You might recall reading a column I wrote last year about my daughter Tiana participating in the Girls on the Run program that helps empower young girls. The weeks-long program culminated in a 5k run/walk—Tiana’s first such event. Tiana, who was born with cerebral palsy, has extreme tightness in her legs that forces her to walk and run with a labor-intensive “hitch in her get-along” as my mother would have put it. After she completed the 5k, several people felt compelled to let me know what an inspiration Tiana was—including the CEO of Girls on the Run International, who shared Tiana’s story with all of the regional program directors at the organization’s North American convention. I am happy to report that my amazing daughter continues to inspire people (including me) to this day.

Travis Naughton

After Tiana’s younger brother, Truman, decided to join the Ashland Eagles Running Club a few weeks ago, (because a few of his “besties” were in the group), Tiana said she wanted to give track a try, too. I was proud of her for being brave and for challenging herself, but I cautioned her that because she runs with such difficulty she should not be surprised if she were to discover that she was much slower than her peers. She assured me that she didn’t mind if she finished last every time. She just wanted to run.

At practice, Tiana has worked as hard as anybody, despite knowing that she will likely never win a race. In 400 meter runs, her next closest teammate usually finishes 200 meters ahead of her. No one would blame her for quitting after finishing so far behind the rest of the field each and every time she runs, but there’s just no quit in that girl. Tiana didn’t quit hoping for a family to love her while she sat in a Chinese orphanage for seven years, so you can bet she isn’t going to quit running just because it’s difficult. Her goal is to try out for the middle school track team next year. I wouldn’t bet against her.

Truman and Tiana and their Eagle teammates competed in their first track meet of the summer at Battle High School last Wednesday evening. Truman was disappointed that he didn’t finish higher in his two races, but his mom and I were very proud of him for trying his hardest. We reminded him that he had only been running for a few short weeks at that point and that he was bound to get faster the more he practiced. His consolation was sharing his misery with his friend Lauren, and the two of them quickly resumed being happy-go-lucky goofballs after the meet was over.

Tiana? Well, she finished dead last in both of her races, just as we suspected she might. But she also proved to be the big winner of the evening, just as we suspected she might.

In the 400 meter run, Tiana had only made it to the halfway point by the time the rest of the field had crossed the finish line. I was worried that she had fallen so far behind that no one would notice she was still out there running. But I was wrong. Big time.

As Tiana labored around turn four, getting set for the home stretch, the spectators in the stands began encouraging her. Soon there was a buzz in the air as people realized how special my daughter and that particular moment in time both were. As she neared the finish line, everyone—parents, race officials, and her competitors—yelled and clapped and cheered for Tiana, willing her to the end.

Finally, triumphantly, Tiana crossed the line as the crowd’s ovation reached a chill-inducing peak. Tears of pride and joy welled in my eyes—and nearly obscured the sight of my fierce, fearless daughter as she promptly fell flat on her face.

Typical of Tiana, she hopped right back up, sporting a beautiful, enormous smile on her miraculously unscathed face. A collective sigh of relief and a second round of applause could be heard immediately after the collective gasp that followed her fall.

An event organizer approached Tiana after the race and gave her a special rainbow-colored ribbon and explained that it was an award for Tiana’s display of courage and determination. Tiana thanked the woman and then got ready for her next race—a 200 meter sprint. Once again, she had the biggest cheering section of any kid there.

One of the parents in attendance that night later told me, “There’s nothing more inspiring than watching Tiana run,” while another said she agreed with that sentiment 100%. Those ladies will get no argument here.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel like going for a run…

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