Yesterday I competed in my first race. It was the 15K Portland Shamrock Run. I never ran competitively before and I recently began training for the Portland Marathon as a new bucket list challenge. I had a goal to finish the race with a sub 9 minute mile pace and hopefully I would finish with a sub 8 minute 30 second pace. I finished with a 8 minute and 9 second pace and a 1 hour 15 minute 58 seconds finish time and felt great about my time. But there are no words to describe how PROUD I am of the young man with me in the picture. Let me tell you why!
I began working with him almost seven years ago. He was thirteen years old and was just beginning the 7th grade. He was only expected to run two laps around the gym for warm up in PE class, while his peers ran four. As his classmates had to run the mile for time, he was told "Do as much as you feel like doing today." Why the lower expectations you ask? Autism was the answer I was given by his teacher.
He ran awkwardly and hated any physical activity. As I learned about autism and the more that I worked with him, I realized that the main reason he hated exercise with a passion was because it was a sensory thing. He would SCREAM things like,
"Ryan my heart is beating fast. It feels like it is coming out of my chest."
"Ryan I can't run today. I don't want to sweat!"
"Ryan my legs...they feel weak!!!
He wasn't used to these sensations and they FREAKED him out, and rightfully so. Our bodies don't typically sweat, our heart beats regularly at an average tempo, and our legs don't feel like they are going to give out at a moment's notice. I had to explain to him that sweat was his body's natural way of cooling itself down and his heart rate increased as he exercised to increase the blow flow in his body to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to his muscles. Explaining that these sensations were okay and not life threatening reduced his anxiety of exercising.
Now don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say that he LOVES running by any means. However, he'll do it. Not only will he do it, but he'll now do it on his own. I wasn't the only one that ran in my first race yesterday, he did as well. And he didn't just finish, but he didn't stop for a break once. He didn't scream once about sweating, or his heart beating fast, or his legs feeling weak!
So why am I so proud of him? Because even though his heart was beating fast, he had beads of sweat dripping down his brow, and his legs withstood the constant pounding and jarring of running 3.11 miles, he finished! Not only did he finish, but he finished with a smile!