Marvin doesn't say much. He's an introvert. He doesn't always like to be around people.
But there is one exception: His best friend, Max.
Marvin and Max have known each other since kindergarten. Now 14 years old, they make for quite the odd couple. Marvin is tall, broad-shouldered, quiet. Max is short, thin, and a chatterbox.
"He can talk like there's no tomorrow," says Diane Pogoda, Max's mother. "Marvin always wants to be alone, but Max drags him around. He'll be like, 'come on Marvin,' and Marvin follows him around."
That's how it is every year at the Special Olympics track meet near Rochester, New York, where Max and Marvin live. But this year was a little different: For the first time, Max and Marvin were competing in the same race. They lined up for the 50-meter dash, and when the race began -- starter's pistols have upset kids in the past, so a race official yells "Go!" -- Max rocketed into the lead.
"He ran so fast," his mother recalls. "We were like, 'Oh my gosh, he's going to win this thing, how cute.'"
But Max didn't win. In a moment Max's family captured on video, the frontrunner quickly realizes Marvin isn't beside him. He looks back and sees Marvin in last place. So Max does what most of us wouldn't even consider: He comes to a dead stop, waits for Marvin, and takes him by the hand. The two run down the stretch together, Max pulling his friend across the finish line.
"The video doesn't really do it justice," Diane Pogoda says. "It doesn't look like he came to a dead stop. He really did.
"Everybody [in the stands] was like, you had tears in your eyes. It was so unexpected, and yet it wasn't."
Max, of course, thought nothing of it. His explanations are simple: "I just grabbed his hand, I wanted him to run with me," or, "I run with Marvin." But for everyone else, the moment was profound. Their local TV news station put together a news story that "ended up running the entire day and night," Pogoda says. Other news stations picked it up soon after, and the video spread virally on social media.
Over the weekend, Pogoda got an even bigger surprise: Someone from "The Ellen Show" called, saying they wanted to gather some background information. The representative couldn't promise that Max and Marvin would make it on air, but told Max's mother, "We love the story, it's so touching."
Pogoda says she and the rest of the family have tried to explain to Max his newfound popularity, but that he "can't understand the magnitude of it." Max has Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects learning and can cause various intellectual impairments. Max's mother puts it this way: "He likes the Wiggles, he loves Blues Clues."
But he's a very social person, one who seems to know more people in their Rochester suburb than his own mother. And when it comes to being kind, he doesn't know any other way to be. Even though Marvin is on the autism spectrum and is mostly non-verbal, he and Max have always been drawn to one another.
Pogoda says their friendship is "so unique, and yet it's so ordinary." Marvin, for example, is a whiz at computers and can help Max out when he's struggling. They play basketball together and attend summer school together.
They look like total opposites -- and the distinctions were even more extreme before Max's recent growth spurt -- but for all their differences, they make a perfect pair.
And now their story is inspiring others online. Pogoda says that when the video of Max and Marvin went viral, her 17-year-old son cautioned her not to read people's comments. "They're not all nice," he warned her.
But his mother didn't listen. What she found, she says, was so much more uplifting than the typical commentary social media invites.
"For the most part, they were so nice," Pogoda says. "One person said, 'I was having such a bad day until I saw this.' That was really touching.
"It's exciting, it's overwhelming, but it's humbling. This little boy, 10 out of 10 times he would have done the same thing."
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