The Rise of an Autistic Runner

by Kevin Sheehan, intro and editing by Allison Lynch

Meet Kevin Sheehan. You might know him as the very blonde and very pale runner on the Greater Boston Track Club. This is rather common within the Caucasian runner demographic, and thus still leaves you with a lot of GBTC faces to choose from. Let’s narrow it down. Kevin has a mustache. Kevin is always meticulously up to date with weather information and statistics, just in case you want to know what Tuesday night practice will look like. His interests include checking weather from the National Weather Service website (NWS), playing golf, blueberry yogurt, shrimp scampi, and Galen Rupp (naturally). You might have gone for a few runs with Kevin, seen his name in the USATF results, or passed him by on the bleachers at a track meet. But if you’ve ever met Kevin, you can immediately tell that he is a unique character who takes running very seriously.

Kevin is a high-functioning Autistic individual who joined Greater Boston almost a year ago, and has been on the track (and XC courses) ever since. He is mainly a distance runner, but he also enjoys competing in sprinting relays when he can. Because the Autism spectrum is so vast in terms of development, it is a peculiar disability to relate to. Autism affects verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and general awareness and intellectual interest. Depending on the outside stimulus and the biological capability of an autistic child, a significant amount of progress can be made in the early stages of diagnosis. Kevin belongs in the latter. When you meet Kevin, you will not view him solely as “an autistic person,” because his relationship with his so-called disability is one of appreciation, as opposed to resentment and awkwardness. Likewise, you start to appreciate his attitude, instead of relegating him into a zone of social discomfort, which is often an initial response people might have. Here, Kevin shares his story on why his Autism is actually a form of motivation, especially when it comes to running. Enjoy:

When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Autism. As a young child, I was extremely active and loved any activity that involved motion, like going on the tire swing and spinning for what seemed like hours. I also had no fear of heights and would climb my swing set, to the tops of trees, and even over the fence around my yard. However, growing up I also had seizures at school and at home that I couldn’t control; usually three or four a month. So, I had to be put in a Special Educational class with other autistic children who had learning and speech problems like my own since the seizures caused a delay in my development.


A dual meet against East Bridgewater, junior year of High School.

In 4th grade I had made enough progress and was able to be integrated into the mainstream classroom. I started to learn more, and my social abilities and communication developed. I started to make new friends and slowly built friendships and relationships with my improved communication skills. For kids with Autism, maintaining relationships is often a difficult skill because it requires social awareness and accountability. Once college came around during my freshman year, I had broadened my social skills enough that I could to talk just about anyone I wanted to without much hesitation. From that point on, my disability of Autism became a useful strength instead of a weakness that helped me push forward and adapt to life itself. Sometimes I use this phrase when speaking to companions I knew from high school, college, and from coaching Special Olympics who have mild to severe learning disabilities. I do this to give them confidence the way my disability has done for me.

If they somehow find a cure for Autism, I would never want it to be taken away from me because it has gotten me so far in life. I don’t think I would be the same person, no matter how “normal” a life without Autism would be. It has made me an honest person who gives everything a 100% effort to reach my goals and always look up towards the endless sky. I’d like to share my story and explain just how valuable my disability has become, particularly in relation to my favorite sport: running.

It all began in 5th grade during my middle school years. My Special Education teacher suggested that I try track and field because all the other autistic students in my class were doing it too. At first, I had no idea what it was until the Special Ed teachers who were coaches explained it to me. The events I did throughout middle school were the 50m, long jump, 4x100m relay, and 100m. Track seemed to be a good fit for me because I had a variety of events to compete in; up until then I was used to not being very successful in other sports my classmates played.

The Special Olympics helped me receive recognition and, more importantly, respect from students who didn’t think I was capable of doing a sport. Back in middle school, kids would tease me because a few students thought that my Autism made me an easy target for their jokes. At that point, I didn’t really consider my Autism as a huge difference from other students; it was just a part of me, and I had never done anything wrong to the other students. However, being a part of the Special Olympics track team changed all of that. Not only did I have such a fun time being with my teammates, but it also allowed me to set running goals and fuel my passion for running that I’ve continued through high school and college up until now.

To me, running has been a successful builder and motivation tool to push myself beyond my perceived limitations. Not only has it allowed me to achieve personal records and satisfying race experiences, it has helped me achieve my life goals such as graduating high school, college, and one day grad school, because it has always added an underlying consistency to my days. Once you learn how to embrace your perceived limitations, these skills become the best attribute for you to be successful in life.

Events that solidified my determination occurred in high school when students teased me, bullied me, or even embarrassed me for how serious I was into the sport of running. During my junior year, when my school didn’t have a boys’ indoor track program but had a girls’ indoor track program, I decided to train with the girls’ team. This got me in the best shape for my outdoor season, which did have a boys’ team. This probably confused most of the girls on the team because I was the only guy who trained with them. But that never stopped me from training to get faster for my outdoor season. That instance has helped me prove that I’m not afraid to achieve what I want to do and to use my hard work ethic to get there. The more I surprise people who doubted me in the past, the more it gives me confidence to go faster and farther in reaching my life goals. That mantra got me to be a scoring athlete during my sophomore year of high school for Cross-Country, and for my junior year for outdoor track. It has also got me to be a captain for Cross-Country and track my senior year. By the end of my senior year in high school, I got an award at my school banquet for the Bulldog Pride Award: “Male Athlete that never gives up.”

My future running goal is to do the Boston Marathon. I’m going to give it a few more years so I can get some half marathon and long road racing experience, so that I feel comfortable running long distances at marathon goal pace. I also want to finish my education from graduate school for Atmospheric Science at UMass Lowell first. I figure the time commitment and focus for marathon training is something I’ll need to do outside of being in school to be a Meteorologist for the government.

My big influences who have motivated me to reach my goal for Boston are BAA’s Anthony Crudale (2:36:00 autistic marathoner), and my Uncle Robert Somers, who got me into long distance running in the first place, and did Boston multiple times in the late 80’s to mid 90’s with a PR around 3:21:00. When Anthony Crudale’s told me about his marathon times, it gave me the motivation to do a marathon. It also showed me that runners from the low end the spectrum can run for success too. My goal is first to beat my uncle’s record so that I can now own all the best running times for my family.

For the time being, I am going to continue getting faster on the roads, gearing up for cross country, and training for the track seasons. I would like to get my mile, 3k, 5k times down to 4:30, 9:30, and 16:40 with the same type of training that I have been doing since joining Greater Boston Track Club. I believe being on this team will help me reach those running goals, especially because I get to train with more experienced competitive runners who enjoy the sport of running just as much as I do.

Kevin and Allison both run for the Greater Boston Track Club. This article was originally published in the May 2013 edition of the GBTC newsletter The Wingfoot Express

Duncan, Rocco Win in Westfield

Sean Duncan and Alyse Rocco were victorious in the second annual WMDP XC Festival, which was held back on September 8th at Stanley Park in Westfield, MA. Yeah, we’re a little behind in getting this out to the masses, we know. Early September still didn’t feel quite like cross country weather. The weather is a little cooler now, we’re that much closer to October, and now it feels right to start covering it. Plus it took a while to find time to do the video.

Anyway, the host team (Western Mass Distance Project) did a fine job of putting on the event and also in defending their home turf. The Wolf pack won both the men’s and women’s races as a team even with some of their key runners sidelined.

In the men’s 8k race, the Wolves were led by the one-two punch of Sean Duncan (25:18) and Kevin Quadrozzi (25:47) . Duncan looked to be in command the whole way and cruised to the win. Just behind the top two were Ryan Irwin and Charly Allan of GBTC, leading the GBTC surge that saw them place 7 of the next 12 scorers. It wasn’t enough to overcome the Wolves and GBTC just lost out by a score of 30-34.

Duncan gets to bask in the glow of victory (and possibly dance some more) as he’s been doing quite regularly lately, but he couldn’t quite avenge last year’s loss. Last year’s winner Brian Harvey was off racing his debut marathon at the Via Lehigh Valley Marathon, which he won in 2:31:33. We’ll have to wait a little to see them go head to head later in the season.

For the ladies, quality over quantity seemed to be an underlying theme on the day. There were only 29 finishers, but the top ten all went under 20 minutes for 5k. That theme can also be used to describe the training of winner Alyse Rocco (GBTC). At the time Alyse had only been running about 20 miles per week, which seems low but some people can excel on lower mileage. It’s not necessarily the mileage but what you do with it, and she must be making all of those miles count.

Alyse ran a 17:54 and went under 18 minutes for the first time. Second place was about thirty seconds behind (Julie McGilpin, 18:25.79). Once again the GBTC team would fall short, as they lost to the Wolves again, this time by a score of 25-34.

Included below are race highlights and interviews from the day’s races.

Another theme of the day seemed to be people posing for still shots when video was being taken. There was clearly some miscommunication and it was all in good fun. The first one I can say with certainty that the proximity to the speakers had something to do with it. The second one (as seen at the end of the video)…sure, loud speakers there too. Why not? I think I like these results better than had they come out as planned. It’s always spontaneous on the Level.

The next race in the series will be the Wayland XC Festival, to be held on October 13th in Wayland, MA.

GBTC 40th BDay Bash

As you probably have heard, the GBTC just recently celebrated their 40th anniversary back on Saturday August 17th. Many attended, and some that were not able to ended up sharing a video greeting. Bill Rodgers was one such member who couldn’t attend, but that didn’t stop him from having a presence. Bill sat down with EJN and Victoria Barnaby to record a greeting in what will surely be viewed by him as his second favorite accomplishment on Boylston Street:

The Eliot Lounge, dysentery, a Derderian poetry slam featuring moo cows…this trip down memory lane has it all! Thanks to Bill and the GBTC for the opportunity. It’s always great to sit down with a legend and hear some stories from back in the day.


Level Renner Road Race Gomez Mason logo

Bill Rodgers Teaser, Pt II

EJN sat down with current GBTC’er Victoria Barnaby and former GBTC’er Bill Rodgers on Tuesday evening for a chat with the Boston legend. The 40th anniversary bash for the Greater Boston Track Club is fast approaching (tomorrow afternoon), and unfortunately Bill won’t be able to attend. Bill was kind enough to set aside some time to record a video message for his old friends and teammates, and also share some stories about the good old days. Here’s another taste of the session:

Tickets are still available for the event (click here). Event details:

Saturday, August 17, 2013 2pm until 6pm
Corcoran Commons
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Bill Rodgers Teaser

EJN sat down with current GBTC’er Victoria Barnaby and former GBTC’er Bill Rodgers on Tuesday evening for a chat with the Boston legend. The 40th anniversary bash for the Greater Boston Track Club is fast approaching (tomorrow afternoon), and unfortunately Bill won’t be able to attend. Bill was kind enough to set aside some time to record a video message for his old friends and teammates, and also share some stories about the good old days. Here’s a taste of the session:

Tickets are still available for the event (click here). Event details:

Saturday, August 17, 2013 2pm until 6pm
Corcoran Commons
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Another Link Roundup

It’s a bit of a slow news week for us so far, so here are some links for stories and events that you might’ve missed.

In Boston Marathon related news, the Eagle-Tribune has a great interview with Dave McGillivray, about this experience on Marathon Monday.

Switching over to the AP website, there’s an article about One Fund manager Kenneth Feinberg and the limited amount available to the victims. “There isn’t enough money to pay everybody who justifiably expects it or needs it,” he said. Hopefully some more can be raised to help alleviate that.

Of course, anybody interested in helping can make donations at the One Fund website.

We know there are many of you out there that are eager to get back into it and run Boston in 2014. There’s still a whole lot of time between now and Patriots Day 2014, and there is no shortage of bigger races between now and then. A couple of the bigger summertime New England races went on sale this morning: The Falmouth Road Race and the BAA 10k. The Falmouth Road Race is on the lottery system, and you can enter that here. The BAA 10k is more of a traditional race entry, but you still need a bit of luck there because that one sells out fairly quickly.

Speaking of races, there were a couple of big trail races this past weekend. There was the 7 Sisters Trail Race in Amherst, MA and the Sleepy Hollow Mountain Race in Huntington, VT. Stephen Granger-Bevan (1:51:01) and Alexandra Jospe (2:26:53) were the winners at the 12 mile 7 Sisters Race.

Christin Doneski of Whirlaway won the Sleepy Hollow race in 48:59. She impressively finished 11th overall. Photo courtesy of Scott Mason.

Christin Doneski of Whirlaway won the Sleepy Hollow race in 48:59. She impressively finished 11th overall. Photo courtesy of Scott Mason.

We should have something coming soon from Josh Ferenc and Brandon Newbould on the Sleepy Hollow race. By now you probably know that Josh won the 10k mountain race in 38:17. After him things started tightening up a bit and it was pretty competitive. Scott Mason was at Sleepy Hollow and as usual provided some excellent coverage.

Lastly, GBTC vintage shirts are for sale, even to us non-members. They look pretty sweet. Put some old school, retro style in your rotation and help out a local club in the process.

Joy Will Talks London, Ramble

Joy Will (GBTC) ran the London Marathon back on April 21st, and there she was just seven short days later racing again. That’s a tight turn around, especially with an international flight thrown in the middle of it. In London, Joy ran a 3:41. Despite the limited rest she still ran a 46:22 in Dedham, which placed her well within the top 300 out of field of close to 2,000 open runners.

Here’s an interview with Joy after the James Joyce Ramble:

More Ramble coverage on the way…

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 11.32.06 AM

GBTC at Nationals

Only a week out from the Boston Marathon now so it’s safe to say that the area is fully suffering from a case of Marathon Fever. As many are probably tweaking out now due to the anxieties that normally accompany a typical taper, let us offer some advice: relax! The only thing to really worry about now is: Can the weather.com website handle the insane number of people constantly checking and refreshing the ten day forecast? Let’s hope they divert some of the resources they have dedicated to naming storms to making sure the system can handle the increased traffic.

While looking ahead to Patriot’s Day lets not overlook the racing that is happening right now before our very eyes. Here’s a quick run down of what you might’ve missed over the weekend:

GBTC at nationals

The Greater Boston Track Club sent five of its finest young men to represent the club (and by default the region…er, Legion) at the 2013 USATF National Club Team 8 km Championships. This year the the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago had the honors and over 33,000 people ran the race.

The GBTC had four guys come in at 25:13 or better and their fastest runner finished in 24:40 (Brennan Bonner). Pretttttttty…pretttttty…impressive.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 12.03.36 PMAs a team they placed 16th out of 25, in what was a very competitive field. Hansons-Brooks took home the titles for both the men’s and women’s races. Hansons-Brooks took 1-2 in the women’s race, with Melissa White winning the title (26:33). For the men, it was Phillip Reid of Asics Aggie Running Club in 23:08

We hope to have more on that coming in the next couple of days so stay tuned.

In other news, Jim Johnson comfortably won the Great Bay Half in a quick 1:13:08. Jim’s slacking on his blog, but we’re sure you’ll be able to find a good write up on it there fairly soon. Kristen Ramey was the women’s winner (1:25:30.4) and was also 15th overall. Not too shabby.

Finally, Doyles Emerald Necklace 5 Miler was held yesterday in Jamaica Plain. TJ Unger couldn’t quite seal the deal on a repeat win (he came in third), but Lindsay Willard was able to pull it off herself. Jacob Barnett was the overall winner in 25:48, and Joe Navas wasn’t too far back of him in fourth place (26:29 and top master). Willard was the top woman with a 28:20. Holly Madden was the top master for the ladies with her 31:38.

Unger, Quintal and Barnett lead the way at Doyle's (courtesy of Ted Tyler).

Unger, Quintal and Barnett lead the way at Doyle’s (courtesy of Ted Tyler).

Coming Soon…

Boston Marathon preview coverage, including interviews with Hilary Dionne (3rd American woman and 15th overall in 2012) and Tim Ritchie (making his much anticipated marathon debut).

GBTC Going to Nationals, Plus More

Here’s a quick guest blog to lead us off. This one comes from Tom Derderian about the GBTC:

The GBTC men’s team will be traveling to Chicago, IL, this weekend for the first ever USATF National Club Team 8 km Championships. The team members are Brennan BonnerBrian McNamaraMatt HaringaRyan Irwin, and Chris Kibler. The championship has qualifying standards of 17 minutes for 5K and 28 minutes for 8K. Twenty-six teams are entered.

GBTC is the only team from New England attending the race, and is traveling on a USATF-NE grant awarding them $150 each, and will receive lodging from the meet. Team prize money ranges from $3,000 for first to $1,000 for fifth place. The championship is part of the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k taking place on Sunday April 7th, in Grant Park, IL. The Hansons-Brooks Distance Project won last year’s team race and have two teams entered this year.

Congrats to the GBTC on receiving the grant and good luck to them out in Chicago! Recently the Western Mass Distance Project also received a grant from the USATF-NE for their trip out to XC Club Nationals. Interested in a grant? Find out more here.

Thanks to Reno Stirrat and Facebook we saw this:

Newton’s Ezekial in it for the long run at Boston Marathon

Ephraim Ezekial is a teammate of mine, a very fast runner and a good guy. Give the article a read to find out a little something more about him.

RunnersConnect just recently featured video interviews with a couple of names that might sound familiar to Level Legion: Terry Shea and Mario Fraioli. Terry’s interview has to do with preparing for and racing on the Boston Marathon course, and Mario goes over his first book:

The Official Rock n’ Roll Guide to Marathon and Half Marathon training.

Wrapping up today’s news is a call for questions. I’ll be siting down with Tim Ritchie tomorrow to talk about his upcoming marathon debut, and hopefully Hilary Dionne in the next couple of days. If you have questions that you’d like me to ask either of them, feel free to comment here or send out via Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Please don’t mail any in on postcards.

The Gambler

As far as we understand, once a year during indoors, the GBTC does a casino themed workout. The variables of the workout are determined by chance. According to Matt Haringa, it’s the “best workout of the year.” This year, Tom Derderian was rolling a ten sided die (pictured below, courtesy of Tom).


Those hoping for something garish, like a big riverboat roulette wheel didn’t quite have their expectations met but it looks like fun was had anyway.

Of the workout, Tom said: “the complete racer needs to be prepared for unpredictable moves by an adversary so we run a workout where the next interval is not on a schedule but is determined by chance. It is very Ecclesiastical.  It is life. It is racing.”

Before we move on from the Jones 10 Miler completely, we have two more thoughts on this.

A.) Joe Navas submitted this pic to illustrate just how ridiculously over-sized the race bibs were. It’s his bib on an oak floor with one of those big, soft pretzels (like you’d get at a mall food court) right next to it.

B.) God I hope the Jones people have a sense of humor.

In other news, indoor nationals tonight (right now)!

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