My name is Jennifer, and I live in the beautiful coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts with my husband Kevin, and our two children – Lizzy (4), and Sully (6). I am many things – mom, wife, runner, HR professional, boxer, swimmer, knitter, stitcher, baker, and honestly you never know what I’ll take up next. The moral of my story is that I stay busy. Sometimes I feel like I do a little too much, and sometimes I feel like if I didn’t do this much I would go completely insane. In the midst of it all, I am training for the 2019 Boston Marathon as a charity runner for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Why am I running this marathon, and why with this charity? Well I’m glad you asked…
I have not always been a runner. In fact, I only began running about six years ago, after my son Sully was born. Although I loved my baby very much, I found the transition into motherhood rather difficult. Initially, I began running with a group of other mothers to make new friends, and now it is something that has become my biggest hobby and outlet. And of course it made me realize my love for cowbells…
Sully was diagnosed with Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and anxiety, in April of 2018. Like most ASD parents, the diagnosis was certainly not the beginning of this journey for us. Sully was what one would call a difficult child, even as a baby. He screamed almost non-stop for the first three months of his life, and as he grew, Sully had constant ear infections and respiratory issues. He has had a total of six surgeries, including ear tube placements and an adenoidectomy. He also has strabismus, and wears glasses to correct it. Due to his hearing loss, Sully’s language development was delayed. I also felt from an early age that there was something abnormal about Sully’s social development. Everyday activities that other parents seemed to enjoy with their kids presented challenges and frustration for us. Birthday parties caused Sully anxiety and he refused to participate in the activities like singing, bouncy houses, sports, and face painting. Although he loved trucks and could obsessively list the functional details of each one, he was terrified at the local touch a truck event and would not participate. I felt like I was a failure and felt isolated and alone in my struggles. I repeatedly expressed my concerns to his pediatrician, but they were brushed aside. Everyone kept saying it would get easier, but it never did. I found that I had to more forcefully advocate for my son to get him the help he needed, and make my concerns heard.
Photo Cred: Victoria Dosch Photography
Once Sully started preschool, he began having behavioral problems in the classroom. It hurt me every time I heard about his inabilities to conquer his fears or to control his anger against his teachers and classmates. I found Sully a therapist and began taking him to weekly sessions to talk about processing his emotions, but without a diagnosis, it was hard to get him all the necessary help. Finally, after eight months on the waiting list (yes, you read that right. EIGHT MONTHS), Sully had a neuropsych evaluation in April. He was diagnosed with autism and an anxiety disorder. We are currently in the thick of the IEP process at school – don’t worry I will definitely post about that, and let me tell you, it’s going to be a doozy.
When Sully was diagnosed, I had mixed emotions. I worried about him being labeled, and I never wanted ASD or his anxiety to be an excuse, or to hold him back. But I also felt relieved. It’s like I wanted to run into the middle of the street and scream “SEE I’M NOT CRAZY! THIS HAS BEEN REALLY F*ING HARD!” I also felt overwhelmed, and not sure what to do next. In the end, Kevin and I told few people for a long time. It’s not that we were ashamed – I think it was a combination of not wanting his diagnosis to define him, and the need to process everything ourselves first. Now, we feel at peace with the diagnosis and are glad he has received it because he’s now more able to get the help he needs. We also feel certain Sully will live a full and happy life – we feel fortunate he is high functioning, and will make sure he lives life to the fullest.
While there were countless ups and downs during this time and so very many changes and transitions, the one constant sanctuary in my life was running. I found a true source of relief and therapy through training my body, being outside, and achieving my goals. I ran 5K’s 10K’s, half marathons, and finally set a goal to run my first marathon. I trained for five months for the Vermont City Marathon last Memorial Day weekend in Burlington, Vermont, and had a great experience! The highlight was that Kevin, Sully, Lizzy, my sister Kimberley, and her fiance Mike were all at the marathon cheering me on, and I got to see them multiple times as I ran!
After completing the Vermont City Marathon, I began to think about my next goal (well, honestly, I took a couple days to be really sore and walk down all stairs backwards, and then I thought about it). Many people asked me if the marathon was a “bucket list” item, and if I would do it again. I knew in my heart that it was not a one-time thing for me, that I wanted to do the Boston Marathon.
In my blog, I want to give the inside story of my marathon training, but I also want to spread awareness about what ASD actually is. My hope is also to tell other moms and dads my honest story. This journey has not been easy for me, and I do not always feel I handle things with grace. But I continue to try, every day, and I hope you enjoy my story.
Oh, and don’t forget the most important part…click here to donate to my personal fundraising page!