Ice Buckets For Autism

The Reason I Run

The Reason I Run

Yesterday, I spoke about the aspects of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that bother me. At the same time, I acknowledged that this campaign has been wildly successful in raising funds and awareness for ALS. Although I have been nominated, I have declined to participate – not only because of the reasons stated yesterday, but because there is another cause that is nearer and dearer to my heart. I am not in any way diminishing the ALS cause, I am just saying that with my limited funds and more limited energy, I have to focus my efforts on a cause that directly impacts my family.

Every year, I participate in the Charity Challenge of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront half-marathon to raise funds for autism services, and this year is no different. The money I raise goes to the Geneva Centre for Autism, a wonderful organization that has provided endless support not only to my autism boy, but also to his younger brother, my husband and myself. I can say without reservation that my son’s life – all of our lives – would be very different if it weren’t for the Geneva Centre.

The thing is, though, that fundraising is hard, and it gets more difficult every year. People struggle. They have difficulty paying their bills on time and providing for their families. Life in this day and age is not easy. And the people who do have funds to donate are increasingly selective about where that money goes, and rightfully so. There have been so many stories about donated funds lining the pockets of people who are already rich.

I can give my personal assurance that money donated to the Geneva Centre for Autism does not go towards ridiculously high salaries or swanky events. It is used for things like art supplies and musical instruments for kids with autism, job skills training for those leaving school, iPads for those in need of communication assistance, and summer camps for children and youth who need help with social skills development. This is money that is used to help real children and their families. It is money that genuinely makes a difference and can change the course of a young person’s life for the better.

This year, for those who do have a few dollars to donate, I am adding an element of fun to my fundraising efforts. It is a variation of the ALS campaign, and I am calling it “Ice Buckets For Autism”. The premise is simple: for every $100 that I can raise for autism, I will dump a bucket of ice water on my head. In keeping with my concerns about using water wisely, I will dump it in such a way that it can later be used for something else.

There are no nominations and there is no stipulation as to how much each person should donate. People can simply donate if and how much they choose, and every time the hundreds digit of my fundraising total changes, I will drench myself and provide photographic and video evidence of the act.

I am hoping to be drenched many, many times.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


On Running

With Running Room founder John Stanton, right after one of my autism runs

With Running Room founder John Stanton, right after one of my autism runs

My friend Phaedra posted some running reflections on her blog today. She ended her post with the question: “What has running brought to your life?”

I started to draft a reply on her blog, but it started to get kind of wordy, so I decided to just make a blog post of my own on the topic.

The first time I start running seriously, I was a 26-year-old couch potato with a 30-a-day smoking habit. I didn’t really care for the idea of exercise very much, but I wanted to quit smoking, and instinct told me that in order to accomplish that, I would have to fix other aspects of my lifestyle.

So I cut back on the caffeine, traded junk food for healthy home-cooked meals, and started to run shuffle along at a snail’s pace. A few months later, I smoked my last cigarette and my shuffling started to look like actual running. To my surprise, I discovered that I actually liked it. My dad, a former elite athlete who had long suspected that there was a runner lurking somewhere within me, merely said, “Told you so.”

During that time in my life, running was much more than just a means to quit smoking. I badly needed some self-affirmation back then. I had no self-esteem to speak of. I felt completely worthless, and when I started running, I realized that I had found something I could actually do. I didn’t claim to be particularly good at it, but I wasn’t looking for something to be good at. I was merely looking for something that I could do without failing.

The combination of stopping smoking and starting running allowed me to start feeling as if there was some validity to my existence.

The second time I started to run, I was a 39-year-old mother of two and I hadn’t touched a pair of running shoes in over six years. Some aspects of my life were very similar to the way they had been the first time round. Although I was no longer a smoker, my lifestyle had become sedentary, and once again, I was grappling with severe depression.

This time round, it was the idea of running for a cause that gave me the kick in the pants that I needed. The Geneva Centre for Autism had decided to enter a team in the charity challenge of a major Toronto running event, and they were looking for parents to participate. And somewhere deep inside me, underneath all of the layers of depression that were crippling me, a flame was lit. I registered for the half-marathon there and then, without giving myself time to think about it.

Six months later, I stood at the half-marathon finish line with a finisher’s medal around my neck. I had gone the distance, all 21.1km of it, and every inch of it had been for my son. It was an intensely emotional experience and the tears flowed unchecked.

Since then, I have run six more half-marathons and a number of races of other distances. One half-marathon each year is dedicated to my son and other children with autism, as I fund-raise and strive to make my small contribution to the autism community.

Once again, running has been a salvation for me, a form of self-affirmation, and a way for me to feel truly alive. When my running is going well, I feel as if I have it in me to get through any challenge and achieve any goal I want.

And when it’s going badly, all I have to do is think of my son. If he can live his entire life, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the challenges of autism, then I can run for a couple of hours to make the world a better place for him.