BLUFFTON - Bluffton High's Madison Lewellyn has had a good sophomore track season, thanks in good measure to an outgoing, fifth-grader.
Alex "Smiles" Arrieta has been Madison's motivator for the past two years, both on and off the track. The 10-year-old was diagnosed with acute myeloma leukemia in early 2015 and passed away Wednesday at MUSC Children's Hospital in Charleston.
"He was always so positive," Madison told scrunners.com after learning that Alex had died. "He always had something positive to say."
Madison said she first met Alex through one of his cousins, who just happened to be one of Madison's closest friends.
"When Skylar and I became friends, I found out what Alex had been going through with the leukemia." She said it has been an up and down ride for her and Alex.
"I had been getting all of his updates and how good he was doing and that he had beat leukemia and was in remission," she said. "Then it had come back.
"That's when I became basically a part of his family," Madison said. "I took on the same emotions and connections."
Madison said she and her teammates knew before the start of the Region 8 meet on Tuesday that Alex was having a rough day.
"I told some of my teammates about Alex and asked them to run in his name, to run for him and to give it all they have on the track."
Madison had a good day in Summerville, placing second in the 800-meters finals and third in the 3200-meters final. Freshman Perla Jimenez place first in the 3200. As a team, the girls finished third.
"Over this season, I've had Alex on my mind, knowing that I have this amazing opportunity and talent to run and do what I do, and also knowing what Alex was going through," Madison said.
Madison said she learned of Alex passing early Wednesday via a text from Skylar.
"I was devastated," she said.
That morning, she was asked to close the Fellowship of Christian Athletes morning huddle with a closing prayer for Alex and his family.
"That was a great experience, knowing I was able to do that," Madison said.
She said she would remember Alex "through stories and pictures, pictures of him and his huge smile, and stories of him being so optimistic."
Madison said she hopes to carry forward what Alex started with his stuffed lamb program, an effort he started earlier this year for children battling cancer. The effort has produced more than 1,000 stuffed lambs.
"I hope to do anything I can in his name, and hopefully raise more awareness of children's leukemia."