In less than a week I will be running my first full marathon. I'm terrified. I've completed a good bunch of 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons, and sprint triathlons, but the thought of running
26.2 straight miles is intimidating. I'm nervous about the effect those miles will have on my body and mind, but my motivation to complete the race far outweighs my nerves.
I'm a clinician and researcher in the field of special education, and until a few years ago
(when I decided to return to school for my PhD) I was a classroom teacher for students with autism. I'd always felt a deep sense of responsibility and caring for my students, and in my last classroom position I was surrounded by a group of intelligent, talented children who reminded me of the reasons I became a teacher. I watched their smallest steps forward with pride, and was honored to be a part of their education.
In this group of students, one young man stood out. He was the youngest in my classroom, and one who shone with a bright spirit. Reid was ten years old when we met. He loved to read, Christmas was his favorite time of year, and his laugh was truly infectious. On August 2, 2007, I was beginning my workday the same as any other, welcoming my students and staff to the classroom. It was the end of summer school, and we were all looking forward to some time off to enjoy the beautiful Southern California weather. The details from here on out are hazy, but on that bright, sunny day, I learned that 11-year-old Reid, recipient of the school's Student of the Year award just a month earlier, had passed away in his sleep.
It was a nightmare. The feelings of helplessness and of wondering if I had missed signs of
impending doom were overwhelming. I had grown to know and love Reid and his family, and his loss was devastating.
I kept in close contact with Reid's family, and they have become family of my own. In 2008, just over a year after Reid's death, his father Brian convinced me to run my first 5K with
Train 4 Autism in memory of Reid. Since that time, I've completed many races in his honor, and the LA Marathon will be my next.
On my left shoulder blade I have a tattoo of a red swallow, pointed toward the sky. Reid's
favorite color was red, and the swallow's wings help lift my feet when they feel heavy.
In an amazing show of strength and perseverance, Reid's family donated his brain tissue to the Autism Tissue Program, where it is being studied to understand the causes of autism and potential cures for the disorder. We still don't know how Reid died, but we know that he is educating others and helping in the fight against autism.