Sometimes you ‘win.’ Sometimes you learn. You can’t do either if you stay home.
For those who may think I’ve found some sort of magical panacea for autism through running, here’s your reality check. Because for every breakthrough on this journey there’ve been countless setbacks. Giving up has never been a recourse but it’s also not been easy.
During this off-season between cross-country and track seasons, The Blur and I had decided to run some citizens trail races. He did real well running on his own in the Canya Canyon 5K, and the Raptor Resolution Run 5 miler. He ran independently in these and I was able to have couple of good races myself.
We decided to finish this off-season with a 10K run at the Winter Series in Colorado Springs. As an aside, some of the route included part of the race course he’d run at the Cross Country State Championships there last fall, splashing through a water-crossing near the end before passing another competitor for a podium finish.
We woke up to several inches of fresh snow at our home near Westcliffe and got to the Norris Penrose Center a little later than planned. There was a bit of a scramble to get our race numbers, prepare to run, use the restroom and get to the starting area. Just before the start I recognized all the signs of a meltdown starting, partly because Harrison was having trouble with his music playlist, so I decided to just run with him.
From the start he would not go. He ran off screaming behind a nearby building. A race official asked if I knew who this kid was. I said, “He’s my son.”
The entire field of 364 had left the starting area. I finally went behind the building and somehow got him back on the trail and moving along. It was a problem now getting around the walkers on the narrow snow-packed path. Plus he was throwing a fit.
He wanted to quit. I said this was fine, but we would have to go straight home — we were not going to celebrate by going out to lunch. You see, I’m funny like that. I think people should do their best to finish what they start and he clearly was not even trying.
What I got then was a kid who would not run but would not quit either. But what he would do was grab me by the arm, strike out, push, scream and yell. He tried to bite me. He even shoved me off the downhill side of the trail sending me scrambling to catch my balance in the snow. This went on for more than a mile, when after several serious discussions he finally started to run. And this went pretty well for about another mile. Even when he wiped out and fell in the snow he just got back up and kept running, passing quite a few people. Then he stepped into a slushy puddle and soaked his feet and it all started up again.
This simple 10K had transformed into a mental-emotional ultramarathon for me.
I think the screaming was worse than the physical stuff because it affected the experience of other participants, many of whom seemed puzzled by what was going on. There was a shrill shriek alternated with a loud high-pitched “Daa-AAADDDDD!” This was punctuated by the occasional “I HATE YOU!” I wondered if someone would file a complaint, or even call the cops.
Above all, I did not want anyone to think I am one of those parents who makes his kid run, though I have encouraged and supported him relentlessly because I think it could be a ticket to success for him in many areas of life. These outbursts can come for reasons that remain a mystery anytime and anywhere, from the race course to the school lunch line to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.
About a mile from the finish we encountered two women looking for something lost in the snow. I stopped to ask if we could help and one of the women pointed to a missing front tooth. Thinking it might change his focus, I asked Harrison to help look for the lost crown, a white piece of porcelain in a sea of white. I got down on my hands and knees and sifted lightly through the top layer of loose snow. The tooth was hopelessly lost. We eventually moved on, with the inappropriate behaviors and noises cranking back up again.
In short, and in long, I felt like I’d been physically and mentally mugged for 6.45 miles and about 1 hour and forty-two minutes. Near the end I spied the water crossing that Harrison had so gallantly crossed during his state cross-country meet and I splashed through the ice-and-snow-swollen creek just to put an exclamation mark on my own hard-headedness. Meanwhile he padded over the bridge and headed toward the finish line.
It was only a few meters past the creek crossing and at last we were done. But the tantrum continued once he saw the clock and his disappointing time. I hugged him tightly while he screamed and thrashed over this digital picture of what Einstein told us in no uncertain terms is relative.
It was easy after all this to tell myself I should have stayed home, slept in. But in this adventure, like any that is worthwhile, one can never know what to expect. The lesson was to remember this, and to dig deep into my own well of resilience. I needed the reminder of just how hard this is and how much farther we have to go. It’s a long race, and there will be other challenges and setbacks. We will fall down and we will get our feet cold and wet, sometimes on purpose. But we will go on. Track practice begins next week. We are only getting started.