Jonathan Brunot has competed in nine marathons.
STAATSBURG, N.Y. — Competing in nine marathons is a major accomplishment for any runner.
But imagine taking on that challenge while also being challenged as a person with autism.
Twenty-four year old Jonathan Brunot, a Dutchess County resident who is an adult consumer at the Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburg, has done just that. Brunot, a young man who didn’t even like running until about six years ago, has become an inspiration and role model for other youngsters and adults dealing with the disorder.
“Jonathan came to us at Anderson about two years ago,” said Amanda Coons, a behavior analyst and Special Olympics coordinator at the center. “We are a very small part of his story. Jonathan just thoroughly enjoys running.”
Brunot was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 1/2 years old and has extremely limited verbal and comprehension skills, along with hyperactivity.
His mother, Olga, was the person who decided to get Brunot involved in running. About six years ago, she enrolled Brunot in the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program in Long Island. The program helps special needs individuals take part in running, walking and wheelchair racing.
“His mother was the one who got him going,” Coons said. “She’s always been there to cheer him on and give him so much support. I’ve found her to be a wonderful woman and mother.”
At first, Brunot could not complete one lap on the track. His older brother, Verlaine, and his mother, did what they could to keep Brunot moving on the track when he seemed as though he didn’t want to. It was a meeting with Vincent Del-Cid, a running coach in New York City, that somehow sparked Brunot’s interest in running. In a three-mile run, with Del-Cid running alongside, Brunot finished without stopping.
After that experience, there appears to be no way to slow him down. “Jonathan is a big ball of energy,” said John DeLorenzo, another Special Olympics coordinator at Anderson. “His peers are in awe of what he does. He is breaking down barriers and opening doors.”
Brunot has lost about 25 pounds since he started running and now averages about 25-30 miles per week. His coaches in the city train with him and run alongside of him in every long distance race.
While the most common danger in running is either an injury or dealing with terrain or traffic, Brunot almost experienced a much more serious threat as a participant at this year’s Boston Marathon. “The time that the bomb at the finish line went off is very close to his normal time for a marathon,” Coons said. “Fortunately, his mother had made an arrangement with a news reporter to stop with Jonathan along the way and he was actually about 10 minutes away from finishing. If he hadn’t stopped, he and his family could have been at the finish. Jonathan doesn’t even know what happened.”
Brunot has become a celebrity of sorts at Anderson, especially as its track star. Because of his challenge, Brunot doesn’t have a competitive drive, never doubts himself and refuses to quit. “Our program (at Anderson) is one of the biggest in the state for Special Olympics,” DeLorenzo said. “Jonathan runs in a bunch of track events and this year, he plans to start swimming. He was voted as the Most Inspirational Athlete last year.”
At the recent Special Olympics Spring Games in West Point, Brunot got to run with the torch to kick off the opening ceremonies, surrounded by cadets from the United States Military Academy. “Every athlete is paired with a cadet and Jonathan’s was so impressed with his running and his spirit,” Coons said. “Watching him run at West Point was great,” DeLorenzo added. “His family was right there and their involvement in his life has been so important.”
Coons said Brunot is setting the bar for other athletes with emotional and developmental challenges.
“He makes running look so easy,” she said. “He doesn’t realize it, but he leads by his example. He is able to do such amazing things that the other guys can’t help but to be inspired by him.”