He rounds the corner, running with abandon. He is in a zone, oblivious to the other runners, but his determination is obvious to the crowd watching the race – as well as Owen Leander’s short stature and the curly, strawberry-blond hair shaking in the wind.

The 6-year-old Riverside boy captured the hearts of those who saw him run in his first race last year in the Riverside Independence Day 5K.

Owen, the runner, is only part of the story. Owen was born with a condition known as tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) which required surgery five days after his birth to connect his esophagus to his stomach.

He has since undergone five more surgeries related to the problem and other health issues, including a kidney which is no longer functioning and trouble with respiratory system. A weak spot in his trachea, a result of the surgeries, has weakened his ability to cough productively. When he catches a cold, it can become pneumonia. The family combats the problem by daily 15- to 30-minute respiratory treatments to help his lungs.

The young athlete has not let his health deter him.

Owen’s mother Katie, says, “Owen always ran and Owen always runs,” but she was surprised at just how serious her son was about the sport when he entered his first race last year.

“He is not intimidated by anyone,” she says, noting that many times he is the youngest in an event. His enthusiasm has his family becoming a family of runners, with Katie well behind her son in the 5K and his dad, Jason, running with the stroller carrying Owen’s 18-month-old brother, Linden.

Because Owen is so serious about running, the family has talked with Riverside resident and track coach Tom Sisulak about strategies of how to work with the young athlete.

To date, Owen has competed in nine races, and while I was talking to his mother on, Owen chimed in that he has won four gold medals and three silver medals. Pretty good medal count for only one year.

According to an article on Owen in the June issue of Competitor magazine, Owen says he would like to be a baseball player when he grows up, but he will still run. Our young runner begins first grade this year at Central School and, hopefully, no one will have to remind him, “No running in the halls!”