Kayleigh Williamson is running the good race. Never mind thatshe has Down syndrome. She’s just warming up.
By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photo by Delaine Carr
Kayleigh Williamson wants to finish the 2021 Austin Marathon in less than eight hours. If she succeeds, she will become the first person with Down syndrome to post an official marathon time.
Put your money on her. This 29-year-old has run five half-marathons since she first tackled the distance at the Austin Half Marathon in February 2017. She finished that race—the first person with Down syndrome to ever complete it—in six hours and 22 minutes. Her current time hovers just above four hours. To hit her marathon goal, she’ll train for the next 19 months with Kim Davis at RunLab.
Williamson, who lives in South Austin with her mother, started running six years ago to get healthy after her grandmother had a stroke. Before she started training, Williamson was prediabetic and had sleep apnea and Graves’ disease. Today, she’s 60 pounds lighter and diabetes-free, she sleeps better and her Graves’ disease is in remission.
Running has rerouted Williamson’s life. In 2017, Women’s Running Magazine named her one of the nation’s most influential runners. Kayleigh’s Club, a local nonprofit that encourages people with disabilities and their families to stay active, was formed because of her physical accomplishments.
When she’s not pounding pavement—or dancing to pop music—Williamson swims, shoots hoops and participates in enrichment programs for people with disabilities at the McBeth Recreation Center in Zilker Park. Recently, she accepted a job at Patagonia on Congress Avenue.
In May, Williamson also became an author. Her book, It’s Cool to Be Me, describes her experiences being bullied in school.
“Don’t let what other people say define you,” she says.
Here’s how this Britney Spears-loving distance runner has become a national role model.
“I wake up at 6 a.m. and kiss my mom on the check before she goes to work. Then I take Capital MetroAccess to McBeth. I have two High Brew Coffee drinks every morning, Fage Greek Yogurt and one banana.”
“I run with my mom. We do 3 miles in our neighborhood during the week and 6 miles [plus hill repeats] on Saturdays. My favorite place to run is Town Lake. I also lift weights [at 24 Hour Fitness on William Cannon Drive]and I love to dance.” (Her runs get longer as she approaches race days.)
“My favorite food is chicken noodle soup. I always eat soup for lunch with cheese and crackers. My mom cooks supper—healthy meals only. We go to the farmers market on Saturdays to buy organic fruits and veggies. We don’t eat processed foods, and no soda. I love kombucha.”
“I wear New Balance running shoes, compression socks and a RunLab sports bra. I have purple running shorts and purple hair [for Alzheimer’s awareness]. I listen to music with headphones when I run, and I wear a RunLab hat and [Hemp360] sunblock.” (She wears a National Down Syndrome Society Ambassador hat when she races outside of Texas.)
“I run in honor of my grandmother. She has Alzheimer’s. I love her very much.”
“No crying. Don’t stop. Keep going. It’s not hard. Just push it.”
“I grab my baby girl Maggie May, my puppy. She likes to lie down next to me. I tell her, ‘Mama is putting you to bed.’ Then I go to bed at 1 a.m.”