I began this entry after an hour and a half of running along the Brisbane River in the sunshine. Though I’ve been running for nearly twenty years, I haven’t exerted myself in this way since I first began, when I was 13. Then, I was prompted by a body-image disorder and an obliterating crush on a boy, but this time the reasons are much healthier: raising money for my employer, Autism Queensland, in this year’s Bridge to Brisbane. I’ve never been good in team sports as meningitis buggered my balance and coordination, so the exercise that I do is always solitary. Swimming I love for the feel of water on my skin, cycling I enjoy because I am besotted with my bicycle, and running is great because it’s the only time I ever stop thinking. Instead of trying make connections in stories, or linking up concepts, I concentrate on the pain in my lungs and my knees, the rhythm of my feet hitting concrete and grass, and of pacing myself so I don’t hit the wall too quickly.
I’m by no means a natural athlete. When I did athletics training after school I was often amazed by the ease with which the girls sprinted around the track while I had to push myself hard to cover the same distance. However, what I lacked in ability, I made up for with stamina and sheer bloody-mindedness.
It was also while running that I fell in love with Australia. Every afternoon, after school, I would run the perimeter of the paddocks of our property. In winter, this meant running in the cold and the dark, but the air was dense and rich from the settling dew. On the weekend I would take to the hills. On summer afternoons the sun would pound on my shoulders and pull sweat from my skin, but it also drew out the scent of eucalyptus and the cloying smell of gum blossoms. There were wild goats, and magpies that divebombed, and the solid block of sound from the cicadas. To a lonely 13 year old with a disability who was having difficulty adjusting to adolescence, it was a haven.
I still have the drive that girl used to learn social skills, get herself a career and live overseas, and I’m using it again to run for charity.
‘Why don’t you just walk?’ Sister asked.
‘Oh no,’ I replied. ‘You don’t understand. If there’s a challenge, I have to rise to it.’
And of course, running 10ks is nothing compared to the struggle kids with autism endure just to get through life. Autism is a social impairment, which makes it difficult for kids with the disability to read social cues and facial expressions. They are often isolated, lonely and subject to bullying, which leads to depression and mental distress. They sometimes have sensory issues which means they can’t, for example, filter sound in a classroom, so they are overwhelmed by hearing every sound around them and can’t concentrate on the teacher’s voice, so their education suffers. If they can’t learn social skills, nor acquire a decent education, their options in life are drastically reduced.
Autism Queensland desperately needs resources to help people with autism in Queensland, so I ask all my readers to donate generously to this cause here. I will write an update on how my knees and calves are faring in a few weeks.