Spectators at a children's triathlon in Florida were brought to tears by the sight of Marines carrying a little boy with a broken prosthetic leg across the finish line.
Bone cancer-survivor Ben Baltz, 11, was participating in his third triathlon of the summer when he had an accident with his prosthetic leg Sunday during the final portion of the race.
"The screws came loose and it fell off and the Marine picked me up and he ran the rest of the way," Ben said. "It was pretty nice."
His mother, Kim Baltz, was waiting at the finish line and wondering where he son was when she heard the announcer say, "Turn around and look at what's happening on the course."
She turned around to see Ben riding on a Marine's back, surrounded by five other Marines.
"It just made me start crying that they would have picked him up and helped him finish the race," she said.
The Marine who carried Ben was Pfc. Matt Morgan of San Diego, Calif. Morgan, 19, has been in the Marines for a year and is based in Pensacola, Fla. A group of Marines had come to the Sea Turtle Tri to volunteer.
"I'd seen him many times in the race. He was doing very well," Morgan said of Ben. "It came to the final leg of the race where it was a run and I was sitting at the halfway point with people that were passing out water and we were motivating some of the contestants. And as he approached the halfway point, his prosthetic failed and he fell."
A group of Marines ran to Ben to see whether he was all right, but by the time they got to him, Ben had already jumped up and was trying to fix his leg. Morgan asked him whether he needed help.
"He said no, he'd finish by himself and he continued to try and fix his prosthetic. But after a couple seconds, he knew there was something wrong with it and he was going to need a hand," Morgan said.
"We saw Pfc. Morgan carrying him and that's when all the Marines lined up," Gunnery Sgt. Wilbur Anderson, who coordinated the event, said. "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.' And we made it to the finish line. It was a truly moving day.
"He was going to finish the race no matter what, but I told him to jump on and we finished the race together," Morgan said.
Capt. Frank Anderson, Morgan's commanding officer, said he was not at all shocked by what he saw.
"I was shocked [with] the publicity, but I wasn't surprised in Pfc. Morgan's actions," Anderson said. "That's something we do as Marines. It's that unwavering dedication to our fellow Marines and competitors in this case."
Ben was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right leg when he was 6 and had his tibia and fibula amputated. He has different prosthetics for walking and running. The avid athlete plays soccer and basketball in addition to running, biking and swimming for triathlons. He says biking is his favorite.
"There's no child like him [in our area], so we encourage him to participate in activities and he's very athletic and it just doesn't stop him," Kim Baltz said. "He's just your normal kid and he just happens to have a prosthetic leg."
Baltz said Ben does not understand how much of an inspiration he is to others. He often meets with other children who are getting amputations, have gotten amputations or are preparing for chemotherapy. He brings the prosthetics that he has outgrown for them to play with and shows them how he can run with his.
"It helps to see other kids survive and make it," Baltz said. "They realize they can have a life after cancer and after amputation."
Ben will be reunited with the Marines who helped him out this afternoon in Pensacola.
"Pfc. Morgan did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons and accomplished a mission for himself and that young boy, Ben, so I'm happy," Capt. Anderson said. "I'm looking forward to meeting the lion heart named Ben."