“To encourage others to live boldly and to help people transcend and even embrace – visible and invisible scars, trauma, and loss, by overcoming obstacles together.”

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July 7th, 2017

My Son's Most Formative Moments

This is from one the father of one of our student's living with autism. He walked the entire course with us as his son gained strength in character through relationship excersizes that can last a lifetime...

"This past Sunday my son and I completed our first Spartan Race. We were a part of Zack Paben’s More Heart Than Scars team, and our task was to help Mark, an adaptive athlete, negotiate the arduous four-and-a-half-mile course of mud, downed trees, creeks, barbed wire, and formidable obstacles that comprised the Spartan Sprint. Mark’s courage to undertake this challenge was inspiring by anyone’s measure. But, for me, just as inspiring were the stories of some of the other members of our team--5 boys on the autism spectrum who were students at Black Mountain Academy. My son, Austin, was one of those boys.

Austin turned 17 yesterday. This time last year he spent his days locked in his bedroom playing video games. He had no friends, was severely overweight, hated any form of exercise, refused to go to school, and was chronically depressed. This time last year, the notion that Austin would participate in a Spartan race was so unimaginable, that it would not have registered in my wildest of fantasies.

When you learn your child has autism, one of the first things you must do is give up your notion of the life you had hoped your child would have—going to college, getting a job, living independently, a life with close friendships where he’s fully engaged in the world around him. This time last year I had come to grips with the fact that such a life was not a possibility for Austin.

After 8 months in a therapeutic boarding school with no video games, learning how to live with a group of guys he doesn’t always get along with, going to the gym daily and eating healthy meals, Austin was a different young man. He had lost over 60 pounds and for the first time in his life he had begun to get an inkling of what he’s capable of.

I thought about all of this as we made our way through the mud toward the starting line for Sunday’s race. Austin was tethered to the back of Mark’s wheel chair, and it was Austin’s job to act as the brake. His job was to help lift Mark over logs and obstacles and to keep the wheel chair from tipping over as the group made its way up steep muddy banks, through creeks and across all kinds of crazy terrain. To compete in a Spartan race with all the obstacles and brutal terrain is impressive. To do it while constantly lifting a full-grown man in a wheel chair, was positively heroic.

About a third of the way through the race I was cold, wet and totally miserable. There was nothing about what we were doing that would come anywhere close to the word “fun.” But at the same time, I knew (with amazing clarity) that it would be one of the best days of my life. I had no idea that Austin was capable of physically doing what he was doing in that race. But more than that, I had no idea that this kid could demonstrate the level of mental fortitude it took to complete the course. Not once did he complain or even hint at wanting to give up. He was all in for the full 6 hours—lifting, toting, pushing, pulling, encouraging others. Not for a second did it ever occur to him to do anything other than what needed to be done. And to see that was pure magic.

Since Sunday it’s been impossible for me to talk about the race without my throat tightening and my eyes filling with tears. I have spent a lot of time processing the day. And still I’m not sure I can find words that will come close to adequately describing that experience. But I can say this. The special alchemy of Zack, More Heart Than Scars and the Spartan Race created a space where a young man, who has been isolated most of his life with few experiences of succeeding at anything, was given an opportunity to show himself (and the rest of us) what he was capable of.

Right now, I’m feeling pretty damn good about my kid’s future."