The winner of the race, and the pack on his heels behind him, had crossed the finish line when a loud roar rumbled down from the bleachers.
Some seconds later, Mark Maioriello was a few steps from the finish line. His legs were churning. His arms were pumping. The rolling roar increased.
When he crossed the white line, the other competitors in the race turned and walked back towards him. With their hands out, the runners congratulated him. An official at the end of the 100-meter race also congratulated him, patting him admiringly on the shoulder.
Soon, other competitors at the Cherokee Invitational crossed the infield to congratulate the freshman runner on the Lenape High School track team.
Then, Mark’s mother, Tammy, hugged her special son as he caught his breath. Both their smiles were as wide as the bleachers behind them where the roar started.
“It makes me teary-eyed to see other athletes and coaches from other teams come up and congratulate him,” Tammy said about her son with Down Syndrome.
“Lenape was willing to include him, it’s awesome to see what schools do today, how they are into inclusion.
“It has helped him adjust to school. Everyone knows him, it is a big school, but they keep him included and hopefully he will inspire other students with special needs.”
His father, Mark, was also there last Monday night to hug his son at the finish line.
“This is what I thought about since he was born,” said the dad who ran track at the University of New Hampshire. “For him to be included with all the other kids … the coaches have been tremendous, to see students cheering him on is inspiring.
“It’s so special to see him out there.”
Lenape head track coach Sean McAneny also teaches Mark in a special education class.
“This is his first year with the program, his parents reached out to us and it’s been a great experience,” McAneny said.
“The biggest impact has been with the team chemistry, the atmosphere has improved. He’s made the team chemistry better. It’s been a cool experience. He brings such liveliness to the team. He’s really outgoing and funny and social.
“And the team really likes that.”
McAneny explained that Mark works with assistant coach Kevin Wojno and his training is modified. He practices three times a week and he never misses a meet.
“I customized his schedule, we practice for 45 minutes and he does a great job,” said Wojno, who played football at Cherokee, graduating in 2012, and now is a paraprofessional. “He brings a positive vibe. It has been nothing but nice and encouraging the way he works and walks around with a smile, it affects the other kids.”
Lenape senior Kevin Laury is one of Mark’s teammates who has been touched.
“With Mark at practice and with his disability and the way he pushes through and keep smiling, and track is not easy, it’s encouraging to me to keep working,” said Laury, a middle distance runner who will attend Navy. “He puts me in a good mood, he really does that for the whole team.”
Mark and Tammy have two younger sons, Nico (13) and Mateo (11).
“They are so close to him and they mean the world to him,” the dad said about Mark’s brothers. “They are great with him and all his friends have bonded with him.
“Who knew when we had a child with Down Syndrome what would happen, but I wouldn’t trade him in for the world or snap away his Down Syndrome, no way, he has taught us so much more and everyone he has touched.
“He is so special.”