Runner's World

Where Running Takes Them

When Tommy Des Brisay became stressed or upset, he would bolt away, running at full speed without any regard for where he was or who or what surrounded him. His parents, MaryAnn and Peter, worried that one day Tommy—who had been diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years old—might inadvertently dash into traffic or some obstacle and hurt himself. There seemed to be no way to check or channel Tommy’s bursts of energy.

Then one day when Tommy was 14, in 2006, MaryAnn suggested that Peter take him along on one of his regular runs. “It made sense,” she says, “to take something someone is instinctively driven to do and make it into a positive, rather than try to squelch a behavior.”

Initially, Tommy could run only a few hundred meters before he needed to walk. He had always brimmed with energy, but running required fitness. Plus, he was carrying extra weight, a side effect of medications he was taking to cope with the symptoms of his autism. But he quickly progressed. By the end of the first full week of structured runs, he could slowly jog a loop that was almost two miles. He shed 35 pounds. He began entering races, and regularly ran between 24- and 26-minute 5Ks. Within two years, he was near the front of the pack. The first time he won a race, he was confused about where everyone

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