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In recent months Brooke has struggled with her environment. The Fall transition has not been particularly easy. Brooke’s autism is infused with pervasive anxiety.  Over the last several months, her anxiety levels have increased just ever so slightly, leading small trickles to compound into crashing waves when the environmental conditions are just so.  A baby’s cry, a child calling for its mama, or even big sister Katie sniffing because of a runny nose – all these things can lead to meltdown.

Little things becoming big ones.

Glitches becoming catastrophes.

Jess and I are working hard to anticipate and re-direct, attempting to keep those trickles as just that…sometimes with success, sometimes in vain.  We’ve learned to identify some, but not all, of what induces the paralyzing anxiety.

I tell people that being the parent of a child with autism has made me a better father, a better husband, a better man. You learn patience. You learn compassion. You learn to suck it up.

***

What I never thought, was that being a parent of an autistic child would make me a better runner. Brooke has taught me perseverance, tenacity, and drive. She wants to be able to break through her walls.  The perfect example is when she insisted we get  a dog – this despite the fact that she was deathly afraid of them.  We spent the first three weeks of having a dog with Brooke’s feet never touching the ground when our dog was in the same room.  Today, she has overcome that fear and now loves dogs.  I mean she LOVES dogs!  Perseverance, tenacity and drive – I used all of those things at both the Smuttynose AND New York City Marathons. In one race I used those lessons to cruise to personal victory, in the other I used them simply to survive.

Something else I did not realize until recently that I learned from Brooke as it relates to running was anticipation.  I don’t meant the “licking you chops can’t wait for this dinner” kind of anticipation.  No, I mean preventative anticipation, defensive anticipation.  As runners we can often be hyper-focused on the training at hand.  We will pay close attention to the pace, the distance, the training, but if presented with a niggling pain we will brush it off as just part of the training.  Much of the time, that is just what it is, but how often have you suffered an injury and in retrospect known exactly when it happened?   Prevention is much more powerful than reaction. The time spent ahead of the curve packs so much more wallop than time spent recovering from disaster.  We (I) need to learn to anticipate which of those niggles are an indication of more to come.

In Chaos Theory there is something called the Butterfly Effect. Put in very, VERY simple terms, the idea is that in a closed system (like our planet’s environment or our bodies) we are all connected. Because of that intra-connection (and explained with a lot of high level math I don’t pretend to understand) the flutter of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can initiate events in our atmosphere that eventually lead to a class 5 hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. The problem of course is that the math is so complex that in the end, the connections seems to be random, chaotic. Trying to determine which butterfly’s wing will cause the next Hurricane Andrew is practically impossible.

The math isn’t quite as complex when it comes to our running and our bodies. I am learning to filter out the normal aches and pains of running and focus on those that feel like they could be more serious; those that could be evil butterflies.

***

Watching my little Brooke recently, I’ve seen the little things that set off a chain of events leading to disaster. Our (Jess & my) job is to attempt to anticipate which little things, which butterflies will cause the hurricane. Sometimes it’s a single event; sometimes, like many pebbles thrown into a once calm pond, it is many events. The difficulty is knowing which pebbles to catch and which butterfly to squish.

***

Awareness makes us better people, in all things. The more we know, the more likely we can manage to stay calm in the face of adversity, the more likely we make the choices that lead to a desired ending.

Whether it’s protecting my little one or protecting my body from injury, it’s about looking out for the “right” butterfly – and squishing it.

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