Book Review: Endurance and Selected Essays on Autism, Neurodiversity, and Deep Sport

Endurance and Selected Essays on Autism, Neurodiversity, and Deep Sport, by Hal Walter. Out There Publishing, 2016. Reviewed by Laura Clark

What you get is not always what you expect. Those who endure do their best with the cards they are given. This rule of thumb pretty much sums up the life of Hal Walter, a seven-time world champion at the sport of pack-burro racing and his autistic son Harrison, a talented runner who must conquer not only the trail but his neurodiversity. If you know anything about running with a burro, you will know that your race will not follow the perfect blueprint. In addition to dealing with the normal stressors of terrain and weather, there is the additional variable of working with someone who tends to be stubborn, does not speak your language and follows a different personal agenda. That Hal Walter has succeeded so admirably has stood him in good stead as he attempts to deal with his son’s sometimes incomprehensible world view.

When Harrison expressed an interest in running cross country, Hal envisioned this as a solution to integrating him into a team sport where he could still perform independently. I mentioned this to several parents of autistic children and they tended to agree. One parent has a son who is the goalie on a hockey team – he can be part of the club experience without contending with the unsettling group aspect.

Hal accompanies his son to most practices and all the meets to manage any behavioral issues. Frankly, I don’t know how he copes with Harrison’s meltdowns and tantrums. His son is a talented runner, but his neurodiversity gets in the way of his potential. It must be heartbreaking for Hal to witness. Still, it is a valuable learning experience for the team as they realize that for Harrison, success is often just finishing.

At the age of eleven, Harrison finally learned to ride a bike and took to it with ease. Soon he was accompanying his dad on pack burro training rides. His nemesis, however, were the road crossings where he just didn’t pay attention enough to be trusted on solo rides. Chafing under this restriction, one day he broke away and headed out for a two-hour mountain ride. While his parents were frantic, he was having a ball, reveling in his bike skills and spot-on navigation. That moment was a turning point for Harrison’s self-esteem.

It is from these experiences that Hal developed the term Deep Sport, in which not giving up is winning. But Deep Sport is also rooted in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” By recognizing this fact and supporting Harrison’s needs, his teammates, the other parents and teachers, the entire community, celebrates with him and becomes stronger. We speak of a kinship of runners, but in truth, it is easy to become close with those who understand you. Deep Sport and Hal Walter’s efforts stretch that community to those who never completely can.

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