UNCA athletes root for Special Olympian down all the way to the finish line

Elijah Roberts, one of UNC Asheville's biggest fans, had a rooting squad of athletes tagging along at the Buncombe County Special Olympics on Friday. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) -- One of UNC Asheville's biggest fans had a rooting squad of athletes tagging along at the Buncombe County Special Olympics on Friday.

Elijah Roberts has been to almost every game in various sports in recent years, so you could say it was payback.

Gusty conditions didn't blow away the impact of the Buncombe County Special Olympics.

"Oh, this is one of the spectacular events of the year," said Frieda Vaughn, Elijah's grandmother.

She said it was the perfect setting to to root for the wind beneath her wings.

"Oh, let me tell you, I love it. I've been coming for years," she told a stranger in the crowd.

"I've been right there, me and my big mouth!" Vaugn said with a laugh.

And if one thing's bigger than that, it is grandson Elijah's ear to ear smile.

"What do you want to do, Elijah?" UNCA soccer player Zoe Lewis asked.

"Warm up," Elijah replied.

"He has been on cloud nine," Grandma Frieda said. "He loves those girls!"

The UNCA athletes are on Team Elijah.

"Cause we're going for gold. They just need to hand it to us now," Zoe said, getting Elijah pumped up. "We're ready, we're ready!"

Elijah may not say much during the event, but his constant laughs and smiles tell a lot.

Basketball players Tianna Knuckles and Chatori Major also get an assist.

"You got this, right?" Major said, coaching him for the softball toss. "Remember, we practiced, step and throw."

Elijah's been a staple at campus sporting events for a decade. Now, the players get to turn the tables.

"Definitely to support him and for him to give me motivation," Lewis said. "Because I think he does a lot more for me than I could ever do for him."

"So, they're taking the time to support him and cheer him on as he's been cheering them on," said Mikkie Vaughn, Elijah's mom. "They're his friends."

Two years ago, his connection to UNCA gave him an escape. Elijah was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, which eventually gave mom Mikki even more to love about her son.

"I admire him, so many things about him, but, yes, he's a cancer survivor," his mom said.

So, when it came time get his face painted, it was a no-brainer. He chose a big UNCA 'A.' After all, Bulldogs athletes even helped train him for the big day.

Once Elijah got his game face on, it was time for the moment his grandma had been waiting for.

"Mine's getting ready to come now," Frieda says to a stranger.

"Awesome, good luck!" he replied.

It was the 50-meter dash.

"You ready?" Major asked Elijah.

Then, the race started with a flurry with Major running next to him.

"Here we go, Elijah! Yeah!" she said, coaching as she struggled to keep pace. "Woo, you're running fast!"

"He said, 'I want you to run next to me.' And then he beat me!" Major recalled.

Eight seconds flew like the wind.

"Eight point six three," his mom told him.

"Woo, you were going fast!" Major said.

"This is my exam week, and, so, I'm really glad I got a break," she said. "This the best break ever."

One more test passed in flying colors.

"But it's that indelible spirit," Grandma Frieda explained.

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