Tag Archives: geneva centre

Autism: Running To A Better Future

4 Sep

Running in the 2010 event - I want this one to be even better!

Six weeks to go…

As of today, I have precisely six weeks to do two things: first, to get myself into good enough physical shape to put in a half-decent showing at a half-marathon, and second, to raise a thousand bucks.

On October 16th, I will be participating in my third annual Run For Autism. I am joining the Charity Challenge at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon/Half-Marathon/5K. I will be running the half-marathon, any funds I can raise in sponsorships or donations will go directly to the Geneva Centre for Autism.

My stated goal on my fundraising page is $500, but I am really hoping to raise at least $1000.

There’s just one problem: I’m not really pushy enough to be a good fundraiser. I suffer from social anxiety, and I have a hard enough time talking to people about things in general. When I have the added pressure of asking for money, that makes things so much harder. So usually I send out fundraising emails to people who I think might be receptive to the idea of forking out a few dollars. While my fundraising efforts have, in the past, had reasonable enough results, I cannot help thinking that I would be better at this if I was just a different kind of person.

This year, I am trying to be more pushy assertive about making my sponsorship requests. I have sent out my fundraising email to people I actually know, and now I am appealing to you, the general Internet public, to consider sponsoring me for this run.

I would appreciate, and so would the children and youth with autism who would benefit from expanded services – services that can be a crucial part in helping people with autism become integral, economically active parts of their communities.

My son George, who is almost eight, would appreciate it. He has an entire future ahead of him, and the quality of that future could have a lot to do with the services he has access to now.

To sponsor me, please visit my fundraising page.

(That wasn’t too pushy, was it?)

(Photo credit to the author)

2011 Run For Autism – The Countdown Begins

3 Jun

I’m feeling fantastic today!

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I was awake all night with a sick child, who at some point during the process very generously shared his bug with me, as a result of which I am bone-tired and tossing my cookies. So in reality, I feel really, really rough. I feel like a hedgehog that just got dragged backwards through the business end of a lawnmower.

But despite my less than stellar physical condition, I am feeling good about some things that have happened this week.

First, I resumed early morning running. I’ve been a little out of it for a while, and a lot of my running has been done on the treadmill. But two days ago, I dragged myself out of bed and went for a run before work. It was great. I felt the way I always do when go for early morning runs: alive, invigorated, positive about starting the day with an accomplishment. And since my route involves me running east over the Rouge Valley bridge, I get treated to the most spectacular sunrises. I mean, what’s not to love about all this?

Later that same day, I got a series of emails informing me that I am now officially registered for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. Which means that everything I do between now and then (everything running-related, anyway) is in preparation for that race. It is my annual Autism Run – the reason I got back into running two years ago. This will be my third year doing the run. In 2009, I finished in about 2 hours and 28 minutes. In 2010, I improved that time to 2:22:38, knocking more than six minutes off my time from the previous year. This year I want to do something even more spectacular, and break 2 hours.

That will be a tall order. Taking 22 minutes off a time over a distance of 13.1 miles? It’ll be tough. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.

The other thing this all means is that I am now officially fundraising, enlisting people to sponsor me for the run, trying to gather together as much money as I can that will all go towards providing services for children and youth with autism.

I cannot stress how important this is. George’s progress since diagnosis has been off the charts, but this is no accident. It has taken many hours of hard work, buckets of tears, patience, IBI therapy, parent training, information sessions, and advice. George would not be where he is today if it weren’t for the Geneva Centre for Autism, who have provided services and training and all kinds of other resources.

I cannot help but think that if George continues to get services that evolve with his needs as he grows up, the sky will be the limit for him. This child is so loaded with potential, but he does need help and support to realize it. If funding dries up, so does my child’s future.

So I spent some time yesterday setting up my fundraising page. I have set my initial target at $500, but I am really hoping to surpass that and raise the target. Preferably more than once.

My call to action is this: if you have the financial means, please consider sponsoring me for my run. If you cannot afford it (and I totally get  that – life ain’t easy for many people right now), then please spread awareness about autism. Help spread the word that people with autism are a valuable part of our society.

And if you circulate the link to my fundraising page, that will be an added bonus as well.

I am excited about getting this show off the road and doing the best I can for my George, which means doing the best I can for my family, and for the community of autism.

Racing For Autism

7 Feb

I have all kind of things pinned up on the walls of my workstation. There is the requisite work-related stuff (contact sheets, cost centre codes, month-end dates, cheat sheets on how to use the corporate phone system, and so on). Then, because I am a parent, I have artwork by my kids proudly on display (three masterpieces by each child). I have a card that my coworkers gave me along with a cake to celebrate the dual occasion of my citizenship and my engagement (to clarify: I have the card. The cake is long gone). There is my Cake Wrecks calendar, which is so funny that the tears of mirth streaming down my face make my mascara run (this week’s page has pictures of Valentines cakes with icing messages on them reading, “Sorry for stealing your boyfriend”, “Nobody loves you”, and “I didn’t like you that much anyway”).

Then there is my collection of race numbers. It’s a bit like a brag wall, really, but it’s one that I feel justified in showing off. It feels great to stagger in to the office on the Monday after a race, and pin up a new number. Looking at that number, along with whatever race time was associated with it, somehow makes all of the aches worthwhile. That and the fact that running is just awesome.

My first race after my comeback to running was on September 27th, 2009 – just over sixteen months ago. In those sixteen months, I have run a total of nine races, which collectively covered a distance of 130.3 kilometres or almost 81 miles. This year I will be adding at least another 91 kilometres (56 miles), and quite possibly more.

The truth of the matter is that there is only one race every year that really matters to me. It is the race that got me back into running in the first place, and it the focal point of my racing calendar. Every step I take in training, every other race that I run, leads up to this one. Without this race, I don’t think I would be doing this at all.

It is, of course, my annual Run for Autism, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K.

For several years during my long layoff from running, I tried to get back into it, but there was always a reason for me not to run. When I got that first email from the Geneva Centre for Autism inviting me to sign up for a race to raise funds for autism, I realized that all that had been missing was the right reason to run.

Initially I was going to sign up for the 5K race, knowing that it would be well within reach, but then I thought, “Screw that. Since when do I only do things that I know are within my reach?” I looked at the calendar, did some math, and worked out that in six months, I could just about train for a half-marathon from scratch.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Now I am looking forward to my third annual Run for Autism. I have a lot going on before then – at least four races including the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon (Shirtless firefighters at the water stations! Free chocolate!). But really, the Autism Run is what it’s all about.

When the going gets tough, all I have to do is remind myself of why I am doing this. Because of a genetic roll of the dice (as I believe) I have a child with autism. Without help along the way, my beautiful boy would be at risk of getting lost in the system, of growing up without any opportunities. Instead, thanks to places like the Geneva Centre, the world is within his grasp. He has a lifetime of challenges, and his life will never be quite the same as most people’s – but along with the challenges comes opportunity.

My Autism Runs are all about raising funds for those services, to ultimately help make the world a better place for George and for other people like him.

Because really, look at him. Is this not a face totally worth running for?

2011 Run For Autism: The Countdown Begins

7 Jan

This is so weird.  It seems like it was just yesterday that I did my first autism fundraising run, back in September 2009.  I still remember how it was.  I had resumed running after a layoff of several years just six months previously, when I weighed almost 200 pounds or 91kg (to put that into context, my height is 5′ 6″) and I could barely stagger around the block, never mind run 21.1 km.

Since then, I have run a 5km event, three 10km races, two ten-milers and two more half-marathons, including the 2010 autism run.  This year I am planning more and aiming for some ambitious time goals.  How things have changed since 2009.

What’s really exciting me today is that we have already started the process of planning the 2011 Run for Autism.  I was on the organizing committee for the event last year – a committee made up of Geneva Centre for Autism staff members and parents of children with autism – and I will be helping out again this year.  Yesterday I met with Holly, the outgoing fundraiser for the Geneva Centre, and we threw around some ideas.  The first official committee meeting will happen sometime this month, and soon I will be registered for the half-marathon and starting to raise sponsorships.

People have different reasons for running.  Some people do it competitively.  Others do it to stay in shape, and others do it simply for the love of the sport.  People get hooked on the endorphins that kick in after thirty minutes or so of pounding the pavement.  And me?  My reason for running is my kids.  I got back into it because of the opportunity to raise funds for autism services, to do my bit to improve the lives of people like my son George, and also their siblings who need a special kind of support of their own.

The running is not always easy, of course it’s not.  I go through peaks and valleys (right now, in fact, I am trying to claw my way out of a bit of a valley), and there are times when I want to simply quit a run half-way because the going is so rough.  But I put a picture of my boys in my head, and that gives me the strength I need to keep going.  It is the reason I started running, and while I am really enjoying the other benefits that come from running, my boys are the reason I keep it up.

I would run to the other end of the world for my children.  Surely I can manage the occasional 21.1 km.

All We Need Is A Reason

17 Nov

This morning I woke up early and went to the gym for a rare run on the treadmill.  As a general rule, I am not fond of treadmill running.  It makes me feel a bit like a lab rat, or a hamster running in one of those little wheels.  You never actually go anywhere. You don’t feel the freedom of the open road.  It all seems a little pointless, like tofu or decaffeinated coffee.

On the odd occasion, though, a treadmill workout is better than a road run. This can be true from a circumstantial point of view (you’ve woken up with sore knees and you need to run on a surface with some give; you’re tired and cannot be bothered to map out a route; the weather outside is frightful and you cannot find your balaclava or your will power).  A treadmill run can also be beneficial from a training perspective, especially during the winter.  It can be kind of difficult to do a tempo run or speed reps outside when it’s snowing and there’s a gusty wind blowing.  Far better to head to the gym where you can focus on maintaining 5:30 minutes per kilometre without stressing about snow, wind, ice on the sidewalks, or the fact that it’s dark and you look like a burglar.

So anyway, I went for my treadmill run and worked up a good sweat.  I had some anxiety to work out of my system, so I really belted it, clocking 5km in 24 minutes. Feeling a lot better and pleasantly loosened up, I returned home, where everyone was still asleep.  Before taking a shower, I checked on my boys.  At some point during my absence, George had crawled into bed beside his little brother, and the two of them were sleeping peacefully, James clutching his stuffed giraffe, George with arm over James’ shoulders.  It was one of those moments that reminds me of why I love being a mother, and why, in fact, I was running on the treadmill at such an ungodly hour in the first place.

It is so weird to think that two years ago, I could barely run around the block. I had been bitten by the running bug previously, of course, but after seven years of no exercise my lifestyle was decidedly sedentery. I was decidedly unhealthy, and my clothing was decidedly tight.  I had tried, over the years, to make comebacks to the world of running, but there was always something that stopped me. Injury, illness, lack of time. When it came down to it, though, all I lacked was the right motivation.  When I got that email from the Geneva Centre for Autism back in April 2009, inviting me to join their team for the upcoming marathon/half-marathon/5km Charity Challenge, I knew instantly that I had finally found a reason to get with the program, and to stick with the program.

Initially I considered the 5km event.  After all, I hadn’t run in seven years and I was about seventy pounds overweight. And the event was just six months away. But the little voice in my head that never shuts up until it gets its own way piped up and chanted, “Half-marathon! Half-marathon! Half-marathon!” And before I knew it, I had clicked on the link in the email and signed up for the half-marathon. Six months later, I stood at the finish line somewhat stunned by the fact that in just half a year I had shed sixty pounds, gotten myself into some semblance of “shape”, and completed a half-marathon.

A year further down the line, I have run several races and two more half-marathons.  Another two are planned for 2011, and my comeback to running is now firmly established.  All thanks to those two little boys who were snuggled up together this morning, sleeping beside each other, making me feel like the richest person on the entire planet.

Have you ever done something that you thought would be beyond your limits?  What motivated you, and what helped keep you going when things got tough?

(P.S. My first post for World Moms Blog was published today.  Check it out:

Give me a place to stand…

8 Nov

Last week I stepped out of the real world for a few days while I attended the 2010 Geneva Centre for Autism symposium, here in Toronto. It was a phenomenal event – it was much more than I had expected it would be. When the conference ended on Friday afternoon, I literally felt as if I had to step out of a bubble back into my life. But I resumed my life with an altered perspective, and a deep new understanding of my son.

For three days, I was in the presence of true greatness. I had the opportunity to listen to presentations by professionals in the field of autism, such as Tony Attwood and Nancy Minshew.  I heard talks by individuals who have lived with autism themselves, who have made successful lives for themselves – people like Temple Grandin and Stephen Shore. I listened to the beautiful music of two people with autism, Michael Moon and Samantha Mutis, which brought tears to my eyes. I was surrounded by hundreds of delegates – teachers, therapists, other parents like myself – who were all gathered together for the sole purpose of learning how to help and support people with autism, and thereby make the world a better place.

Going into the conference, I expected to learn some new stuff. That was, after all, my reason for going. I wanted to get some insights, hear about new research, learn about possible ways of doing things differently and more effectively for George. Did I accomplish this goal? Let me put it this way. Not only did I learn more about autism than I would have thought possible in three days, I actually feel as if I got to step into my son’s mind. Listening to the speakers, many of whom live their lives on the spectrum, I got to step into the world of autism in a way that I have, until now, not been able to accomplish.

I feel honoured that these individuals allowed me into their world and shared of themselves so freely. These people, for whom life has been a series of challenges that most of us will never understand, have collectively turned me into a better person and a better Mom.  They have, through their willingness to share their experiences and give hope to parents of children with autism, created a landscape in which my son can have a better, more productive, more fulfilling life. What an opportunity that is.  What a gift those people have given to me and my family.  I feel truly blessed to have been there.

I learned that in order to teach social communication, we need to teach social thinking, and that in too many instances we focus on the diagnosis – the word “autism” – rather than on the specific challenges of the individual. I heard about how in all of us – especially people with autism – negative emotions may manifest as anger, and that we should always dig deep and look for the real underlying emotion. I have learned to use the phrases “expected” and “unexpected” when describing behaviour because the terms “appropriate” and “inappropriate” imply a value judgment that doesn’t help anyone. I now know that instead of fighting George’s fascination with garage doors and writing it off as an autistic obsession, I should use it as a stepping stone to help him learn and accomplish new things. And much more.  So much more.  I am still internally processing everything.

I left the symposium with the knowledge that so much is possible. I can see a whole new world opening up for my boy.  It is up to me and Gerard to ease the path for him, to help him see where he can go and what he can achieve.

While I was at the conference, I bought myself a piece of autism awareness jewellery.  It is a chain with a puzzle piece on it, the puzzle piece being the universal symbol for autism awareness. Behind the puzzle piece is a circular disk with a quote engraved on it. The quote is a perfect reflection of the possibilities that lie ahead for George, if he is given the right support along the way.

“Give me a place to stand and I can move the world”  ~ Archimedes ~

2010 Run for Autism 2:22:38

27 Sep

Last week I actually thought I was going crazy. I was leading up the Big Race, which meant that I was running 60% of my usual mileage.  Which in turn meant that I had this build-up of energy that I could not expend in the way I usually do, which is to lace up my running shoes and hit the road. As a result of all this, I was hovering around at home, engaging in these weird frenetic bursts of activity, filling up everyone’s Facebook walls with meaningless status updates, and generally being a bit of a nuisance. Thanks to over a week of very little sleep, I advanced about eight levels in Frontierville.

I started experiencing odd little aches and twinges – tightness in the glutes, a rickety left ankle, what felt like an impending cold – all carefully designed to mess with my mind and convince me that I was not ready for this race.  When I looked back at six months of training, I didn’t see all of the long runs I had clocked up, the hill training or speed reps. I saw the gaps – the long run I missed six weeks ago because of a cold, the two speed training sessions that I was forced to do on a treadmill because of my schedule, the midweek run that I had to cut short because of a thunderstorm.

I was, in other words, experiencing the phenomenon known to runners as taper madness. Some runners are able to completely chill out and relax during their tapering.  Others tend to bounce around inside their own heads as if they’re trapped in a pinball machine on steroids.  Guess which category I fall into.

On Saturday night I went around the house, setting every audible alarm I could think of.  The alarm clock beside the bed. The alarm clock in the living room. The timer on the oven. My BlackBerry. I was so paranoid about oversleeping on the day of the race (never mind that I had been too wired to sleep for a week), and I figured that out of all these alarms, I was bound to hear at least one of them. Of course, all that meant was that on Sunday morning, I woke up at 4:30 and had to creep around the house turning off all the alarms to avoid waking up the kids.

As it happened, my wonderful husband-to-be got me to the starting area without incident, with plenty of time to spare. I checked my bag – a remarkably efficient process, considering I was in a bag-check lineup of maybe 2000 people, and I was in and out of there in less than ten minutes. Then I made my way to a prearranged meeting spot for the Geneva Centre for Autism team photo.

As I lined up at the start line, I could feel those tight glutes, that rickety left ankle, the sense that I was getting a cold and therefore not in the best physical shape. But then magic happened. The starting siren went off and as the crowd surged forward, my glutes instantly loosened up, my ankle found stability, and I was breathing strong and clear. As I crossed the start line, I winged a prayer to whatever supreme being you happen to believe in, put a picture of my son George in my head, and went on my way.

I had a series of mini-goals to accomplish for the race. I knew that the Geneva Centre representative would be at around the 6km mark along with the photographer, so my first goal was to simply get to that point. Once I passed them, I would be almost a third of the way there! As I had thought would happen, I got a great boost of energy from seeing people I knew who were cheering my name, taking my picture, and waving a banner for the cause closest to my heart.

That energy boost was enough to get me to my next mini-goal: the 10km point.  I felt a sense of exhiliration as I ran over the timing mats, and shortly after that, I reached the turnaround point.  Now I was not only more than halfway, I was physically heading back towards the point from which I had started. I was getting tired and pushing myself harder than I had in my training runs, but by breaking down the large distance into smaller goals, I was able to keep going.

With 8km to go, I started running in 2km increments. I reasoned that no matter how rough I started feeling, I would surely be able to manage 2km. As long as I focused on nothing else – not the full distance of the race, not the distance I had run or the total distance that was still to come – if I focused only on the 2km segment of the moment, I would be fine. I told myself that if things started to get really bad, the only thing I had to do was get to the end of those 2km, and then I would figure out what to do next.

And sure enough, before I knew it, I found myself with 2km to go.  I was feeling completely exhausted at that point, feeling as if I had little or nothing left to give. I took one last one-minute walking break, took a deep breath, a braced myself for the finish. With 1km to go, I turned onto Bay Street, and then I knew I would be OK. I knew that the crowds of cheering spectators lining both sides of the street would carry me for the last several hundred metres. The crowds got louder as I got closer to the finish, and despite feeling utterly devoid of energy, I found myself passing other runners leading up to the finish.

I rounded the last bend, and the finish line was in my sights. Right on the other side of the finish line, I could see a welcome and familiar figure – my man, having talked himself into getting a media pass, was crouching there with his video camera. I dug deep, and somehow found a reserve of energy that enabled me to sprint for the last 100 metres. Two hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty-eight seconds after starting the race, I crossed the finish line, waving both arms triumphantly in the air and smiling so much I thought my face was going to split in two.

Six months of dedicated training, almost $500 raised for the Geneva Centre for Autism (which was part of a total of over $35,000 raised collectively by the Geneva Centre runners), a personal best time for the distance that beat last year’s time by six minutes.  What a day. What a phenomenal event to be a part of.

Am I hurting today? You bet. Will I do it again next year? I’ve already started to plan the training!  My Run for Autism is over, but only for this year.

With Holly Bannerman from the Geneva Centre for Autism

With John Stanton, founder of The Running Room