Eleven-year-old Ben Baltz was halfway through the one-mile run, the final event in the Sea Turtle Kids Triathlon at Pensacola Beach, Florida on October 7, 2012. He had already completed the first two events, the 150-yard swim and the four-mile bicycle ride. Now he anticipated crossing the finish line without fanfare.
This was Ben’s third triathlon since early summer, but an unforeseen problem would make this one different. A bone cancer survivor, the sixth grader had had his right tibia and fibula amputated for osteosarcoma when he was six. Now, with about a half mile to go, he fell to the track because his prosthetic right leg wobbled and broke when its screws came undone.
With the finish line still a half mile away, Ben was down but not out. Marines from the nearby Pensacola base were volunteering to help conduct the triathlon, and one – 19-year-old Pfc. Matthew Morgan of San Diego, Calif. – noticed the boy’s distress and approached to help. Ben initially responded that he wanted to finish the race himself as he tried repairing the prosthetic. (He was already a veteran at instant repair because he once fixed the failing prosthetic with duct tape during a soccer game.)
When repair became impossible this time, a few seconds later, Pfc. Morgan picked Ben up and carried him piggy-back for the last half mile. “He was going to finish the race no matter what,” Morgan said later, “but I told him to jump on and we finished the race together.” Seeing what was happening, five other Marines joined in to run the last several yards with the pair to the crowd’s resounding cheers.
“He’s Just Your Normal Kid”
Ben Baltz and Matthew Morgan made a great team. Ben sets a wholesome example with his determination to overcome the medical setback he experienced at a tender age. He is cancer-free now and participates in soccer, baseball, basketball -- and triathlons -- and he even talks with other children who face chemotherapy and amputations. “It helps to see other kids survive and make it,” he says, “They realize they can have a life after cancer and after amputation.”
Ben accomplishes all this with his parents’ support and encouragement. “When I look at Ben I don’t see that prosthetic leg,” say his mother Kim, “He’s just your normal kid and he just happens to have a prosthetic leg.”
"Not Only on the Fields of Battle”
Pfc. Matthew Morgan and his fellow Marines volunteered to start the triathlon’s runners and perform other auxiliary chores, and not to perform a generous act that would go viral and become an Internet sensation. He just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time.
“[H]eroism is found not only on the fields of battle,” said President Obama at the memorial service for victims of the January 8, 2011 Tucson, Arizona shootings which killed six and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. “[H]eroism does not require special training or physical strength,” the President explained. “Heroism is here, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, . . . just waiting to be summoned.”
Sources: Christina Ng, Florida Cancer Survivor, 11, With Broken Prosthetic Crosses Finish Line on Back of Marine; Katie Tammen, "Our Little Athlete: 9-Year-Old Doesn't Let Prosthetic Leg Slow Him Down," Northwest Fla. Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.), July 20, 2011.