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Preston Lillis was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in the second grade, and sometimes struggles with physical activities.
During field day at Grandville South Elementary in Grandville, Michigan, on May 28, Preston won a race for the first time while his 29 classmates cheered him on.
The 10-year-old said he never used to like participating in field day activities because he would either lose or it would be too overwhelming for him. This year, his fifth-grade class wanted to change that, so they went to their teacher, John Barton, with the idea to have Preston win.
“He’s always so down on himself and to see his classmates rally around him was pretty incredible,” Jill Lillis, Preston’s mom, told TODAY.com. “Everyone had tears in their eyes.”
Barton has been impressed with the interest his students have taken in Preston since the first day of class.
“They’re a pretty compassionate group and they’re constantly looking after him,” Barton told TODAY.com.
When it came time to run the race, the boys in his class followed behind telling him how fast he was going, while the girls waited for him at the finish line chanting “Preston! Preston! Preston!”
“As soon as he made that last turn, he was smiling the whole way to the finish line and the boys trailing behind him looked just as happy,” Barton said.
It was a day of firsts, not just for Preston, but for his classmates as well.
“I’ve never seen any of them that happy before,” Preston told TODAY.com.
At the end of the race, everyone swarmed in to hug him and then he immediately fell to the ground while his parents sprayed him with water to cool him down.
“I was exhausted,” Preston said. “It was the fastest I had ever run before.”
His parents are planning on framing the blue ribbon he won to put up for display in their house. They also said that the race is all he’s been talking about and he still hasn’t come down from his high.
“I want to say thank you to my friends for cheering for me and helping me get through it,” Preston said. “I’m so happy.”