Blazing a trail

Posted at: 10/22/2013 3:16 PM
Updated at: 10/23/2013 12:07 AM
By: Justin Granit

What started as a hobby has transformed into an avenue of hope for a 13-year-old boy. Luke Fortner has been running cross country for three years, competitively for the first time this September with the Fairport seventh and eighth grade team. The difference for Luke, he can't see what lies ahead.

Mike Fortner, Luke's father, said, “I would give $1 million to get inside of his head, just to see what he sees, so I can experience what he sees.”

Born a twin three months premature, Luke was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, a form of legal blindness. To run, to compete, to be the first blind runner in the district, his eyes need the eyes of his coach, Jackie McAlpin. She is a physical education teacher in Fairport. She had never ran or coached cross country until now. Using a two-foot tether made out of t-shirts, Jackie is Luke's guide out on the course.

Jackie McAlpin, coach, said, “We have gotten to know each other. He knows things that make me laugh and vise versa.”

Luke Fortner said, “I like running with her.”

The two did not know one another. The sport has brought them together.

McAlpin said, “It's amazing the trust he has in me because he has to when we are out on different courses.”

Each day, Luke and Jackie grab that tether and run for two miles. He never wants to quit.

Cindy Fortner, Luke's mother, said, “He has a smile when he runs, that's pure joy. He is enjoying the experience.”

And after each run is over...

Luke Fortner said, “It makes me not want to do it again when I'm done.” 

News10NBC's Justin Granit asked, “But you do it again, why do you do it again?”

Luke said, “So I can be stronger.”

Granit asked, “Do you feel like you are getting stronger each race, each practice?” 

Luke said, “Yes.”

Luke's times continue to improve, each race is another opportunity. A steady pace through the field and mom watches her son run with the rest of the kids. Runners begin to emerge from the trees and then with Jackie right in front of him, Luke turns for the home stretch. The smile on his face says it all. One final thing to do is cross the finish line. 

Mike Fortner said, “These two girls, one of them said, that is the coolest thing I have seen all day. That gave me goose bumps, wow, this is what it's all about.”

One foot in front of the other, with the help of Jackie, Luke is paving the way for others with disabilities against those who do not.

McAlpin said, “I'm just so proud of Luke. It's emotional. It's an emotional rush for sure. But I'm just so proud of him.”

Luke said, “I'm just always happy and know I'm going to do great.”

McAlpin said, “The only parts you walked were the roots and the woods. It was really good. I have your time, just about 20 minutes.”

The Fortner's message to others families who have children with disabilities is to start a conversation with the district's athletic director to find out what can be done to get children with disabilities involved with athletics.

Luke is involved with Camp Abilities in Brockport. To learn more about Camp Abilities, click here.