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26.2 miles has even more meaning for me and my son with autism

This guest blog is by John Leachman who will be running for Team Up! with Autism Speaks for the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon! John’s son Cameron has autism.

Cameron (Cam) was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. Cam is on the moderate-to-severe scale of autism, and has been in a self-contained autism room since kindergarten, as he is unable to function appropriately in a general educational classroom. He has severe cognitive function delay, as well as emotional, behavior, and expressive language challenges, though he understands much more than he can articulate.

Had you spoken to me a decade ago, that is pretty much what you would have heard me saying about my now 14-year old son: descriptions of Cam only in terms of what he could not do and defining him with limits based on perception and, to a large degree, selfish pity. The autism diagnosis at the age of 3 hit me like a ton of bricks. He was supposed to be my little mini-me - my hunting buddy, my future Razorback, my future Dallas Cowboy. 

We were blessed for Cam to be placed in an autism classroom in kindergarten under the care and direction of a teacher who worked tirelessly for kids on the spectrum and really sought to define Cam by what he COULD do vs. what he couldn’t.

Almost a year ago I decided to attempt running with Cam, as his PE teacher had indicated in a school meeting that he really seemed to enjoy it and he outpaced his peer group in the general education setting when it came to running drills. I have been running for several years so I thought, what the heck … let’s see what happens. Cam and I started running in May of last year with his first run being about 3/4 of a mile. He took to it immediately and asked me to run with him every day. 

I’m excited to say that this past fall he became the first student in his school district in an autism specific self-contained class to make the cross-country team at his Jr. High! It’s easy to tell that Cam isn’t your “normal” 14-year-old kid. However, on those days, to see him out on the course running, no one would ever know he was anyone other than another kid.

Cameron just finished his first half marathon on April 2nd here in Bentonville. Running has not only transformed his life, it has also brought us much closer. I have never enjoyed running more than I have this year as I have had the opportunity to run with him. Rare is the day where he is not smiling as we run our daily three to five miles. His teachers have told us that they can tell the difference in the days he runs and the days he doesn’t, as he has much more focus on the days he does.

Seeing him now makes me so proud that I never stopped searching for something we could engage in together. He’s progressed like a champ and embraces every Saturday long run like he has any other - with a smile and head on. It’s a reminder to me: You never know exactly where you are, and the next chapter may just be about to begin.

The opportunity to run the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon with Team Up! with Autism Speaks means a lot to me. It combines my two favorite passions - advocating for Cam and those like him, and running. Autism Speaks is an amazing organization that helped Lisa and me understand what autism is and what Cam needed back when we first received the diagnosis. It's an honor to fundraise for them and run 26.2 meaningful miles with an awesome team.

If you’re thinking about doing a Team Up! race, check out the follow ones below…

Berlin Marathon: http://events.autismspeaks.org/2016Berlin

NYC Marathon: http://events.autismspeaks.org/2016nycm

Chicago Marathon: http://events.autismspeaks.org/teamupchicago2016

Marine Corps Marathon: http://events.autismspeaks.org/2016MCM

Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend: http://events.autismspeaks.org/disneylandhalfmarathon

Super Heroes Weekend: http://events.autismspeaks.org/superheroesweekend

Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend: http://events.autismspeaks.org/princess2017London Marathon: https://www.crowdrise.com/2017VIRGINMONEYLONDONMARATHON

Paris Marathon: https://www.crowdrise.com/SCHNEIDERELECTRIC-PARIS2017

For a list of all Team Up! events visit www.autismspeaks.org/teamup

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.