Kim Baltz was wondering what happened when she didn’t see her 11-year-old son at the finish line of a children’s triathlon in Florida last weekend.
“It was only a mile, I knew he was tired, I was like, ‘Where is he, where is he, where is he,’” Baltz told CNN. “All of a sudden the announcer just said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to turn around and look at what’s happening on the course.’”
What everyone turned to see was her son Ben, a bone cancer survivor, in the middle of a group of Marines who had picked him up after his prosthetic leg broke during the Sea Turtle Tri in Pensacola, Fla.
“Everybody was crying,” she said. “It was just very touching that the Marines were there. They picked him up and everybody was cheering and just giving them support and Ben support.”
Ben told ABC News how it happened: “The screws came loose and it fell off and the Marine picked me up and he ran the rest of the way.”
He added, “It was pretty nice.”
The Marine who carried Ben was Pfc. Matt Morgan, part of a group of Marines volunteering at the triathlon.
“I’d seen him many times in the race. He was doing very well,” Morgan told ABC. “It came to the final leg of the race…as he approached the halfway point, his prosthetic failed and he fell.”
He said a group ran to see if Ben was all right, but he’d already jumped up by the time they reached him and was trying to fix his leg. Morgan asked whether Ben needed help.
“He said no, he’d finish by himself and he continued to try and fix his prosthetic,” he said. “But after a couple seconds, he knew there was something wrong with it and he was going to need a hand.”
And so for the next half-mile, Morgan carried Ben on his back: Ben holding on with one hand and carrying his broken prosthetic with the other. But it wasn’t just the two of them.
“We saw Pfc. Morgan carrying him and that’s when all the Marines lined up,” Gunnery Sgt. Wilbur Anderson told ABC. “We got into column of twos. I ran up to Ben and I said, ‘Hey, you’re going to be taken home by the Marines today.’”
Ben told the News Herald that he and Morgan didn’t really talk while they were running, but when the other Marines joined in they sang a cadence. With the crowd cheering as they reached the end, Ben told the newspaper he felt grateful for the help, but said he was frustrated and embarrassed at not being able to finish on his own.
According to the Baltz family website, Ben was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 6 and had his right leg amputated at the knee. According to the Herald, up until the race, his only other prosthetic malfunction was during a soccer game. He fixed it up with some duct tape.
“He was going to finish the race no matter what, but I told him to jump on and we finished the race together,” Morgan told ABC.