Cross country runner finds focus on the course with service dog

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DAVENPORT, IA (WQAD) — A Davenport West student has grown up coping with a brain injury and autism, and through it all he has learned to set his own pace.

Tyler Gerdts has been running cross country since 7th grade, and has continued the sport into his junior year of high school. Tyler said his mom wanted him to be involved in a sport, so they decided that cross country would be the one.

Tyler’s coach Marty Leal said the runner has a friend that joins him on the course, and it’s something that’s never been done in the State of Iowa.

“It’s different because I think the service dog keeps him more focused while running,” Leal said, “and it’s just better for him to have the dog because he’s more focused like I said running. It’s a unique situation.”

For Tyler to be able to run with his furry focus-point, it was up to the Iowa High School Athletic Association to determine if it was even legal. After some research and discussions, the association decided that Tyler could have the dog, Hugo, but the two have to wait for the rest of the field to start before beginning their race.

“It’s just a safety precaution so Tyler and the dog don’t get caught up with other runners that aren’t as fast as Tyler,” Leal said.

“He likes that people are cheering him on almost throughout the whole course,” said Tyler’s mom Kelley Gerdts. “This isn’t just about kids with service dogs running cross country, this has inspired runners, this has inspired people with disabilities, this has inspired so many, it reaches out to so many athletes of all kinds.”