Overcoming tremendous odds: Sawyer Holbrook keeps his dream going

Published 12:10 am Saturday, July 23, 2022

Sawyer Holbrook had a tough time sleeping on Friday night, July 15. He was nervous and anxious about his first 5K race at the 25th Annual Run for the Greenway, but an opportunity to achieve one of his dreams was just ahead.

At 16 years old, Sawyer has a genetic disorder called 22q11.2 deletion. He’s missing a portion of the twenty-second chromosome. There are 200 possible anomalies with the condition that include heart and kidney problems, thyroid issues, immunodeficiency, cleft palate, kidney problems, short stature, scoliosis, anxiety, speech/language difficulties, hearing loss and learning delays. Sawyer has several of these but nothing severe. He’s had several therapies to improve physical and speech/language development as well as counseling for anxiety. He has had multiple surgeries to correct some of these things including correction of a sub-mucous cleft at age five, multiple ear surgeries and spinal fusion surgery in November of last year.

Sawyer’s family encourages him to achieve ahead of any limitations. Mom Michelle said, “We are very thankful that Sawyer doesn’t have any life-threatening conditions. Physically, Sawyer can do anything he determines to do. He has some auditory processing delays so I will sometimes repeat for him what was spoken or reword it in a way that he will more easily understand. Sawyer also has some hearing loss and wears a hearing aid in one ear. In many cases, we have learned to adjust situations to better fit Sawyer’s needs.”

Other family members are dad, Lonnie, and sister, 13-year-old Emalie. Both children are homeschooled.

Sawyer had physical therapy from 4 months old to 3 years old. He had some gross motor delays and didn’t take his first steps until he was 17 months old. As he grew and became more confident, he loved to run. Sawyer still loves to run as fast as possible on a playground or run laps around our house. Sawyer has a small GPS that he likes to carry with him when he runs short distances so he can see his top speed. 

Sawyer, Michelle and Emalie all attend Camp Gladiator at Grace Lutheran Church. Michelle said, “He is gaining endurance, strength in his arms, legs and core. He is improving coordination, agility and learning to push himself through challenges. Our trainer, Lisa Fink, always encourages him and cheers him on. Sawyer has a wonderfully contagious smile. He loves to workout with CG family and encourage each person as well.”

Sawyer has been working with a running coach to improve his running form and build endurance by learning to manage his pace. The coach also encouraged Sawyer to explore the possibility of joining and practicing with the Greater Cabarrus Athletic Association (GCAA) Stallions high school XC Cross Country Team. He attended their summer camp and plans to continue with the team and their Coach Jed Price.

The Greenway 5K is relatively easy to follow, but Sawyer and his mom asked if someone would run with him. Clayton Lewis, 21, a consistent runner, volunteered immediately to do it and changed his Saturday YMCA work schedule to make it fit. Sawyer said, “I was pretty nervous at first since I hadn’t run a 5K race before. There were more people there than I expected. When the race first started, I was motivated to do a good job and kept my steady pace. It was very exciting! My legs got a bit sore toward the end of the race, but I kept trying and didn’t give up. When I got to the track, I was encouraged hearing my family cheer for me. I felt comfortable running on the track like I do with for my running coach and started running faster. When I finished, it felt so good, like a warm hug! I look forward to running another race! I want people to know that I love Jesus and he helped me to do my best today!”

Clayton Lewis said, “Sawyer was nervous before the race but once we got going, he was more at ease. Throughout the entire race, we encouraged each other. As we passed different runners or they passed us, Sawyer would give them a thumbs up and tell them they were going great. We kept a steady pace other than the one hill and the water stop. Sawyer said he was having fun despite being tired. He told me when we started that 2.7 miles was the farthest he’d ran yet, so after we passed 2.8 miles, I told him that he’d ran further now than ever before. He was excited! As we made the turn onto the track, his family and others were cheering him on supplied the spark to speed up for the finish.

Sawyer finished in 38 minutes and 3 seconds, 88th of 120 participants. That’s an average pace of 12:15 per mile.

Sawyer’s pediatrician, Dr. Stephen O’Brien has been working with Sawyer since he was born, through all the ups and downs. At a recent visit, he said Sawyer is in the best shape of his life. He was very pleased with his all-around well-being. Sawyer’s challenges sometimes make him feel unsure about situations and his abilities. Running is helping to give him the confidence he needs and lowering his anxiety as well as helping him to focus and think more clearly when doing his schoolwork.

Electronics is another passion for Sawyer. He always has a project, or three, that he’s working on. He has built several remote-control boats. If he isn’t building an RC vehicle, he’s driving one. He also loves to go camping, watch movies and spend time with his sister. Sawyer likes to measure speed and distance, the specific numbers and stats, and he always wants to improve on them, especially those with running.

The race was very organized, everyone friendly and encouraging, and the perfect first race experience. Nervous and excited, Sawyer woke at 4 a.m. on race morning. Michelle said, “We prayed he would have the energy and hydration he needed to run and finish well. We are so very proud of Sawyer. He ran steady and kept a good pace throughout the entire race. Thank you Clayton Lewis for running with Sawyer.”

Michelle said, “Sawyer is such a sweet, kind and happy young man. He smiles most of the time. We know that God has a very special plan for him. We are thankful for every moment we get to spend loving and encouraging our kids in the plans God has for them. Sawyer has found such a love for running and it is a blessing to see how God will use this in his future.”