The post is from school psychologist Dr. Peter Faustino, New York Delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and member of the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee. Dr. Faustino co-founded the Student Clubs for Autism Speaks at Fox Lane Middle School, which helps further the mission of Autism Speaks through education, awareness, friendship and fundraising. You can learn more about Team Up! with Autism Speaks here.
I was never a runner. I would joke that I only ran when chased. I sometimes even mocked the middle aged men and women who would pass my window as I watched a movie or sat at my computer. So why did I run the NYC marathon just a few weeks ago?
I am honestly not sure…I have a lot of reasons that I could try to espouse about goals, bucket lists, and people in my life who inspired me, but I definitely learned something along the way.
What I discovered as I started training was that my journey over the course of 1 year was perhaps just a glimpse at what families living with autism face every day. I mean no disrespect; in fact I have devoted the last 20 years of my career to helping families and students. But training was at times lonely and repetitive and really hard.
The connection came to me as I was doing a long run (ten plus miles) through several neighboring towns. I needed music to keep me going and at one moment along the run realized that I probably seemed like a very introverted, aloof person; that is if I wasn’t forced to keep looking up at passersby to smile, wave or mouth ‘hello’. I thought, even though I want to be left alone because I run better when I am somewhere else in my head, everyone keeps pulling me out of myself. Often while running I would wear my Autism Speaks singlet and so occasionally I would wonder if some were being friendly just because of that blue puzzle piece?
Regardless, training meant that I needed to spend hours each day doing something to bring me closer to the goal of 26.2 miles. It required early mornings when everyone else was sleeping. It meant I was exhausted after and for days later as my muscles rested. It meant sleepless nights as I worried if I had done enough to prepare. It meant tears when there were setbacks or the fear of injury. It meant every discussion I had with someone was first about “the marathon” and then about other aspects of my life. It meant surrounding myself with a smaller community of like minded people who truly understood what I was doing. It meant advice I wanted and didn’t want about how they would run a marathon. It meant facing those challenges each and every day.
Hopefully by now I have conveyed that marathon could be substituted for the word “loved one with autism” and you might see some parallels.
But my moment came around mile 15 after the crowds were quieted and silence set in. The 59th Street Queensboro Bridge has no spectators, only runners as the bridge is closed that day. I noticed as soon as I turned the corner to start the incline how many runners were stopped by the stillness. They seemed to be alone with themselves, with their thoughts, maybe with their demons. But in that moment, I realized that I could be a beacon if only by words. Seeing the runners, stopping, walking, cramping or crying in agony I shouted at the top of my lungs, “Come on runners. NYC isn’t going to give it to you, you have to earn it.” And with that a loud cheer began to erupt like a wave through the cavernous bridge. People started running again, cheering themselves on, and racing across the bridge.
I felt magnanimous for just a second, like Braveheart leading troops to battle, all with the encouragement that I was with them in this battle and I had no intentions of giving up!
It wasn’t until days later when I repeated the story to my friend and trainer that he said, “That is what we are supposed to do…run over bridges and be a light for others. You helped others make it over their bridge.”
The good news…is that I completed the marathon.
So why did I run? Maybe I ran for Team Up! with Autism Speaks just to feel for a brief moment what the families I know are dealing with and maybe I was hoping to be a light to say we can do great things together. You are not alone. Autism Speaks is working in countless ways to make this journey easier, better, and with lots of support.
You should think about doing a Team Up! race. Look for a spot on our London Marathon, Paris Marathon, Los Angeles Marathon, New York City Half Marathon, Star Wars Dark Side, or Berlin Marathon teams! For a list of all Team Up! events visit www.autismspeaks.org/teamup.