Last Saturday I had the honor of attending the Boston Autism Speaks Walk Awards Dinner. It was an evening filled with inspiration and hope. While there I spent some time talking with Erica Guinta, head of the Massachusetts chapter of Autism Speaks. She was excited to tell me that Autism Speaks and the 13.1 Marathon Series had teamed up to make Autism Speaks the official charity of 13.1 Boston. For the September 16th event, Autism Speaks has pledged to field 400 half-marathoners. Each of those runners will commit to raising at least $500, meaning that we will raise at least $200,000 for research, advocacy and awareness programs.
This is where you come in.
I am NOT asking you to donate.
I am NOT asking you for money.
I want YOU!
I want you to come cover 13.1 miles with me, where we will start at historical Suffolk Down race track and “dash through East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop, take in a stunning view of Downtown, and smell the salt air of the great Atlantic Ocean! The Boston 13.1 Marathon is (also) WALKER FRIENDLY. The course will remain open for 3 hours and 30 minutes (16 minute/mile pace).”
We are all touched by autism – whether it is ourselves, a family member, a neighbor or friend. If you haven’t been touched by autism, chances are you will – and soon.
I was inspired in listening to Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr Saturday night speak of a generation of children who are growing up with the understanding that kids like my little Brooke are “just one of the guys,”; of high school basketball and football players who were coming up to him simply to ask, “what can we do for so-and-so”; of college kids who were packing auditoriums to hear him speak on a Thursday night (I don’t know about your experience, but my Thursday nights in college were generally spent in the fraternity basement).
There is a generation of kids who are growing up with awareness, knowledge, compassion.
“Just one of the guys.”
It made me realize that there were in fact, many girls at Brooke’s school that really do just look at her as one of the girls. Yes, they know she’s different, but they just don’t care. They like her and she likes them. In fact, this morning at drop off, a girl that was in her class LAST year came up to her to give her a pink teddy bear for Valentine’s Day. Brooke hasn’t had a play day with this girl since last summer, yet this young lady thinks enough of Brooke that she felt compelled to give her a Valentine’s Day present.
This kind of awareness, this kind of comfort would, in part, not be possible were it not for the awareness efforts of organizations like Autism Speaks. In turn, organizations like Autism Speaks would not be successful were it not for the incredible efforts of you. Yes, YOU.
Whether you are an experienced marathoner, an avid walker or just a getting off of the couch, I would like to invite you to join the Team Up! with Autism Speaks Team. They make fund raising easy.
2012 Team Up! with Autism Speaks benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Race Entry (which means you don’t need to worry about the $65 – $100 entry fee)
- Team Up! with Autism Speaks Runners Tank or Long Sleeve, and an Autism Speaks dri-fit hat
- Pre-Race private team dinner for you and a guest, location TBA
- Customized fundraising page
- Team Up! Facebook Page
- Virtual Coaching by a certified running Coach Chris Fales
- Fundraising Tips and Opportunities
- Dedicated Autism Speaks staff
- Race Day Cheering Section at Mile TBA
- Race Day Team Up! Tent for pre and post race usage
- Team Handbook- In a PDF form and downloadable for reference at anytime.
I will add one more “benefit” if you are a Boston local. If you will be running your first half-marathon at 13.1 Boston, or just need some inspiration to get out there, I will organize weekly weekend long runs in the weeks leading up to the event. 7 months is a long ways away; plenty of time to get yourself ready for what is sure to be a fun-filled, inspiring day.
If you are an out-of-towner, what better excuse to get yourself up here for a visit? You’ll get to see New England in the early Fall, you’ll get a great run in, you’ll raise funds for a worthy cause, and best of all, you’ll get to have dinner with me the night before the race…okay, well, maybe that last one is not such a great excuse. Regardless, whether you decide to dine with me or not, I want you here.
You love to or want to run/walk.
You want to help.
On September 16th you can do both.
Experienced runner, novice runner, walker or couch potato – I. Want. You!
By Rebecca Fehlig the National Director, Field & Chapter Development
So my friends who don’t run hear that I’ve completed 6 marathons and usually say, “wow, you must be in really great shape.” Or “I could never do that.” And those who have run with me know my response is very appropriately, “nah, I just run slow.”
Sunday morning I stood huddled in my corral waiting for the anthem to kick off a 26.2 journey will thousands of fellow runners in beautiful downtown Phoenix. As I waited in my goodwill warm up throw-aways, I looked behind me curious how many more corrals were behind me. That’s when it hit home….I was in the last corral. You see, runners are assigned to a corral based on their estimated finish time. In other words, they want to make sure the slow runners down get trampled by the clock watching, Boston seeking athletes. As I continued to size my fellow corral 7ers up and down since I know we’d be spending quite some time (5 hours actually) together, I started to get sentimental about how much I enjoy this group. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely admire the stamina and focus it takes to earn a spot in the front corrals. But I personally never felt the joy from watching a clock as my gauge on a meaningful running experience.
If you hang out in corral 7 you’ll see a group that is competitive, but I suspect we don’t strike you as the typical long distance runner. And I strongly suspect most, like me, are there for a much higher purpose that their clock time. My corral mates are definitely a more ‘mature’ crowd. Many are recovering from a variety of injuries, some actually quite serious. And quite a few of us are there because we are not particularly good runners, but we want to support a cause ad agreeing to run 26.2 miles is an easy way to show your dedication for a charity and raise funds to support it. Around me are tribute signs for Cancer, MS, Leukemia & Lymphoma. This is my crowd. I run for autism…and more specifically, I run for Autism Speaks.
I cannot express how powerful and uniting a marathon is amongst runners. And when you display your passion to support a mission through a sport, well, we runners just can’t help but start talking and sharing throughout the 26.2 mile trek. The upside to having a slow race is you just have more time to spread awareness amongst thousands of new running friends. And when they see the blue puzzle piece on my shirt, many inquire
I suspect the charity runners in corral 7 chose there marathons as their distance of choice for another reason beyond fundraising. For this distance does something to your mind, body and spirit that you cannot identify with until you get to mile 24. For some the infamous ‘wall’ is mile 20. My struggle begins at 24. Mile 24 is my wall, or more appropriately, it is my meltdown.
If you are in the autism community, the term ‘meltdown’ is a familiar term. Often confused with a tantrum to those who are not familiar, an actual meltdown, if you ask any parent, is much more serious. When I think of what a person with autism must experience mentally when a meltdown strikes, the following comes to mind: last resort, irritated, uncomfortable, stuck, frustrated, help me, I can’t, stop.
Now please understand that I don’t intent to diminish the severity and spectrum of this neurological disorder by comparing it to a race. But in my attempt to understand those Autism Speaks serves, I can only identify with the ‘meltdown’ that I experience at mile 24.
“But there are only 2 miles left. Buck up and just get through it.” Yes- that is what I think my logical reaction should be at this point, but when your body is depleted, your mind does not always cooperate. In fact, mine searches for an escape. My escape includes me romanticizing the idea if the medics taking me away on a stretcher, sharing some colorful 4 letter words, and a few times…even tears. (I am thankful that mile 24 has few photographers. For as many a fellow runner and obviously a fellow fan of Tom Hank’s League of their Own, have shared, “There’s no crying in running.”)
Training for and the race itself can be hard on your body, especially as I zone in on the “40 and 49” age category, yet it is essential for my mental health. Before each race, I go in knowing it may be my last. And I always go into it with every intention of being ‘meltdown-free’. I suspect my fellow corral 7ers are thinking about the pain felt at their miles 24 as a way to connect to loved ones’ or their own challenges-be it fighting cancer, MS or autism.
Getting to mile 25…that is the key. Just as individuals with special needs have their own desired outcomes unique to their abilities, getting to mile 25 is mine. For once that hurdle of mile 24 is behind me, mile 25 is the light at the end of the tunnel. My spirits lift, my posture improves and my pace increases. “I got through Mile 24…I can do this!” I don’t know if this is how someone with autism feels when they avoid or maybe just survive a meltdown, but I’d like to believe at the end of it, they come out feeling a tinge of hope.
In fact, I imagine the reason my fellow corral 7ers decided to run in Phoenix with me last Sunday was for that one reason…Hope.
Are you Teaming Up with Autism Speaks??
Guaranteed Entries are Available, space is limited:
NYC HALF MARATHON- March 18, 2012
- SOLD OUT
NASHVILLE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MARATHON – April 28, 2012
SANTA BARBARA WINE COUNTRY HALF MARATHON – MAY 12, 2012
ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ TRIATHLON – JUNE 10, 2012
- SOLD OUT
NYC TRIATHLON – JULY 8, 2012
CHICAGO ROCK’N'ROLL HALF MARATHON- July 22, 2012 -
BOSTON 13.1 MARATHON benefiting AUTISM SPEAKS – SEPTEMBER 16, 2012 -
CHICAGO MARATHON – October 6, 2012 -
NYC MARATHON – November 4, 2012-
“Autism is like running a marathon, it isn’t a sprint. Patience, focus, persistence and advocacy are the keys to providing our children a brighter future than today.” – Pat Kemp
Follow up to MSTFNSH…..Huh?
Glen Finland is the author of Next Stop: A Son with Autism Grows Up, due out from AmyEinhornBooks/Putnam in April 2012. www.glenfinland.com
The way we see it, Sunday’s New York City Marathon couldn’t have gone any better for runner #21871.
As always with this young man, there were some surprises along the way. Early on, my 24-year old son David Finland suddenly threw it into high gear and “ditched” his Team Achilles guide at Mile 5, leaving behind his phone, ID, and Metro pass somewhere inQueens. Then family scouts spotted him looking strong and really happy at Mile 16. Fine enough. Around Mile 18, an eagle-eyed someone from Special Olympics texted us that she’d seen him moving along at a fast clip; then another Achilles team member caught sight of ol’ #21871 strutting his stuff through Harlem…before Our Dave finally crossed the finish line into the capable arms of his original guide, the remarkable Chris Cavan. By the way, Chris must have worked some kind of miracle, bringing him home to us safe and sound in a swift 4 hours 20 minutes.
So what’s the takeaway for us? This young man has proven something that we have been longing to see from him for his whole lifetime. The way he ran his race on Sunday made believers out of of us all. That’s right. Our David no longer needs a “guide.” This was his personal best any way you look at it.
Glen Finland is the author of Next Stop: A Son with Autism Grows Up, due out from AmyEinhornBooks/Putnam in April 2012. www.glenfinland.com
MSTFNSH. At first it was a mystery to me, but that’s what the vanity license plate reads in the middle of the eight bumper stickers on the back of my autistic adult son’s little Toyota. He’s 24 and he’s been driving himself to work for nearly two years now, pulling trash at county parks for minimum wage. There’ve been two tickets for going ten miles over the speed limit, but other than a broken rearview mirror and the unexplained yellow paint on the side of his gray car, no crazy-making incidents. I tell myself to just breathe.
And all those bumper stickers? They consist of eight different ways to say “26.2 miles,” “Your punishment is my sport,” and simply “Runner!” Because the countdown is now on. My boy David is running every night after work, in the dark and alone, rain or clear skies, training like a true athlete these days because he’s just a month away from making his dream come true. It’s not his first marathon. It’s his third and you better believe he’s competitive, having completed the Marine Corps Marathon in a swift 3:52.
Get ready, I’m gonna brag here and you can’t stop me: On November 6th of this year, David will run the New York City Marathon. He will run for Team Achilles International, a group of disabled athletes founded and championed by New York distance runner Dick Traum who knows what it means to be a different sort of human being. Forty years ago Dick lost his right leg in a crushing car accident when he stopped to fill up his car. Today he says that “Empowerment is what Achilles is all about. We don’t work with magic spells. We just go out and run, and in doing that, we discover that we do not have to sit quietly at home and dwell on our disabilities.” But he also knows that “every time human beings realize more of their potential, all of society benefits.”
But hold the pity fest. The runners in this club don’t care to hear it. In fact, they represent the sturdiest of us all: there’s an 80-year old nun, a landmine survivor from Grozny, Chechnya, a Cuban burn victim, a blind runner, a struggling to quit drug abuser, victims of traumatic brain injuries, and a platoon’s worth of U.S. veterans—Wounded Warriors who will attack the course on November 6th in their wheelchair racers or on prosthetic limbs or crutches. I’m telling you, you’ve got to see it to appreciate the strength of character and force of nature that make every one of these athletes fit to run. And now my David is one of them.
One more thing. I finally figured out what the cryptic vanity plate means on the back of my son’s banged up Toyota. MSTFNSH = M-U-S-T F-I-N-I-S-H.
“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to email@example.com. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.
Seven thousand two hundred fifty nine point four (7,259.4) miles. That’s how many miles Team Up with Autism Speaks members covered in 2010 to raise autism awareness and funds to support the mission of Autism Speaks. In 2010, Team Up fielded teams with guaranteed entries in events; 2010 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, 2010 TD Five Borough Bike Tour, 2010 Chicago Half Marathon, 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and the ING NYC Marathon 2010. These teams have combined to raise over $776,583. Other Team Up participants competed on their own in endurance events across the country. Overall since 2007, when Team Up was established, our teams have raised over $1.7million to support the mission of Autism Speaks.
Many members of Team Up with Autism Speaks teams didn’t meet until the night before the race, but they ran as a team, united by their commitment to the cause, and their commitment to their children, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends affected by autism. Every member of Team Up has a story worth telling. Here are a few we would like to share.
Katie Baranek and her boyfriend, Bill Shaffer, trained together and fundraised together. Katie’s family traveled to New York City to cheer them on as they ran the Marathon for her brother Hunter and sister Hayley. Katie and Bill also ran with our 2009 Chicago Marathon team and Katie will be running with our ING Miami Marathon team in 2011. “Running as a member of Team Autism Speaks has been such a great experience and I have been lucky to have been a part of the team for three marathons and three years in a row. I love to run in marathons, but it is so much more special when you run FOR something. I run for Autism Speaks in honor of my little brother and sister, who both have forms of autism and running has given me the chance to not just raise funds for autism, but to also raise awareness within my family, friends and community. Being a member of Team Autism Speaks has given me the opportunity to do something positive with each and every stride I take.”
Don Croteau started running on a treadmill, two to three miles just for some exercise. He then started stretching out his runs. After about three months, he was running 5-6 miles at a time, which he thought was his limit. But when he saw that Autism Speaks had a charity team in the 2010 Disney Marathon, he immediately registered for the half marathon and started training. Don has a beautiful blonde little friend, Molly, who has autism and knows several other families who are struggling with young children on the spectrum. He saw this as a true sign and as a way to anonymously support these wonderful children and their hard working, dedicated families. He also saw it as a way to give back some of his time and good fortune to a very worthy cause, and to give him strength and motivation when he needed it. Don ran for Autism Speaks in the 2010 ING NYC Marathon and is returning to the Disney run in 2011. More icing on the cake for Don, is that he is a slim 185 pounds now, down from 320 pounds. The evening prior to the NYC Marathon Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr asked Don why he ran for us. Don looked at him and quietly said…“running for Molly and Autism Speaks just makes me a better man.”
Sisters share a strong bond and this is no different for Meg Brossy and Molly Shirer, two of our NYC Marathon team members. But it is their love for Willie, Molly’s 19 year old son with autism that brought them to the city of New York to endure what most only dream of. Side by side every step of the way it took them seven hours and 17 minutes to complete the 26.2 mile journey for Willie. Molly beamed after her accomplishment saying “Willie is 19 and in early adulthood. I am realizing that he needs to take more steps towards being physically fit. I am determined now to make a “power-walker” out of him. He always attends the annual San Diego Autism Speaks Walks with me and seems to greatly enjoy the experience!”
These stories inspire us all to get up, lace up, and get moving. Team Up with Autism Speaks has limited entries into over 13 events in 2011. It is easy to join and we have a support team for you every step of the way as you strive to reach each of your goals. In 2011, Team Up has the opportunity to cover over 17,000 miles to raise awareness and funds.
How many miles will you cover?