Marine Pfc. Matthew Morgan carries Ben Baltz across the finish line at the Sea Turtle Tri on Pensacola Beach on Sunday after Ben’s prosthetic leg fell off during the run portion of the race.
Ben Baltz wasn’t excited about competing in yet another triathlon last weekend.
It was his third in the last few months. While he likes bicycling, running isn’t his favorite activity, especially if he can’t win doing it.
The 11-year-old had completed the 150-yard swim and three-mile bike ride in Sunday’s Sea Turtle Tri on Pensacola Beach, but about a half-mile into the run, he knew something was wrong.
“It (the leg) wobbles,” Ben said Wednesday at his home in Valparaiso.
Moments later, the screws on his prosthetic leg came loose and he went down.
What happened next, though, has captured the attention of the nation.
In the moments Ben was debating whether he could hop or maybe crawl the rest of the mile, a man named Matthew Morgan, a Marine who had volunteered to help at the youth event, stepped in.
“(Morgan said) ‘You need help?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’ and he picked me up and carried me,” Ben said.
For the next half mile, Ben held onto Pfc. Morgan with one arm and his prosthetic leg with the other.
Ben said he and Morgan didn’t really speak after their first exchange, but more Marines gathered around and sang a cadence.
As they reached the end and the crowd started roaring, Ben said he felt grateful for the help, but a little frustrated and embarrassed that he couldn’t complete the course on his own.
Freedom of movement is one thing Ben has gotten used to since he was fitted with a prosthetic leg in the summer of 2009. His lower right leg was removed the year before when he was 6 because of a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
Until Sunday, his most spectacular leg malfunction came during a soccer game that he finished by taping it together with duct tape.
As news of his latest malfunction spreads, first on CNN’s website and then elsewhere, Ben remains mystified about why everyone is so interested in talking to him, especially since he didn’t finish the race on his own.
“He has no idea what the big deal is,” his mother Kim Baltz said with a laugh. “He honestly does not. He thinks it’s the Marines.”
According to John Murray, one of the co-founders of Team MPI, which organized the Sea Turtle Tri and helps athletes train for triathlons, no one even knew what had happened to Ben until an announcer spotted him and told the crowd.
“It was kind of a build-up in a way as more and more people became aware,” said Murray, who was standing at the finish line with his wife. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. … I was just overcome by emotion.”
Ben’s father, JC, seems to be having the easiest time processing Ben’s skyrocket to fame. He says a shared moment just before the race seemed to almost foreshadow his son and the Marine inspiring a nation with their actions.
JC and Ben were on the beach tossing a football when JC pulled out the bag of Dove dark chocolate candies he always carries and offered his son a piece.
Never one to turn down candy, the STEMM Middle School sixth-grader accepted the chocolate and found an inspirational message inside the wrapper his father had never seen before, despite constantly having it on hand.
It read, “You’re exactly where you need to be.”