“So if there’s anything I’ve learned from this journey I am on
Simple truths will keep you going, simple love will keep you strong”
Today is an important day.
It’s not because it’s St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s not even because it’s the official tip off of “March Madness.” For the first time in years I didn’t take today off work to stay home and watch the games. Like Murphy’s Law, my beloved Butler Bulldogs play at 12:40. I will have to record the game and watch it probably after Ryan and I return from the St. Patrick’s Day Fun Run this evening at the Runner’s Forum.
No today is an anniversary.
It was on this date last year I got home from work and put on my Brooks Ravenna 3s and went on a run with Ryan.
It’s Ryan’s “Runversary.”
It’s been an unbelievable year. One I won’t forget. One I know we have continued to build on since that night where Ryan barely made it a quarter of a mile without suffering the dreaded side stitch.
About a month later when I thought we were going to stop running and walk a segment of our three-mile run, Ryan ran past me. As I have said on numerous occasions we haven’t stopped to walk since. I don’t think we ever will.
I have documented on here Ryan’s experiences with his races and the improvement in his times.
Then came the OrthoIndy six miler the second pre-race before May’s OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon on March 5. Ryan ran the fastest he ever had for a continuous stretch and won his age group with a time of 44:16. He also qualified to be moved up a line in the seeding corrals for the 500 Mini in May from the corral we are currently seeded.
It was the first time Ryan had “officially” won his age group. When we finished and got our times from the race we did not know he had won. Like the previous three-mile race, that particular Saturday his three brothers also had other events taking place. We had to hurry from White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis to meet his grandfather, who would take him to meet the rest of our family as I went to work.
I found out the placement on my phone prior to catching the work shuttle bus. I called my father in law on his cell phone immediately and told him. I could hear Ryan’s reaction with a loud “Whoa!” in the background. I also immediately text Wendy to let her know. She had previously sent me a texted when she was informed of our times from the tracking system.
“I know the times, but what did he place?” she texted.
I didn’t know at that point as Ryan and I got in the car to meet Wendy’s Dad. I told her probably when I got home from work. It was a nice surprise for both of us.
A couple of nights later the following conversation took place at the dinner table.
Wendy as she looks at me from the other end of the table: “So, you still running the Mini for fun?”
Me: “Yes. Why wouldn’t we?”
Ryan: “No, Dad. We are running it to be competitive.”
Wendy: “Ryan, what are you going to do when Dad decides to stop and kiss the bricks at the speedway?”
Ryan: “Fly right by him.”
This time, it was me dropping the fork out of shock from Ryan’s comment.
The win on March 5. Ryan constantly getting better. Ryan sticking with the training for last year’s Mill Race Half Marathon. Now training for the 500 Mini and also later this summer training for a return to the Mill Race Half Marathon. When things took a turn for the worse during that race and he looked down at me and said, “Dad. Dad. Look at me. I know. I understand. It doesn’t matter now. We came to finish strong.”
During this last year, these have all been faithful reminders of when this journey truly began for me as a father with an autistic son. None though as much as a reminder on many occasions during the month of February while we ran laps at the Mount Pleasant Christian Church Community Life Center.
It had been beyond stressful week for me from a lot of different aspects. At the time, I was in sales for a fledgling company (that’s about as nice as I can seriously put it). I had been called into the office that Friday morning. I was basically told I had to the end of the month to get my sales numbers up or I would be let go. We were already struggling to make ends meet. To top it all off, we had recently found out Wendy was pregnant with Luke.
I had done everything I could to avoid my family that weekend. I went to a high school basketball game that Friday night. I went to the Butler game Saturday and then stopped at my parents’ house and watched basketball with them until I knew everyone at my house was probably in bed asleep.
Then came Sunday morning at Mount Pleasant.
I was in line to pick up Ryan from his Sunday School class. He had gotten over-stimulated with all the excitement and began throwing a fit because he didn’t want to leave. The man behind me said, “Why can’t you control your son?”
I don’t remember what I said back at him. All I remember is it had been a long time since I had come that close to wanting to knock someone out.
At the time, we lived in Franklin. It was a good 20-to-25-minute drive from MPCC to our old house in Franklin. Wendy had me right where she wanted me. As she drove home she yelled at me for my actions that Sunday morning. Later that night I came to grips and the reality Ryan had autism. That wasn’t going to change, but I would change. We were given Ryan to not only bring him up but to also teach us. More importantly, he is a special child of God like his brothers.
Imagine my surprise when on the first of many occasions during the month of February that man showed up to workout at the gym while Ryan and I ran laps. That first time I closed my eyes briefly as we made it down the straightaway on the west end of the gym and vividly remembered that Sunday morning.
I don’t know the man personally. I am not even sure if he would remember what happened that Sunday morning.
It would probably be awkward to go up and apologize for something which happened more than 10 years ago.
I’ve even dreamed a couple of times since I’ve seen him at the CLC I went up to him and said thank you while he was doing his workout.
Because as I mentioned that was the day I woke up. That’s the day I stopped putting everything before my family and made it a goal to become an advocate for autism and make Ryan’s life as normal as possible.
Running with him is just another chapter on this incredible journey.
When Wendy suggested last year Ryan begin running with me I was hesitant. To me running had become my escape much like going out and shooting baskets on the basketball goal in the driveway of the house I grew up in or when I was in college going to Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The wiser one of our family quickly rebutted commenting, “You have your sports on TV. You have your reading. You have your ‘mind palace’ blog.”
I can’t thank her enough. Running with Ryan, I have learned a lot about not only him but about myself as well. Even on the two occasions, I have run by myself in the last year it hasn’t felt the same. I’ve felt like I left something behind at the house as I run the route.
A lot of people when they see Ryan and me together or see pictures I post they refer to him as my “mini me.”
At its core, you have no idea how true this really is. Not only does Ryan look like I did when I was his current age of 13, but we are alike in other ways – our taste in goofiness (it doesn’t get any better than slapstick and practical jokes). The rest of the family best watch out when we begin tag-teaming on them in putting together practical jokes around our house.
I remember growing up playing basketball outside or in the basement and doing all the parts – player, coach, official and of course, the play-by-play. Ryan’s the same way, but he does it with his Beyblades and his Hot Wheels when he has his various “racing tournaments” every day in the basement.
Ryan also is a lot like me in that he enjoys being a “student of the game.” Back in February NBC Sports Network telecast the US Olympic Marathon Trials, which were held in Los Angeles. I recorded since it originally aired while I was at work that Saturday afternoon.
The next day after church, I took Ryan downstairs into the theater room and we had a film session. I’m winging this “coaching” him in his running, but gaining valuable tidbits from as friends as I have mentioned in Tad Frahm, Howard Harrell, and Jenny Hadfield.
While we watched the marathon and the runners being overcome by the LA heat, Ryan sat in his seat with his “Cars” blanket intently watching as it was quite cold in the theater room. I explained to him the importance to have the good form as runners like Meb Keflezighi. I also have tried to instill the importance of why we need to run our own race when we run (yes, I’m working on it being just us against our own clock and not everyone else on the course).
We won’t tell Meb May 7 if we get the chance to meet him that Ryan began cheering for Galen Rupp at the end. Although you can somewhat see a resemblance of Galen and Ryan and that blonde hair.
I still don’t know a lot about racing, but to me as a casual observer, one runner in the women’s race looked like she wasn’t running her own race. She ran with the lead pack of Amy Cragg, Desiree Linden, and Shalane Flanagan for most of the race before having to drop out around mile 17. She completely didn’t look comfortable with pace in which was being set by Cragg and Flanagan.
I used that runner from the women’s race as a focal point that afternoon. “This is exactly why we need to run our race and not try and compete with anyone else out there, but ourselves,” I said.
“OK,” Ryan replied.
Since watching the marathon trials when we run I notice Ryan working aspects of his running form – without me having to say anything. He works on his keeping his head still, his shoulders low and above all running “tall.”
Reminds me a lot of myself when I was growing up playing basketball. I watched the players on television with their shooting form and then went either to the nerf goal downstairs in the basement or outside in the driveway to perfect my form.
Finally, Ryan reminds me too much of my father. Some of his thought processes and his actions are like I am talking to a younger version of my Dad. There have been a couple of occasions when I look at Ryan and have said, “Don’t do that” because it was something that my Dad would have said or done. Ryan looks at me and smiles.
Now if I could just get him to like ice cream.