Patrick Ahearn came down the home stretch, and spectators and athletes alike rose to their feet, their cheers carrying him to the finish line.
The Norman High runner lost part of his left leg in a jet ski accident last August. Friday at Putnam City, he returned to competition for the first time since the accident.
Everyone at the meet welcomed him back.
“Everyone supporting me was really awesome,” Ahearn said. “I thought that was really cool.”
It was a lump-in-your-throat moment.
Ahearn has said since the accident he wanted to return to running, but as recently as a month ago, he didn't have a running leg. Without one, competing this track season seemed out of the question.
An appointment a few weeks ago at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics changed his timetable.
Ahearn had been jogging a bit on his walking leg, and his prosthetist, Kyle Wagner, had said that if that was going well, Ahearn might be fitted for a running leg during the checkup. Once Ahearn was fitted, it would take several weeks for the prosthetic to be ready.
Track season would be over by then.
But when Ahearn arrived at his appointment, Wagner had a surprise. He had contacted Freedom Innovations, the company that made the foot on Ahearn's walking leg.
“We've got this kid that wants to keep running in his life,” Wagner had told the company. “He was a cross country runner for his high school, and we think he might be fairly good down the road.”
Freedom Innovations liked the idea of letting Ahearn wear one of their legs and test it in competition, so it put a rush order on a running blade for Ahearn.
What's more, it provided the leg free of charge.
“It was a total surprise,” Ahearn said. “I went home with it that day.”
The next day, he showed up with it at track practice.
It wasn't his first time at practice. As a captain of the cross country team, he continued going to practice after his accident. He encouraged teammates. He helped where he could. But when they ran, he watched.
That changed these past few weeks.
“I honestly had no idea what to expect from the running leg when I put it on,” Ahearn said. “I was a little bit wobbly at first, but I quickly got the hang of it.”