UNION TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Aaron Westendorf ran the final race of his high school career Saturday in the Eastern Cincinnati Conference championships at his own high school, West Clermont High School (Batavia, Ohio). He didn’t set a PR, nor did he finish last.
Quite honestly, he would be fine either way. If you’re looking for a resilient, happy-go-lucky guy, it’s Aaron. His optimism and enthusiasm are contagious and he actually has a playful bit of swagger to his personality.
The day was dreary and damp, but Aaron’s smile was bright, wide and persistent. Some runners would finish with a disappointing time and fall to the ground beckoning for help. Westendorf ingeniously waits for the big crowd to gather at the finish line, then kicks it in with a final sprint to the cheers of everyone.
“I love the crowd and they love me,” Westendorf said with the confidence of an accomplished running superstar. “I love their soul and their hearts. The crowd makes me very happy.”
Aaron Westendorf has Down Syndrome and the Cincinnati Enquirer first wrote about him in 2015 as a freshman at Glen Este. His parents asked if he could participate and a legend was born.
Since coming to West Clermont when the new building opened last fall, he’s switched from purple to the blue of the Wolves, becoming the only Glen Este boys runner to continue at West Clermont under coach Shane Heikenfeld.
“The team loves him,” Heikenfield said. “He’s always positive. He’s always wanting to qualify for the state meet and talking about big goals. He loves running with the girls. He’s a ladies man, he’ll tell you that. He’s never had a lack of confidence or fortitude to run. It’s special to watch him out here. He pushes through a lot and he’s the happiest athlete we’ve ever had.”
Just as Glen Este had a couple of girls run with him to prevent him from getting lost, West Clermont sends out Aaron’s entourage to encourage him to the finish line.
They tell me, ‘Don’t stop, keep on running!’” Westendorf said.
At the ECC, four female Wolves led Aaron around the course, two on each side. The extra security also included Aaron’s two favorite runners, Maddie Walker and Morgan Walsh. He used to tease both of them when they were Amelia runners and has been thrilled to have them as teammates the past two seasons.
“Every single day he comes out on the track super-excited and amping everybody up,” Walker said of Westendorf. “There’s not a day that Aaron isn’t there. We’re on the line and Aaron’s pumping everybody up. He’s got such a positive attitude toward everything. I’ve never seen him not happy.”