Ben Baltz was six years old when his parents were told their child had osteosarcoma, cancer in his right leg. But when the child’s lower right leg was soon amputated, J.C. and his wife Kim wanted to make sure that Ben would grow to learn he could do anything and, in the words of his mom, “needs to be thankful that he is able to do it because there are a lot of kids out there still fighting cancer.
“We just want him to get out there and participate in life,” she explained last Sunday when Ben, now 11 and a student at the STEMM Middle School in Valparaiso, Fla., competed in his third triathlon for kids. The Sea Turtle Tri (“try”) included a 150-yard swim, a 4-mile bicycle ride and a one-mile run but his mom began to worry slightly when Ben didn’t appear at the finish line like he normally does.
You see, Ben wears his sports prosthetic when he plays sports like soccer, baseball and participates in triathlons but after he had changed from his “mechanical knee” to his “running leg” last weekend, he zipped through the swim and bike race before things went south. “My leg got wobbly,” he would later say, and soon a screw came out of the prosthesis, the apparatus breaking in half.
As Ben debated whether to hop or crawl after seeing the device couldn’t be quickly fixed, he heard a voice ask, “Need some help?” Ben looked up and there were several United States Marines who had come from the Pensacola training station to help with the children’s event. The second he said, “Sure” a Private First Class named Mathew Morgan swooped Ben up in one arm, grabbed the kid’s prosthetic leg with the other and started running the rest of the race.
Within three bats of an eyelash at least six other Marines joined the fallen runner and his newest friend and, with one calling cadence, surged toward a large crowd. The announcer yelled, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to turn around and look what is happening on the course…”
Glory of glories, there wasn’t a dry eye on the beach. John Murray, a race official, explained that the scene was more of “a buildup in a way because as more and more people realized the Marine was going to run all the way to the finish line, I was overcome with emotion.”
Ben’s mother was also very emotional. “Everybody was crying,” she said, watching the wiry Marine carry her son. “It was very touching that the Marines were there in the first place. They picked (Ben) up and everybody started cheering, giving them support and giving Ben support.”
The Good Samaritan act has rocketed its way around the country this week, been featured on CNN and nationally acclaimed. Capt. Frank Anderson, the commanding officer at the Marine training center, told CNN reporters he was very proud. It’s great to see what Marines do – not leave anybody behind – is exemplified by the youngest members of our institution.
“(PFC Morgan) is not a real big guy but he picked that young boy up quick, threw him on his back, and ran the rest of the course. We were all pretty pumped!” said the officer.
Ben, of course, was a little embarrassed – he’d rather have finished on his own – and is a little amazed at the wildfire roar the story has caused. “He thinks it’s just about the Marines,” laughed his mother but his dad may have had a premonition.
Shortly before the fun-filled race started, J.C. and Ben were throwing a football on the beach when his Dad stopped to give Ben some chocolate before the opening swim. On the wrapper of a Dove bar were the words, “You are exactly where you need to be.”
At the time Ben Baltz had no idea that the Marines were right where they needed to be too.