Ok, so any fellow Bruce Springsteen fans out there? If so, or even if you’re not a fan, you probably recognize the title of this post, a song whose name rings very true to me.

Now then, you might be wondering why I’m writing about running on a blog about autism? Well, stick with me and we’ll get there!

As a young kid, I liked to be active and ride my bike, go for hikes, rollerblade, stuff like that. I might chase after my dog (miss you Nickie!) in the yard, but I was not by any stretch of the word a runner nor did I aspire to be one. Then, in junior high, I, for some reason, decided that I wanted to run track. My knees, however, had other plans…

I noticed it walking down the hill from my house to the bus stop one morning: my knee REALLY hurt! I didn’t want to say anything, knowing it would probably lead to a doctor’s office visit, but finally the pain got so bad that I had to tell my parents. A visit to an orthopedic doctor and it was confirmed that I had chondromalacia. Basically, if you looked at an x-ray of my bad knee, the knee cap wasn’t exactly where it was supposed to be…

:Fortunately, lots of physical therapy was able to take care of the condition and my knee was healed. I don’t remember much about the process, other than being told by my doctor that I was finally cleared for normal activities, with one exception: I will never be able to be a runner.

Like I said at the beginning of this story, I wasn’t a runner. Even during my brief stint as a middle school track athlete (haha!), I loathed the long distances. However, when he said that statement, innocuous as it may have seemed, something changed in me.

At that time, I didn’t know I had autism. I didn’t even really know what autism was. I did know I was different, had trouble fitting in, and just generally seemed to be running a different version of HumanOS than anyone else around me. That meant that I did things differently than most people, or at least thought of them differently, even if the finished product was the same.

So, if someone said I couldn’t do something, or more likely said that something had to be done in a way that just didn’t make sense for my operating system, I took that as a challenge, a puzzle to be solved. I needed to figure out how to make it work for me, even if that way made no sense to anyone else.

The same thing happened in this story. When that doctor told me that I would never be a runner, something changed. Basically, he presented me with a challenge without even realizing it, and I knew that one day, I would be a runner.

Running is best when done with a best friend, aka my Trevi Bear!

Fast forward 20 years, and other than a couple of years hiatus, I am proud to call myself a runner. I have completed many 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, and even have a couple of marathons under my belt. Then, of course, there’s the countless miles built up in training.

For me, running is meditation. It is quiet time when I don’t have to mask, don’t have to be coordinated, don’t have to do anything except put one foot in front of the other. When I run, I am 100% me, autism and all. It is, for me, a sense of freedom. My mind wanders, free to think whatever thoughts it wants, or none at all. I usually run by myself, or with my dog, who is easy to have a conversation with about any topic I want, or be totally silent and not have it be awkward.

It’s something about the simplistic, almost primal motion, combined with the fresh air and (ideally) nice scenery. I can’t quite put it into words, but running benefits me in a way that almost nothing else does. Physical activity is often a great way to mitigate some of the challenges that being autistic in a neurotypical world puts in front of me and others like me. (See, I told you there was a tie-in to autism coming!)

Other than some strained and sore muscles and joints, I have had no major injuries and my knees have overall been just fine. I know there are things in this world that I can’t or will never do and I’m ok with that. But, give me a challenge that I know I’m capable of doing, and my autistic brain will use its superpowers and figure out how to make it happen!

I don’t even know your name, but if you ever read this, thank you doctor for giving me that challenge, leading me to better physical and mental health than I ever thought possible and an amazing description for myself: RUNNER.

Thanks for reading!