During his first track and field meet, Ahwatukee eighth-grader Joshua Bowden drew cheers and support from the crowd earlier this month.

“There was a contagious enthusiasm running down the track as Joshua passed people and they suddenly got up and cheered for him,” his father, Christopher Bowden, said.

As Kyrene Centennial Middle School’s first special needs student to be part of the track and field team, Joshua Bowden has set an example for the rest of the school community.

“It’s to be part of the community as a whole, and not just of a special needs community,” said Bowden’s mom, Louise.

Bowden, 15, has Down syndrome and is participating as an athlete on the school’s track and field team for the first time this year. But more than just participating, according to Louise, being part of the team has been inspiring for Bowden.

“You could just see him glow and beam during practices,” she said.

Bowden, who will start his freshman year at Mountain Pointe High School next year, will compete in a track and field meet on April 4 at Centennial, and just completed another this week.

“For us as parents, me as a mom, having Josh’s typical peers treating him like he’s just a regular kid is so important,” Louise said.

After participating in track and field, as well as other sports for Special Olympics, Bowden learned the basics and got familiar with areas of competition like the 100-meter dash. In seeing Joshua’s bonding with his typical peers in combined classrooms, the idea sprouted from his sixth-grade teacher about getting Joshua involved on the school’s team.

“Through his education process, he has really been very lucky in that he’s had some superb special education teachers with a ‘can do’ attitude,” Louise said.

During practices, Louise said she was proud of Joshua, his teammates, and the coaches for their encouragement and sincere enthusiasm in his ability to race.

“Everyone in that school embraced it and that is what has made it so special.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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