What Running Means to Me: Through the Eyes of a 15-year-old with Autism

Written by Harrison Walter with an introduction by his father, Hal Walter for the Winter 2019 edition of our Trail Times newsletter. Pictured above: Harrison and Hal. Photo by Jennifer Leigh Russ.

Autism spokesperson Temple Grandin notes that language often gets in the way of communicating. So when my son Harrison asked if he could write about his experiences running, I thought, “Now this could get interesting,” especially from the standpoint of someone like myself, who makes much of his living working with words. With all the fits and starts that marked his development as a runner concentrated into one project, he sat down and started to write. And then with all the ups and downs I experienced first as Harrison’s parent-coach, and then as coach of his school’s cross-country and distance track squads, he dragged me along on this writing adventure as well. And when his masterpiece was done I read it through and thought about how to go about editing it. In the final analysis I decided not to do anything to it other than correct a couple of minor errors. It was not mine to mess with. It was his writing, raw and real, just as his experience in running and life is as well. If language gets in the way, well, then that’s the reader’s problem not his or mine. I hope you enjoy Harrison’s story about running from the eyes of an autistic teenager. — Hal Walter

I am Harrison Walter and I’m 15 years old. I am a runner with Autism. Running helps me meet new friends, meet friends from other schools, get to places on time, get to special places, and to build strength. It teaches me to work towards a goal. And that goal is to run my best every time and never give up.

One year in my last track meet of the season, I did pretty well in the 400-meter run, but in the 800-meter run, at the end of my first lap, I fell down. After a while, I got up and ran my second lap with Coach Justin from Alamosa. After this, I threw a minor fit on the grass. I was feeling bad because I had a cut on both my knee and my hand. Then, my friend Bailey, who is a jumper, came to me and said, “It’s ok. I can’t even run that far.” I felt better that she cheered me up. Overall, I had a pretty good track meet.

Then, the cross country season started. My cross country meets were no different than the year before.

I live in Colorado. I often practice on Bear Basin Ranch near my home in Westcliffe. My meets are in places like Avon, Gunnison, Pueblo, Salida, and Monte Vista. I felt great for running all my meets well. That means for you to feel like you did something awesome at cross country and track.

I’ve been running at the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run since I was 9 years old. Every time I showed up there, I have improved speed. That was before I ran cross country at school. That was also back when I was in elementary school. Two summers ago, I was in 3rd place in my age group. Although, last summer I was in second place in my age group. I usually go out and jog with my dad. We usually go to the trails nearby where the race is. Sometimes I run or ride my bike. My dad sometimes takes our dog out too. His name is Zip. Running recharges my brain. That all helps me fit in with the other kids at my school. Many of those kids like to participate in cross country and track events. Even if I have autism, I still get to run those cross country and track events unattended, But my dad is still there as my own personal coach.

I ran for Custer County Middle School. In my previous Middle School career, I ran all 34 cross country and track meets in three years and I never missed a single meet. I also ran the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run for six years and I usually placed in my age group.

When I first started cross country in my first year of Middle school, my first head cross country coach was Coach Swartz. My first assistant cross country coach was Coach O’Callaghan. Then after my first year of Middle School, Coach Swartz moved to Arvada. Then, Coach O’Callaghan decided to retire. My track coach was Coach Traci. The head cross country coach was Coach Taylor, and the assistant cross country coach was Coach Ruth.

My two favorite meets from cross country were the ones in Monte Vista and Salida. The reason why I liked those meets the best was because, in Monte Vista, I liked that the terrain was mostly flat and easy for me to run on. And in Salida, I liked that downhill part of the course. The reason why I liked that the terrain was mostly flat and easy for me to run on is that it has never been windy there. The reason why I liked that downhill part of the course is because it is fun going down it and it makes you feel like you’re flying. When you go down that hill, you have to be extremely careful not to fall and hurt yourself. I felt good after jogging down that hill. I never fell down on that hill for all three years of my Middle School career, and I never will.

I have been featured on Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website and in the video called Dear Apple: Face to Face – Apple Watch as part of an Apple Special event on September 10, 2019.

Recently, I ran in the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run 10K. In previous years, I ran in the 5K, but this year, I felt like I needed to step it up a bit.  The course was rugged. My dad says that’s why it’s called the “Hard” scrabble and not the “Easy” scrabble race. I won my age group. So who knows? Maybe I might win overall when I get older.

Next came cross country season. I have run in nine varsity meets and the state meet, which makes it a total of 10 meets. I first started off with the Cheyenne Mountain stampede which was the same location as the state meet, but it was just a basic race. My timing was good for the basic race, although my time was improved upon as time progressed although I did not PR this season. The reason why I don’t call the state meet a varsity race is that I did not qualify for state this year. So I ran in the 3K unified race and came in sixth place and last year I came in third place, but I was faster this year in the unified race than last year.

Running has been opening up a whole new world for me. I have been loving the fresh air outside. It has been calming my brain down. In the future, I have a goal to be running really fast and getting into the 5-minute range at the track. I don’t know where this running trail is taking me but I’m enjoying the journey so far.

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