By Jim Painter
For the Troy Daily News
PLEASANT HILL — Overcoming obstacles faced by those diagnosed with autism can create a new and positive world for many people. At Newton Local School, teamwork has brought a young man into an unfamiliar world in which he is now flourishing and plans to “finish the race.”
On Saturday, seventh-grader Ethan Via will be running in the Miami County Invitational cross country meet in West Milton as a member of the Newton Indians squad. He has a personal challenge he hopes to meet.
Via (pronounced Vi), has had minimal experience in athletic competition, according to his mother, Mandy Via. Motivated by his brother and current teammate, eighth-grader, Owen, Via hopes to overcome his past, geographically anyway, in his first year of competition.
Mandy said, “For everyone involved, we don’t see a disability, we see the ability that’s in him. Just because he has been diagnosed we don’t let that stop us.”
Via said her son enjoyed Owens’s involvement with the team. Seeing the team run through the village during practice caught his attention.
“It’s important that we focus on the child and know that he wanted to be involved. He isn’t athletically inclined, but we knew he could do more,” said Mandy, referring to her and her husband, Jason.
Via said she approached Superintendent Pat McBride about Ethan joining the team. Soon Athletic Director Gavin Spitler and Cross Country Coach Aubrey Hughes were involved. The wheels to develop a plan began to turn.
Mandy said her son struggles with “situation awareness” meaning difficulty understanding the dangers of running into traffic and other cognitive safety issues. The plan called for someone to accompany Ethan as he ran to keep him focused on the race and overall awareness of his surroundings.
The word began to spread about the need of a running partner. It was Catherine Geiger, an intervention specialist at Newton, who quickly “spoke up and wanted to do it” according to Mandy.
Via also noted encouragement from Lisa Taylor, a classroom aide, who has been with Ethan for many years, was paramount in his positive reaction.
“He (Ethan) was ready to be on the team. It was really exciting for us. He’s been writing (events) on the calendar, so we knew he had an interest,” she said.
Ethan and Geiger ride the team bus to events. Teammates and even runners from other schools encourage Ethan during practice and events. Mandy said he is a member of the team in all aspects.
Saturday Ethan will have to opportunity to put his first race behind him.
On Aug. 27, in his first race, at the Bob Shul Invitation meet in West Milton, officials were aware that Ethan would most likely be trailing the field at some distance. It was agreed to shorten the course, only for him, long after most runners had finished.
“His time was 31 minutes and he was unable to finish the course. He has now cut his time to 27 minutes and they no longer shorten the course. That first time was the only time (short course). Ethan says he is going to finish the race on the same course this weekend,” Mandy said of her son.
On Sept. 14, Via, Geiger and Hughes were recognized for their effort before the board of education.
McBride, citing high emotion as the need for a prepared statement, said in part, “Ethan Via has some challenges and perhaps bigger hurdles to cross than other students in his class. When he decided to run cross country, he and his coaches probably knew that there would be no first place trophies or medals. But there would be a sense of accomplishment and the reward of pursuing the challenge to improve day in and day out”.
Referring to Ethan’s first meet in West Milton, McBride said, “After finishing, his comments left his coaches in tears of joy over what he said. He said something like it was ‘the greatest day ever’.”
McBride continued, “He could have stopped there with that accomplishment but he didn’t. He has been running along with his teacher, mentor, and aide every day in practice trying to improve his time. Yesterday, Ethan ran the entire two-mile race, and finished more than three minutes faster than he did his previous race.”
Mandy said her son is greatly enthused by those cheering him along the course. “He has to have help focusing on the race because he wants to say Hi to everybody when they cheer him.”
Via stated it has taken the entire “team” of people to make this a positive experience for Ethan.
“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about knowing everyone is unique in this world.
Reach Jim Painter at [email protected]