This fall at the Marine Corps Marathon, the RUN FOR AUTISM will celebrate its 15th anniversary. We asked OAR Executive Director, Mike Maloney, to share how the program began and some of the highlights he experienced over the past 15 years.
In October 2002, just a few weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon, I drove to Quantico to meet with a Marine I had served with, who also happened to be the Operations Officer for the Marine Corps Marathon. Beyond seeing a friend, I was on a mission.
“How does a charity like mine become one of your Charity Partners?” I asked.
“You speak to me,” he responded with a smile! He then went on to elaborate on the process. We had to request it by letter, say how many entries we wanted and what our plan was to recruit runners to use the entries.
We applied in November 2002 and received notice a month later that we would be an official Charity Partner of the Marine Corps Marathon in 2003. With that, OAR had established its RUN FOR AUTISM program, the first, national charity running program of its kind related to autism.
We had 66 marathoners and 44 8K runners in 2003, who combined to raise $110,000, an astronomical sum for OAR in its second year of existence! The next year 100 runners raised $125,000, and in its third year, the RUN FOR AUTISM program expanded to become part of the Chicago Marathon’s charity program. Runners between both races raised more than $300,000, and ever since OAR has built the success of its RUN FOR AUTISM program on the twin cornerstones of the Marine Corps and Chicago marathons.
It’s been just over 15 years since that fall drive to Quantico, and this October will mark OAR’s 15th year as a Charity Partner with the Marine Corps Marathon. Including that first race, OAR has had more than 2,500 runners run for autism in these races. Their combined efforts have raised well over $2 million for autism research, helping establish the RUN FOR AUTISM program nationally and, more important, accelerating OAR’s research and outreach efforts in support of the autism community. So, what began as something simply new and exciting in 2003, has grown into something transformative for OAR and the autism community it serves.
I’ve personally run the 10K race with our team for the last 10 years or more. I love seeing the lights of our Nation’s Capital across the Potomac River when we arrive before dawn on Charity Hill next to the Marine Corps War Memorial, very sacred ground for an old Marine like me. Then as the sun rises and splashes different light and color on the magnificent vista before us, the noise and excitement of race day picks up. Our runners arrive at our Charity Hill tent. They are at once excited, nervous, serious, inspirational, and hilarious. They are on a mission individually and as a team. It’s a special honor to be part of the team on this day. It never gets old.
Let me finish by sharing my favorite story from this story-filled 15 years. The day after I ran the 10K in 2011, I received an e-mail from Maureen, a woman who had walked the course and observed some of our runners. I actually remembered seeing a woman with her arm in a cast walking as I jogged along the course. As soon as I read her moving account, I knew exactly the father, the son with autism, and the family whose bond of love she observed and so thoughtfully shared with us. She wrote:
A few weeks ago I fractured my wrist so yesterday I was walking rather than running the Marine Marathon 10K in Washington, DC… along the course in Crystal City area, I witnessed an extraordinary moment. I saw a father and son (I think) wearing OAR shirts… Although I don’t know for sure, they looked to be of Korean background. The younger man or perhaps he was a teen was happily running along with rosey cheeks and clearly enjoying the sheer delight of freedom at that moment, more or less oblivious to the thousands of others around him. The other man, a male relative or friend was close behind. Later at the finish area near the Iwo Jima memorial I saw a woman and a much younger boy who looked…to be the mother and little brother of the two still out on the course. I just wanted to write and say (though I really can’t describe it) how moving it was to see this father’s love and dedication to the best interest of his child. Quite a pair of athletes! And what a team of ambassadors for OAR!
On this the 15th anniversary of our entry into the Marine Corps Marathon and the birth of the RUN FOR AUTISM program, I salute and thank each of our runners from years past and look forward to meeting this year’s next “team of ambassadors for OAR” for the Marine Corps Marathon in October.
Do you want to be a part of the RUN FOR AUTISM Marine Corps Marathon 15th Anniversary team? OAR still has entries available!