Ten miles… I had no idea I was going to be running a little over 10 miles in the first HOPE Relay (thankfully we only run 3.1 now). I had been connected with Project Hope Foundation for a long time, so when I was asked to fill in on a team that only had 3 runners, I agreed without hesitation.  I was a college freshman and a student athlete, so I thought I was in good shape.  My team was a little older than me, so I was volunteered to run the hardest legs.  Ten miles later, I was hooked.  The camaraderie and support that came with the team aspect of the race really illustrated what it is like for families affected by an autism diagnosis and the team they must have around them to fight the everyday struggles these families know all too well.  We have also seen this camaraderie grow with our 5k run/walk event.  Families are able to walk or run together, which has created many great memories and picturesque moments.  All of this was the idea behind the Relay, and it has continued to grow ever since.

Being part of a team was nothing new for me.  I played 3 sports in high school and was now on a collegiate baseball team.  I knew how important team bonding was for success, so I decided to ask my college coach if we could go as a team.  I thought I would have to convince him, but he instantly agreed.  We showed up in our workout gear, a united front, and absolutely crushed the relay.  Some of our guys were not long distance runners.  Heck, they weren’t even runners, but their teammates encouraged them and pushed them to finish their part of the race.

This idea of pushing one another, encouraging each other, and celebrating each person doing their part is the key component of success for the team of people involved with a child on the spectrum.  Whether it’s the parents, siblings, and line therapists on the front lines, or the supervisors and support staff coordinating strategic plans, each team member has an important role in gaining skills the child can use to fight this diagnosis.

I have had many roles throughout the years of the Relay, from fill-in, to team recruiter, to planning committee member, to now working for this great organization, and I cannot wait to see this event continue to grow.  Who knows when another fill-in runner sees what this organization is about and comes on staff to make a difference in the autism community.  We look forward to seeing you at this year’s Relay!

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