BUCYRUS — The crowd cheered loudly when Bucyrus junior Mikey Hildebrand crossed the finish line during Saturday’s North Central Conference championships at Amanns Reservoir Park.
He wrapped up his season with a personal best time of 27:26.27, shaving over 10 minutes off of his time since he first joined the team as a freshman.
“He’s improved so much and he’s got such a good heart,” Redmen coach Carl Rittenour said. “What he’s been through most people won’t go through in a lifetime.”
Every mile Mikey runs and personal best he achieves is another example of an athlete defying the odds and inspiring others.
Hildebrand has cerebral palsy and is a member of the Redmen cross country, track and wrestling teams.
“The summer before my freshman year, I went to church camp, and I felt God wanted me to prove I can do it,” he said.
It was then he went home and asked his parents, Brandy and Kurt Hildebrand, if he could run cross country.
“It wasn’t we doubted him, but I kept seeing the Garth Brooks video ‘Standing Outside the Fire’ in my mind. He did actually fall that first year, got up, and kept going.”
Mikey was five days old when he stopped breathing for 10 minutes. He suffered from sleep apnea and spent the first month of his life in the hospital. Doctors were skeptical about him ever walking normally without the assistance of a walker or braces.
“I’m so proud of him,” Brandy said. “There are not enough words to describe how I feel when I see him running and not giving up. I am overjoyed. I ball because if only the people who thought he would never walk could see him now.”
Mikey was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 3, after his family noticed certain hand movements and speech delay. He used a walker until he was 8 years old and has been in a normal classroom since seventh grade.
“You can’t even tell (he has cerebral palsy) until you talk to him,” Brandy said. “A lot of people thought he should be put in a special classroom, but he is smart. I think he is even smarter than me. He’s going places.”
Mikey walking has improved noticeably over the years since he started to run cross country, causing even the medical community to take notice.
“Last year we went up to Children’s Hospital in Akron and he blew their minds,” Brandy said. “They don’t see kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy able to run or walk like Mikey does.”
Mikey said he wants to be a motivational speaker for others with cerebral palsy. He wants them to know they can still do anything, just like he does everytime he steps foot on the cross country course.
“I want everybody to know that it didn’t hold me back,” he said.
Bucyrus junior Kory Kirtland is already motivated by his close friend’s positive outlook on life.
“He’s really been an inspiration for me, more so than I’ve inspired or helped him,” Kirtland said. “He tries to stay very devoted to God and he is always willing to pray for me. Anything he needs in life he not only asks me for help and advice, but prays.”
Mikey also motivates his teammates by giving pep talks before big meets. Sophomore Hobie Cotsamire said having him on the team is like having a second coach.
“He’s given quite a few speeches during track, too,” senior Cody Nickler said. “His speeches aren’t very long. But they can make a big impact on your race. Mikey is pretty inspiring to me.”
Watching Mikey compete has made an impact on members of the running community and beyond.
“He’s an inspiration to the kids that don’t have any problems like he has,” Rittenour said. “They see how hard he works and they encourage him all the time. I think he’s a really big inspiration for all of them.”
Hildebrand’s mother agreed.
“If there is one word I could use to describe Mikey, it would be wow,” she said.
Even though his season is over Hildebrand still attended practice this week. He’ll be there to cheer the Redmen on at Saturday’s district championships, just like he always does.
“I like my life,” he said. “I like my friends.”