Sports

How This Special Olympics Athlete Races Past Expectations 

by Christine Yu

June 21, 2018

Andy Bryant was only supposed to run for 90 minutes.

After all, he was in Albuquerque, running at elevation alongside some of the top middle distance runners in the country. Plus, it was snowing and cold.

But when the group reached the turnaround point, he said he wanted to keep going.

The 36-year-old from Woodinville, Washington, has autism spectrum disorder and has heard a chorus of “no’s” and “he can’t” throughout his life. But, thanks to running, he’s racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, finishing 30 marathons — including nine Boston Marathons.

He ended up running for two hours in Albuquerque with the Brooks Beasts Track Club as part of their training camp earlier this year.

“He’s very disciplined in his approach to training. He has intention behind what he does and structure to what he does,” says Danny Mackey, head coach of the Beasts. “If you ask him to do something, he just does it. The guy can work hard for a long time.”

It’s this head-down, grind-it-out work ethic and up-for-anything attitude that Mackey believes has made Bryant a successful athlete and will help him excel at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in July.

Bryant is one of Brooks’ newest additions to their roster and one of two Special Olympic athletes sponsored by the running footwear and apparel company. He first started running with his mother, Colleen, and late stepfather and later joined the high school track team despite the coach’s initial reservations that he might not keep up.

Andy Bryant. Photo courtesy of Brooks.

Not only did he run well, thanks to his natural gift for endurance, but everything about running seemed to lift him up spiritually — the workouts, competition, and community of runners. Running was his ticket to being able to communicate, to feel accepted and to be part of a group, Colleen says.

“One of the major issues with Andy’s disability is the ability to connect and make friendships,” Colleen says, adding that it can be hard at times to have a conversation or make eye contact.

“With running, he was able to find a way to communicate,” she says. “Even though he couldn’t function well intellectually in the classroom and had literacy issues, he could run and talk about running.”

Plus, there’s something about the way sport breaks down barriers and creates connections. Under normal circumstances, gathering Bryant together with 12 professional runners might feel forced and awkward, but the shared interest and talent for the sport has provided a common bond between Bryant and the other members of the Brooks Beasts team.

“As soon as you bring sport into it, all of a sudden you have this guy who’s just training with them and they’re playing games on a Friday night. It’s normal, natural, and authentically fun,” Mackey says. “How else do you get that sort of community except through running?”

Bryant works hard at his craft, too. He says his favorite distance is the marathon because it’s challenging and “you do a lot of training.” He plans on running his 10th Boston Marathon in 2019. And he’s also thinking of testing his endurance and signing up for an ultra.

Mackey said that his elite athletes have been inspired by how tough Bryant is and his passion for running.

He’s slated to run the 3,000-meter and 10,000-meter races for Team Washington at the USA Games.

As for his chances for medaling?

“He’s at least going to medal,” says Mackey. “I would be surprised if he doesn’t win.”

Share image courtesy of Brooks.

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