying—even people who didn’t know the story, who just saw me carrying my son across the line. Usually when you run a marathon, you put your name on your bib so everyone will cheer for you. I had put Wyatt’s name on mine so people were screaming for Wyatt the whole time. That made things emotional from mile 1.
When I was walking with him toward the finish line, everyone was still cheering his name. I told everyone, “This is Wyatt,” and that made it so special.
Ketchell is already planning for next year’s marathon. “Having a son with Down syndrome has changed us in the best way and given us a different perspective on life,” he said. “The amount of love and connection and the journey we’ve been through is just incredible. I know I’ll come back next year and break 3:21.”