This is a guest blog post from Verlaine Brunot, whose brother Jonathan will be completing the Boston Marathon this Monday in honor of Autism Awareness Month. It will be his 9th Marathon overall and his 5th time completing the Boston Marathon.
By Verlaine Brunot, Guest Blogger
My name is Verlaine Brunot and I would like to share with you all a story about the power of perseverance, dedication and willpower. This is a story about my youngest brother Jonathan. Jonathan is severely autistic.
Jonathan Brunot was born on March 14, 1989; a healthy child with an expressive personality. He had lots of eye contact, and his vocabulary built steadily as he began to learn to speak. However, when he was about 2 ½ years of age, he began to regress dramatically. His eye contact became non-existent and the few words and even phrases he had mastered in the previous months slipped away into completely non-verbal interaction. Jonathan would later be diagnosed as severely autistic, a prognosis that meant he could never develop “typical” brain function for his age.
Just. Like. That.
Autism is a lifelong, pervasive disorder. However, no matter how difficult the circumstances; an autistic person is only limited by the limits we put upon them.
Case in point, our amazing mother. She always taught us that Jonathan wasn’t merely an “autistic” individual, but rather we were an “autistic” family. It was incumbent upon us as a family to do whatever we could to help Jonathan navigate through this difficult world.
That is why throughout Jonathan’s adolescence; my mother contacted many different special needs programs to enroll Jonathan in as many extracurricular activities as possible. Since Jonathan wasn’t capable of telling us what new things he wanted to try, we effectively had to “throw him in the deep end” so to speak and immerse him in EVERYTHING.
We signed him up for a bowling league, took him to horseback riding, as well as registered him for a special needs basketball league. These activities gave Jonathan an outlet in order to expend all his energy as well as to help him assimilate “normal” activities like his older siblings. Jonathan was not always enthusiastic or attentive during some of these activities; however our mother was still determined to at least give him as much exposure as possible to these different environments. It was precisely this determination and persistence that prompted my mother to have Jonathan join a special needs running club called ROLLING THUNDER. The selfless volunteer coaches at Rolling Thunder specialized in assisted running with the mentally disabled and they welcomed Jonathan with open arms.
When Jonathan first joined the running club, he struggled tremendously. For the first couple of weeks, Jon could not run more then 10-15 yard without stopping, or getting distracted or wanting to lie down. In fact, Olga began running side by side with Jonathan, at times gripping his belt and effectively pulling him along the trails. Even after 2 months of practices, Jonathan was still not really grasping the concept of running. Olga was nearly ready to have him quit, both as a result of her fatigue from constantly pulling him and Jonathan’s inability to connect with the sport. The leader of Rolling Thunder, Steve Cuomo, encouraged Olga to not give up on Jonathan and worked with her to help Jonathan continue running. That led to the fateful day when Mr. Cuomo introduced Olga to a running coach named Vincent Delcid.
Over the upcoming months, Vincent was able to teach Jonathan to pace himself, and stretch, as well as how to approach hills and to sprint at the finish line. Over time, Jonathan developed a great “coach – athlete” relationship with Vincent during their runs and really began to embrace the sport.
After several months of running, coach Vincent REALLY upped the ante. He could see that Jonathan was really enjoying their runs and was getting faster and faster by the day. Coach Vincent told us that he wanted Jonathan to run the NYC Marathon. Yes, THE NYC MARATHON. 26.2 long, difficult miles across all the boroughs of Manhattan!
To me, this seemed initially like an OUTRAGEOUS, INSANE, EXTRAORDINARY goal to set for Jonathan; but at the very same time there was no way we could doubt the determination of coach Vincent. Between Coach Vincent and Olga, Jonathan had a support system that could NEVER fail.
On November 2, 2008 Jonathan completed his first marathon in 4 hours and 48 grueling minutes (ING NYC Marathon 2008) and he has hit the ground running ever since!
My youngest brother Jonathan has evolved into a gifted runner and a tremendous athlete. He’s an amazingly inspiring marathon runner who shows me strength and courage everyday… and oh yea, he happens to be autistic.
The proudest older brother in the whole world,