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.