Highland High School senior pushes self to help friend cross finish line

Apr 7, 2015, 2:06 AM | Updated: 2:06 am
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Competing in and finishing a triathlon is not an easy task.

Doing so while helping a friend also get through the course, which involves swimming, cycling and running, would seem like too much to handle.

But not for Spencer Zimmerman, a Gilbert Highland High School senior who plays rugby and is this month’s nominee for the Arizona Sports Character Counts contest presented by Parker & Sons Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

Zimmerman, 18, is known for helping his friend, Dayton Hayward, complete a triathlon four years ago.

Spencer said he and members of his scout troop were planning on doing the triathlon, but most backed out. So, he checked to see if Dayton, who has been his friend since they were about 12, would do it.

“So I was like, ‘What about Dayton, would he be able to do this?’ Zimmerman said. “And everyone’s like, ‘He can’t do that.’ So I was like, ‘Well, why not? I’ll take him.'”

Dayton has cerebral palsy, and communicates via blinking. Spencer said he told Dayton he would pull him through it, and he started blinking.

So they swam. They biked. They ran. They finished.

“It was really cool,” Zimmerman said. “And I could totally tell he enjoyed the whole thing. He was smiling the entire time. So we did it the couple years after that.”

The duo’s story can be found by searching for, “Dayton’s Legs” on YouTube. Check it out, be one of the more than 250,000 people who have.

What you will see is Zimmerman enjoying it all. Strenuous? Sure, but how could he struggle through it with Dayton right there with him?

“Definitely, just knowing Dayton was right there, because I was so close to him — I couldn’t not be close to him the whole time — I wasn’t focused on my soreness, like I had in previous races,” he said. “It was like, I’m doing this for Dayton, I’ve got to push him through this. He wants to finish, I want to finish.

“That’s just what it was: a smile on my face, a smile on his face the whole time. So it wasn’t as physically straining as I expected. It was awesome.”

The reaction to what the two accomplished was great.

“At first it was like a, ‘Dude, are you crazy, why on earth would you do that?'” Zimmerman said. “And then afterwards everybody was like, Dayton’s family, his family is great, they were like, ‘You don’t understand what this means to him.’

“Then people started to realize he was not just this kid in a wheelchair; everyone would talk to him, ‘Dayton, that was so awesome, the race.’ He would sit up, he’d smile, he’d start blinking. It was more of a positive thing for him than it was for me, all the stuff that comes with it, and it’s cool because everyone knows his name, everyone talks to him. It made him more included in church, in school, in scouting and all this stuff. It was as good for him as it was for me.”

Zimmerman, who plays rugby, volleyball, football and runs track, said after high school he will go on a two-year mission with his church. After that, he said the plan is to go to school — a lot of school — to get into medicine and hopefully become an emergency room doctor.

“I feel like being an emergency room doctor, you get to see everything and just get to help so many varieties of people, from stitches to surgery kind of stuff,” Zimmerman said. “It’s always intrigued me, I think it would be awesome.”

But that is for further down the road.

These days, he is hoping to lead his rugby team to a few more victories, while taking part in as many church activities as he can. Church always comes first, he said, and it, via the scouting he does, led to them putting together a 5K benefit run, with 100 percent of the proceeds being donated to the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

While he was glad to be a part of that, Zimmerman said his favorite experience has been the triathlons with Dayton.

“The 5K run we did was kind of, ‘Come out and support this,'” he said. “But the triathlon was just two friends going out and doing a triathlon together. It was more of a friendship thing instead of, like, a scouting thing that was expected, I guess you could say. It was still enjoyable to do, but the triathlon I enjoyed more.

“I enjoy just because it was two friends going out and doing what we both loved.”

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Highland High School senior pushes self to help friend cross finish line