5k to raise autism awareness

Father hosts race in honor of autistic son

The Coleman’s Run 5K race for autism awareness will be held May 5 at 9 a.m., and nobody is happier about it than Dr. Clark Zealand.

For Zealand, an assistant professor of sports management and race director for Eco-X, a passion for running and his love for his 10-year-old autistic son Coleman led to his idea to do the Coleman’s Run in order to support the many families that autism affects and to make the community aware of the options for help that are available to them.

Helping out — Libety professor Clark Zealand was inspired to hold a 5K to benefit families caring for a loved one with autism. Photo provided

The race will begin at the Aid Station at 1035 Avalon Drive in Forest, and the proceeds will benefit Educational Solutions of Central Virginia, a local non-profit organization that provides resources to families who have autistic children or loved ones, according to a press release sent out earlier this month.

“When Coleman was diagnosed with autism, my wife and I were like, ‘what now?’” Zealand said. “Through this event, families who were in our exact situation can find resources they need to help their own children who are affected by autism, and can gain support by talking with other families, such as mine.”

According to Zealand, the cost to run in the race is $30, and he encourages even people who are not runners to at least donate because all proceeds go to help a cause that is near and dear to his heart.

“Educational Solutions of Central Virginia has helped my family, and Coleman especially, in a tremendous way,” Zealand said. “My wife homeschools both Coleman and his sister, and Educational Solutions of Central Virginia guided us with what curriculum to use to best teach Coleman.”

According to autismspeaks.org, recent national statistics show that one in every 88 children is diagnosed with autism yearly, topping leukemia and AIDS combined. For this reason, Zealand said that autism education and awareness needs to be brought to the forefront of people’s minds.

“Autism is tough, but there is something we as parents can do,” Zealand said. “We can learn what our options are and what resources are out there.”

One of these resources, in addition to Educational Solutions of Central Virginia, is the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center located in Blue Ridge, Va. The center’s executive director, Angela Leonard, has a 16-year-old son with autism, and she agrees that getting the right resources to help children with autism makes all the difference in the world.

“I always tell parents that no one will fight harder for their child than they will,” Leonard said. “Whatever it takes to get them the training and help they need to be able to function normally as an adult should be done.”

Zealand said the Coleman’s Run 5K will be more than just another race. It will be an event where supporters can choose to either walk, be involved in the actual run, or simply bring their families to observe the race while they visit the various booths set up by autism centers and resources available locally.

For more information about the Coleman’s Run 5K, or to sign up for the event, go to colemansrun.com.

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