Emotional tribute to blind runner killed in hit and run before race day

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- 22-year-old Robert Peck was laid to rest Saturday, two weeks after he was struck by a car as he crossed a north Houston street.

The driver never stopped.

Robert was blind since birth, and was in training for the Aramco Houston half marathon, which has a designation for athletes with disabilities.

Today, Robert crossed the finish line, with the help of the man who was to be his guide for the race.

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Sam Lopez ran the race with Robert's running shoes tied around his neck. With the approval of the half marathon officials, he was given permission to run with Robert's time chip.

The race log shows he placed 17th overall in his group.

Lopez is a member of Team Catapult, a Houston non-profit that aims to 'catapult' people with disabilities into the world of endurance sports and athletics, offering them training and exposure to the endurance sports world.

In the time that Robert knew the team's members, he made an impact on them with his outgoing personality, generosity of spirit, and love for people.

When Lopez learned of his trainee's death, he made the decision to run for him. "It was like here we are, we're doing what we set out to do. Let's get it done, you know?"

To a person, those who knew Peck said he never met a stranger, and knew few limits.

Team Catapult knows athletics, but they also learned something from him.

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"To be like that and welcome everybody with open arms. If everybody did that, this world would be an amazing place," said Team Catapult president Chris McClendon.

Robert's family did not attend today's half marathon events.

"I still break down and cry, and I have to be strong for the other children," said his mother, Mattie Peck.

She and her husband adopted Robert when he was eight years old. She has provided foster care to more than 80 children over the years.

"He was special. He would counsel kids, talking to them on the phone until 3 in the morning," she said. "He had a radio prayer ministry. If you met him, he would make an instant impact on you," she said.

She was touched when she learned her son is now in the records of the half marathon. "He completed his race," she said. "He would be happy."

Saturday, the same day her son's funeral was held, she learned Robert continues to affect people after his death.

She made the decision to donate his organs.

After the service, she was told his heart was transplanted. " I want to meet the person," she said, because he got a wonderful heart."

The family plans to start a fundraising drive, to collect money for a reward, that could identify the driver who struck Peck and didn't stop.

For more information on Team Catapult, and its work with integrating people with disabilities into athletics and healthy living, go to teamcatapult.org.
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