This guest post is by Toby Gaynor, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and is attending into SUNY Oneonta studying Meteorology. Toby is applying for the Spring 2020 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference started by me, Kerry Magro. I was nonverbal till 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4 and you can read more about my organization here. Can I ask for a favor? I’m trying to make this nonprofit self-sufficient so I can make this my full-time job supporting the special needs community and would appreciate you taking a minute before reading on to watch this video below and subscribing to our Youtube page here to get to learn more about the work we do in the community.

I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support these students with scholarship aid for college. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.

I’m not sure when I first realized I had autism, but I always knew I would be a runner.

Running has been a strong part of my identity from my early childhood. My parents are runners and I grew up always knowing their passion and the great joy it bought them. This sparked interest and inspiration to give running a try.

Running has helped me to develop a better understanding of my autism and my autism has helped me to become a better runner. I find the sport of running useful as both a way of meditation and a personal challenge that drives me to accomplish my fullest potential. It has also exposed some of my greatest challenges – coping with failure and managing social anxiety and pressure.

I began running competitively from sixth through eighth grade on my middle school’s cross country team. My running career was very smooth; new personal records were thrown down almost every meet. However, the feeling of burnout and discouragement set in after cross country in eighth grade, following a season of very hard workouts and races. At the same time I was growing more aware of the impact of autism on me, especially my ability to connect with my classmates. Looking back on that time now, I think I just needed to step back from the intensity of racing and rediscover why running was important to me. It helped me to manage day to day stress and it was a way to connect with other kids my age.

With the return of interest and confidence in running, I felt more than ready for high school training and racing. On the first day of high school cross country practice, my coach acknowledged my strong middle school record and a fast 5k race over the summer. He knew that I had the potential to be an excellent varsity runner. A couple of other strong freshman and I were placed in the A-squad race in the first few meets; the race allowed fifteen entries. After placing well within the top five, I earned my position on the varsity team.

After being named “Rookie of the Year” in Freshman Year, Sophomore year was the first year I had very high expectations of myself as a runner. I experienced doubts during races which caused me to sometimes give up mentally and not push myself. While I was a leading member of my team, I sometimes felt like I finished last in terms of fitting in and experiencing friendship.

To overcome this, my parents and coach taught me the most important aspect of running, mental stamina. Despite how training and physical ability play a huge role in running success, the ability to maintain focus and effort ultimately determines the results of race day. Victories come when a runner keeps their mind positive. Even though nervousness may naturally creep in on the starting line, you will succeed if you let any nervousness go once the gun goes off. Over the summer between Sophomore and Junior year, I spent a lot of time on strategies to build my mental stamina. I confronted my weaknesses, trained smarter and got stronger. I believe my autism has given me an edge – routine, discipline, and focus on things I love have defined my autism and now define me as a runner.

I went on to achieve many goals during my Senior cross country season and was named “MVP”. I can say now that I find more confidence in being different, and I believe running has given me the confidence to take on challenging classes and remain focused even when school gets very stressful. I look forward to running for a DIII program in college and to never stop learning from all my experiences.

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum that started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.