This Rebel has many causes worthy of a Musial Award: selflessness, kindness, compassion, generosity. He has shared them with a young, visually impaired runner. Together, the two have forged a deep friendship and blazed an inspiring trail.
Rebel Hays, a fifth grader from West Fork, Arkansas, serves as a guide runner for Paul Scott, a 10th grader on the West Fork High School cross country team. Rebel is a volunteer. He can’t win awards, and his name doesn’t appear in the results. But without him, neither would Paul.
Rebel’s dedication to Paul’s running stems from his own passion for the sport, which he discovered when he was 4. “I like running in trees and woods,” he said. “And I like the distance.”
His mom, LouAnn, played and coached basketball but said, “When your 4-year-old starts running fun runs and wants to run further, you need to run to follow him around. I gave up basketball and ended up a cross country coach.”
Rebel won West Fork’s annual fun run and learned about guide running from his cousins, who were team members with Paul’s visually impaired sisters. When West Fork’s coach, Tiffany Surber, was looking for a guide for Paul, Rebel volunteered.
“I was excited because I was getting an opportunity to run with older kids,” Rebel said.
Tiffany explained that a good guide runner must be stronger, fitter and faster than the runner he assists. “A guide has two jobs,” she said. “You have to run the pace of the blind runner while talking and guiding him through obstacles, turns and packs of runners. It’s almost double the work. It’s definitely harder than running your own race.”
To stay together, the two hold opposite ends of a three-foot rope. Rebel spots then alerts Paul to obstacles, turns and other runners. He also faces a typical coach’s dilemma of offering encouragement: “The neat thing about Paul is that he runs faster at practice, so I just want him to know he can do it in a race, too.”
The boys attend schools in different districts, so LouAnn drives Rebel to train with Paul and helps Rebel with extra workouts. Rebel trains hard, he said, because “I can’t cheat on Paul. It makes me feel good to help people.”
The two started running 2-mile races, but had to adapt quickly to a 5K (3.1 miles). Their attitude was “Bring it on.” Four days after learning about the increase in distance, they finished their first 5K in 20 minutes 59 seconds.
“You have a guide runner who is so young, talented and has a heart to help out Paul,” Tiffany said. “And then Paul running with a visual impairment is such a challenging and rare thing. When you put those two together, it creates a beautiful, amazing story.”
Rebel also has spread his causes to others. After learning about Rebel’s story, organizers of the ME STRONG 5K invited him to run their virtual event in February. He gathered a team of five to enter. But rather than try to improve his personal best of 19:49 or those of his teammates, the group helped a classmate named Anna finish her first 5K in 26 minutes. “Sometimes, her mom picked me up after school,” Rebel said, “so we ran at Anna’s pace so she could do it.”
LouAnn realizes that there’s so much more to Rebel’s story than running. “He and Paul are showing the world what happens when you’re nice to people,” she said. “And they’ve become friends. It would be awesome if this was the norm.”