NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University graduate Heath White and his family will be featured on ESPN’s E:60 in a segment that profiles their inspiring endeavor to raise awareness about individuals with Down Syndrome. E:60 is a weekly newsmagazine that examines issues and events related to American and international sports. White drew media attention for completing marathons with his daughter Paisley who was born with Down Syndrome. The feature will air at 6 p.m. (CST) Tuesday, Oct. 2.
“Having a child with Down Syndrome was hard,” said White, who had already completed three or four marathons before Paisley, his second child, was born. “I came to terms with it when she was about a year old and ran the first marathon with her in 2008 to apologize to her and let everyone know what she means to me.”
With White pushing Paisley in a jogger stroller, they completed 11 marathons, -- including a 31-mile ultra marathon -- totaling 321 miles, a distance significant to White because DS is caused by the presence of a third copy of chromosome 21. They also competed in a 5K, with White pushing Paisley and a friend, winning second place. Those accomplishment attracted news reporters to the family and they were approached by ESPN, who followed them for two years gathering footage for the E:60 episode.
White, a former Air Force pilot, is a special agent for the FBI. He earned a degree in political science at Northwestern State in 1995 and a master’s degree in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. His wife, Jennifer Chance White, earned a degree in elementary education at Northwestern State in 1995 and taught for 15 years. She is now a stay at home mother. They are both natives of Waskom, Texas, and in addition to Paisley, age 5, the Whites are parents to daughters Pepper, 7, and Tex, 2, and expecting their fourth daughter in October. The family lives in Miami, Fla.
Initially, Paisley mostly napped during races, but as she grew older began to interact with other runners and wave at spectators from her stroller, which was outfitted with a radio, water bottles and snacks.
“It was very positive,” White said. “We got positive reaction from other runners and the crowds. We did Little Rock five years in a row and they expected to see us. It was very motivating.”
White was deployed after 9/11 and ran his first marathon in January 2002. He has completed a total of 22 and qualified for the Boston Marathon twice. His oldest daughter Pepper is also an athlete, having competed in a triathlon and currently training in jujitsu. Last November, White and Paisley competed in a 5K in his hometown, Waskom, the only time the two came in first.
Paisley is now involved with Little Rockers Kids Marathon, a program that encourages children ages 7-12 to complete a modified marathon over an extended period of time. She walks a quarter mile every day and will finish the final mile of her marathon with other children on the Little Rock Marathon racecourse March 2, 2013. The exercise keeps her healthy and active, her father said.
The 2012 Little Rock Marathon in March was the last the two ran together. White now intends to run partnered with young adults affected by cerebral palsy.
“What began as a tribute to my daughter evolved to a statement about everyone with disabilities,” said White, who has participated in dozens of interviews and has spoken publicly about DS, his relationship with Paisley and how she changed him. “If my message is that children with disabilities are just like other kids, then it was time to stop. Little Rock was the finale and the end was emotional. Paisley is now ambulatory. Now I want to be paired with someone who can’t walk.”