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#BostonStrong: An Adult with Autism Plans on Crossing That Finish Line

April 17, 2014

This guest post is from Verlaine Brunot, brother of Jonathan Brunot, who has been an active runner with Team Up! with Autism Speaks. You can learn more about Jonathan and the Brunot family on Facebook here.

UPDATE: Jonathan completed the 2014 Boston Marathon in 04:46:43! Congratulations, Jonathan!

My name is Verlaine Brunot and I'm writing to you on behalf of my youngest brother Jonathan who is 25 years old, severely autistic and is going to run the Boston Marathon for the 6th time this year. 

At the Boston Marathon last year, Jonathan was only 3/4 of a mile away from the finish line when the two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line. The race event organizers were luckily able to intercept Jonathan and his coaches as they were approaching the left turn onto Boylston St for the last quarter mile.  Jonathan's autism shielded him from being able to understand the gravity of the situation, and in his mind he ran most of the marathon and then took a long detour in downtown Boston. 

Jonathan may be 25 years old, but he only has the cognitive ability and verbal capacity of someone 3-5 years of age.  He is a lifelong dependent, unable to manage money, cook food or even regulate water temperature in the bathroom.  However, he has an excellent support system and over the years he has made slow but steady progress with intensive behavioral intervention and an academic plan based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

Jonathan's running journey started 8 years ago when we enrolled him in a special needs running program called Rolling Thunder. At first he struggled immensely, unable to complete a full lap around the track. Jonathan was the slowest person in the group and would walk frequently; often times prompting his mother Olga to physically intervene and pull him by his inner waistband to keep him mobile.  After 5 months of little progress, Olga was ready to quit and try Jonathan in a new activity, but the head coach of the program discouraged her.  He introduced her to a volunteer coach named Vincent Del-Cid, an accomplished endurance athlete who believed that Jonathan had what it took to run.

Coach Vincent began training with Jonathan 3 times a week, teaching him how to pace and stride.  Within 6 months, Jonathan lost nearly 20 pounds and was getting faster and faster and loving running more and more.  He would come home from is day program and change immediately into his running clothes on his running days – Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Within a year and a half, Jonathan ran and completed his first marathon in NYC (ING NYC MARATHON 2008) in 4 hours and 49 minutes. To date, Jonathan has run the ING NYC Marathon and the Boston Marathon each 5 times.

When the bombs blew on that fateful day, we (Jonathan's family and supporters) were directly across the street from both blasts.  The second blast (outside of the Max Brenner chocolate place) was parallel to our location on the other side of the street.  We could feel the concussion of the blasts through the ground and chaos ensued as people scrambled in all directions.  We were able to evacuate several blocks away from the Finish Line area, behind the Prudential Center. Coach Vincent, who always carries his phone in case of emergencies, was able to get out a text to us alerting us to their safety.  Unfortunately, the phones went down and we were unable to get in touch with Jonathan's coaches for another 2 1/2 hours. 

This year I’m so proud to say that Jonathan will triumphantly return to Boston this year to run and FINISH the marathon. Jonathan is blissfully unaware of the extent of the tragedy from last year; amazingly his autism has acted as a buffer that has spared him the trauma of knowing how close he came to those explosions. 

Jonathan's journey has been amazing, but it was also the result of hard work, dedication and love.  Autism is a roller coaster of emotions; but the joy of seeing Jonathan smile as he runs and crosses the Finish Line after 26.2 tough miles puts everything in perspective.

Jonathan may not know it, but he is my hero and it is my privilege to share his story with you. 

For more on Jonathan please find his website here. Jonathan's Race BIB number for Boston this year is 24497. His wave will begin running at 11 A.M ET on Monday, April 21st. You can track his progress at baa.org.