Almost. So very close. After three grueling hours over 26.2 miles, 44 seconds separated my special, 24-year-old son Andrew from qualifying for the 2018 Boston Marathon.
Only 44 seconds!
The Boston standard for his age group is a flat 3:05:00. But he finished the race in 3:05:44. Nonetheless, his effort was a new personal best – in only his third full marathon.
A sign of more positive things to come.
With an intellectual disability from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and early trauma, running in elementary school eventually became the one activity in which Andrew could compete with anyone. And not be left behind. Not ignored. Not bullied.
Although my son was clumsy, uncoordinated and never the fastest, no one could run as far as him.
His love of the sport began by chance in second grade when running laps around the playground at recess. It was actually a compromise with school officials. Prior to this structured alternative, he had found himself repeatedly in the principal’s office for playing too rough. Not being able to comprehend the rules of the game nor the rules of social communication easily will do that.
My son simply wanted to be included.
Even with the success that running afforded Andrew, some people tried to limit his participation.
After an in-school suspension near the end of fourth grade, Andrew was ineligible for the all-school run. The principal was adamant. Andrew would not be allowed to participate. When I suggested an extra day of suspension in exchange for his participation, she finally agreed.
Andrew won that run. And with his increased self-confidence, he finished the school year without incident.
Soon sixth grade cross country began. But the middle school coach questioned Andrew’s ability to stay on task during practice. That was code for me to voluntarily remove him from the team. But I didn’t take the bait, because my son already had run several 3K races with me – without issue.
My response was direct. I will continue to work with Andrew at home on his form and check in with you after each practice. Together we can help him succeed.
At the first race of the season, Andrew surprised the coach by being the second highest finisher for the 30-person team. Six years later during his senior year, he became his high school’s first four-year varsity letter winner in a single sport.
Overcoming one barrier after another.
Yet those feats did help him with the high-stakes graduation test. He couldn’t pass it. Thus he was denied a diploma, in spite of near-perfect attendance and a solid work ethic.
That’s when Special Olympics became his niche. It continued to provide year-around activities and – for the first time – a welcomed opportunity to lead his peers. After winning three gold medals at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey, he even began coaching fellow athletes – believing in them as others had believed in him.
In the initial year of the Runner’s World magazine cover contest, Andrew broke another barrier – becoming a finalist, the only one with an intellectual disability. When I asked for accommodations for the final interview, the judges were caught off guard. A few days they allowed him to deliver a prepared speech via Skype, rather than answer impromptu questions.
That approach would have set up Andrew for failure.
In the second year of the contest, Andrew amassed the most votes nationwide in the final voting round and earned the “Readers Choice” Award.
The next challenge was half-marathons. Then full marathons. Hours and hours of practice, often alone. Learning to run the final six miles of the course – through pain and exhaustion that most people will never experience – was not an easy task.
But nothing in life has ever been easy for Andrew Peterson.
The key for his accomplishments has been focusing on everything in life that he can do. Not everything that he can’t – and never may be able to do.
No doubt, my son will ultimately hit the Boston Marathon mark with ongoing mentoring from an elite running club in Indianapolis. His selection would make him the second Special Olympics athlete in history to qualify on time. And the first in 30 years, since Loretta Claiborne.
Breaking yet another barrier for all the world to see.
Andrew’s message is clear. All people have ability, if we take time to notice and give them a chance to succeed. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold