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Running with the Purpose of Helping Those with Autism

This guest post is by Kevin Long who will be running in the NYC Marathon this Sunday for "Timmy's Team", as part of our Team Up! with Autism Speaks initative.

I started running about six years ago to improve my health. I began on the treadmill with the goal of getting in shape to play basketball, never thinking I would actually go outside and run. Previous attempts at running never gained momentum - I found it boring, sometimes painful and never entertaining. But this time was different. Perhaps it was the need to escape the cabin fever of a long winter, or maybe my survival instinct kicked in telling me if I don’t run I won’t be able to live a long life to take care of Timmy. Maybe that was the reason I started running, a habit I now find hard to live without.

Timmy is my 12-year-old son with a dual diagnosis of Down Syndrome and autism. He is the youngest of my three children and is cognitively impaired, meaning he most likely will require constant supervision and will never live independently. When he was born with Down Syndrome, the first thing that came to my mind was the question of who will take care of him when my wife and I are physically unable to. Those thoughts grew even stronger once we received his diagnosis of autism a few years later. And, they exist today as the autism population grows and government spending on housing and programs for those with special needs declines.

Fortunately, what Timmy lacks in his abilities, he makes up for with the love he provides our family and the teachers, therapists and aides who support him during the school day and at activities such as swimming and baseball. While he struggles to express himself verbally, his love comes through his smile, his eyes and especially his laugh - like when he “hits” a home run in baseball or cheers the teacher in music class. He is a lot of work, but he is also a source of great joy and as it turned out, a role model for me to follow.

Many of the daily activities most of us take for granted are difficult for Timmy. There are many things that I doubted he would be able to do on his own. Fortunately, he proves me wrong often and through hard work, he has accomplished so much. He has demonstrated time and again the importance of setting goals and having a plan to meet those goals.

Timmy inspired me to set a goal to run in the 2014 NYC Marathon. Once I made this decision to commit to training, I knew my best way in was to become a charity runner. The choice of Autism Speaks as my charity partner was a no-brainer. I started off with a modest fundraising target, unsure about raising enough money to guarantee my entry into the marathon. Turns out all I had to do was ask, as the amount of support I received has been overwhelming and quite humbling.

I’m not sure how people did this before social media. Autism Speaks provided an easy-to-use site for me to collect donations that could be personalized with pictures and a message to my potential donors. However, it was Facebook (and some email) that allowed me to let people know what I was doing and why. Within a few weeks, I had eclipsed my target and set a new target which I then surpassed a month later. Through social media, as well as word of mouth, I not only received support from family and friends, but also from neighbors, grammar and high school classmates, former and current colleagues and from people I’ve never met but who have either worked with Timmy or have a connection in some way with autism and had heard about my story. And my brother-in-law Mark decided to join the Autism Speaks team and run the marathon with me, forming “Timmy’s Team”.

This is my first and possibly only marathon as I cannot imagine doing this without the supportive environment that running for Autism Speaks has provided me. I am no longer running just for myself or Timmy. Instead, I am running for each of my supporters whose support helped me get out of bed to run when it was too early, too hot or too wet.  And my supporters can experience the NYC Marathon without having to train for it.  Add to that the significant amount of money raised for autism research, advocacy and training and I’d say it’s a win – win – win.

Thank you Autism Speaks for helping me combine my dream of running the NYC Marathon with raising money and awareness for something that is central to my family’s life.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.