MIDWEST CITY, Okla. — Caleb Freeman was the fastest runner on the team, on pace for college scholarship money.
Then, right after his sophomore season with the Newcastle Racers, a wreck changed the course of his life forever.
Caleb fought off death.
He was in a medical coma for weeks.
He lay paralyzed in a hospital bed for months after that.
Traumatic brain injury robbed him of all his abilities.
The Freeman family prayed for healing. They believed their son would walk again.
They hoped against all odds that he would run.
One year after the wreck, Caleb had made remarkable progress.
In the beginning of the semester, Caleb was still using a walker, but vowed to get from class to class without assistance by the end of the year.
After school, Caleb could often be found testing his strength and balance, practicing his gait on the football field.
The goal has always been for Caleb’s body to be fully restored.
His parents, Jeremy and Emily Freeman, have always believed God would be faithful to their prayers.
Jeremy is the lead pastor at First Baptist Church Newcastle.
This year is Caleb’s senior year at Newcastle High School.
He joined the cross country team as an assistant coach.
“He helps condition my athletes. He talks them up before I talk to them on the line,” said Newcastle Cross Country Coach, Nikki Gayler. “He picks the spot on the line. He prays over everybody and talks them up on the line.”
This season, Caleb has been on the sidelines.
This week, however, Caleb decided to run.
“From the day I met him, he told me he’d be running at regionals,” said Coach Gayler. “This is our last meet before regionals. We did everything we could to get him into this race.”
The Carl Albert Invitational was his last chance to run with the Racers.
“I can remember these meets so well and how he would be at the very front,” said Emily Freeman.
Caleb was a gifted runner, always at the front of the pack.
Tuesday, for the first time, he was nervous ahead of the race.
As the players lined up at the start line, Coach Gayler told the group, “Everybody, he’s chasing to you. Get out and go. Caleb, make ’em faster..”
The race was a 5K.
“I might not feel ready but the Lord will give me strength to push through to the end,” Caleb said.
The varsity boys run 3.1 miles through field and forest, heat and hills.
“Here’s what we said today,” said Jeremy Freeman. “We said your goal is just to glorify God. If you fall, get up and keep going. If you run out like a cheetah, keep going no matter what the goal is to glorify God.”
About 15 minutes after the start, the lead runner had already crossed the finish line as Caleb hit the one-mile mark.
“Even though it’s hard and sometimes he goes slower, he’s still progressing and continuing to run as hard as he can,” said Caleb’s younger brother, Clayton Freeman.
The winner joined Caleb on the course on mile two.
In fact, most of the finishers circled back to run with Caleb.
“To watch all of those kids line up behind him,” said Emily Freeman, “there are no words.”
Caleb ran steady and steadfast as he finished his second mile in about 30 minutes.
“This time last year he was in a wheelchair. He was using a walker,” said Jeremy Freeman. “Here we are a year later. Imagine where he’ll be in another year. It’s incredible.”
On mile three, Caleb’s struggled to leave a little gas in the tank.
“He’s been the heart of the team the whole time,” said Coach Gayler. “It’s like he’s never not been there for us.”
Caleb is a runner. He knows you’ve got to save some fuel for the finish.
It’s a strategy he’s deployed a hundred times.
Distance runners know when there’s nothing left, their team will pull them through.
Team Caleb stretches the globe.
He finished the 5K in 51 minutes 50 seconds; a new personal record for a runner transformed.
“They said I would never run again, but God had other plans,” said Caleb.
What they didn’t realize then, as he was lying in the hospital paralyzed, is that Caleb really never stopped running.
He never quit on his race for the prize that will last forever.