Journey of Less Than a Second
There is a familiar saying which goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For Mason Dupree Williams and Devon Holcomb, their journeys, individually and collectively, came down to 0.0 seconds.
While their backgrounds share similarities: both born on the autistic spectrum, both with fiercely loving and protective mothers, both full of joy and passion for life; Mason and Devon intersected for the first time on the starting line of a race. And a lifetime friendship was born.
Devon had participated in many sports for Special Olympics Oregon (SOOR) prior to that fateful day: softball, swimming, basketball, and his favorite, track. A lightning-fast runner, he was used to winning races and lettered in high school; while on the track team for his high school in West Albany, he had the chance to visit the University of Oregon campus and track facilities, a “highlight” for him. When Joe Harvey, Vice President of Program & Volunteer Services for SOOR told him there was an athlete in a different county that was just as fast, he was intrigued with the challenge presented.
His mom, Melissa, adopted Devon at age five. “He blossomed into this amazing young man,” she said, “we got him signed up as a Special Olympics Oregon athlete, and basketball became his #1; he could dunk by the age of 13.” She said Devon was a passionate competitor, taking his county to state competitions, with an equal mix of compassion for his fellow athletes. “He has a natural ability to talk to the athletes when they are down if they miss a ball,” said Melissa, “he has that natural care to him. He attracts people to him. Everyone knows who Devon is from Lane County to Benton County.”
Devon, a proud dad of a 7-month-old little boy who he calls ‘my little supporter’, works at a veteran’s home and hospital. Melissa said, “the vets there love him; he started taking care of his grandma when she got sick and has been a caregiver since he was 18 years old.”
Devon “loves being a dad,” he said, “every cry, every poopy butt, I enjoy every minute of it. It’s a lot like helping the elderly, it’s all about love and care.”
Mason started competing in track as a junior at Jefferson High School in Portland. A sprinter, he competed in the same lineup of races as Devon, the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4×1 relay and occasionally the 4×4 relay. His nickname, ‘The brown bullet’ was born in 8th grade because of his speed, and it stuck with him; he even has it tattooed on his arm. He now lives in Eugene, the international track mecca, and works in dining service for the University of Oregon. He recently graduated from University of Oregon, class of 2023, with a BA of Science with a degree in ethnics studies.
Aside from his work with the University of Oregon, Mason is a student of mental health, researching and writing about anything that involves how people are diagnosed and treated. He’s interested in “keeping people with mental health issues safe. Not stigmatizing. Accessing resources.” He is particularly interested in the intersection of law enforcement and people with mental health episodes, and how officers can avoid triggering incidents and manage situations without further consequences.
His mom, Raina, is a tremendous support. “We talk every day,” she said, “he feels so far away but he’s making his way in the world. I try to honor that, and I will always be available. Mason has an old soul; a spirit you don’t forget. He is a ‘never met a stranger’ kind of person. A good human with good energy. When you see him, he makes you smile. He really has that effect on people. He always has.”
She expressed that she was told by people ‘how things should be done’ while raising him. “I didn’t know anything about autism when he was diagnosed,” she said, “as he got older, those same people could see how my advocacy helped him, and then said, ‘thanks for not giving up on your baby.’ I knew he could do what the other kids were doing. I knew he could graduate with honors, get a scholarship. I always told him, ‘You never know who is watching. Don’t forget who you are.’”
The Race That Changed History
It was summer of 2022, at SOOR Regional Athletics in Salem. Mason represented Eugene/Springfield, and Devon represented Linn County. The starting gun blasted, and Mason and Devon ignited the stadium with their collective and joyful focus, feet pounding the track, sweat dripping off the side of their faces as their determination to cross the finish line first entertained the crowd. And they did finish first. Both of them. The crowd went wild.
Devon and Mason had done what no two track athletes had ever done in history. They tied for first with zero seconds to spare, both at 12.22 seconds. Their families, and the entire crowd, were stunned into a moment of silence as they tried to figure out who won. Then came the eruption of explosive cheers.
Devon said “we had both clocked 12.22 with not even a 100th of a second difference. We got the exact same time. There was no telling who took the win; it was the exact same time on the dot. Then we were told, you are both going to get a gold medal! We’re like ‘what?’ I was like ‘no way, that’s impossible!’ It made me so happy, a great memory, honestly,” said Devon.
Melissa, a Special Olympics Oregon coach for over 30 years, took a photo of the time for later proof. “I was ecstatic,” she said, “everyone was screaming and clapping, and the two of them were hugging at the end. It was phenomenal. I had to nudge him to run that day; he hadn’t initially planned on it; he just ran in his tennis shoes.”
Mason said about that fateful day, “this was a historic moment for both of us, a barrier breaking race.”
Raina said “that was honestly the equivalent of watching Mason win the exhibition race in the Olympic trials. It was that exhilarating! They both ran their hearts out. When you hear a football coach say, ‘leave it all on the field’, it was like that. They were pumping it all out and we were screaming ‘go go go!’. We were all looking at each other at the end thinking ‘who won?’. At first, I thought maybe the idea was ‘everyone wins’, but then we realized they literally had the exact same time. You really had to be there, and I was thankful to see it. Sports Illustrated needs to know about this!”