Connor Quinn is proof that finishing last isn't always a bad thing.
On Tuesday, the 12-year-old from Bellevue — who was diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age 5 — ran the farthest he ever had, finishing his first 3K cross country meet at Bellevue West High School.
Connor didn't cross the finish line alone. His teammates on the Lewis & Clark Middle School cross country team completed the race, then ran back to cheer him on to the finish. Connor cried.
A photo of Connor and his teammates at the finish line is circulating on social media and drawing positive feedback.
"He was just so happy to finish," said Connor's mother, Kimberly Quinn, 36, of Bellevue. "When Connor's dad asked him why he was crying, Connor said, 'I finished. I finished. I really finished.'"
Quinn didn't even know her son had tried out for the cross country team.
"He came home from school last month and said he was going to do cross country," she said. "I was, like, 'What?'"
She said she was surprised but excited because Connor is normally socially awkward and has never shown interest in extracurricular activities. While Connor is verbal and intelligent, she said, he has to take modified classes at school to stay on track.
"I knew this would be an opportunity for him to be part of a team," Quinn said. "It's still an individual sport, but it will help him branch out to meet other people."
Connor practices with his team for an hour every day after school.
There are 75 runners on the team this year; five have autism. The team even had shirts made with the phrase "we support autism."
"They are a great group of kids who are supportive of our runners with autism," said coach Cindy Gress. "It's really neat to see the kids be so encouraging with positive words and lift each other up. Connor always has a positive attitude and seems so happy to be on the team."
At Connor's first practice he could run only once around the school before becoming winded. The next practice he ran twice around the school. He continues to build up his endurance. Quinn laughed when she said that cross country has boosted Connor's appetite, too.
"He finished an entire pork chop the other night and asked for seconds," she said. "I've never seen him eat so much."
His confidence has also changed since joining the team.
"He used to say 'I can't do that' a lot," she said. "Now the picture says it all. The look on his face says 'I can do it and I am going to do so much more.'"
Connor recently tried out for jazz band and now practices the trombone a few mornings before school. Quinn said she couldn't be more proud to see her son making such great progress.
That progress continued on Wednesday when Connor competed in his second cross country meet, at Bryan Middle School.
"He finished third to last," Quinn said. "He told me 'Mom, I didn't get last, and I'm getting better.'"