Running for our Kids

By: Shelly L. Huhtanen

A few months ago, I received an email about ACT Today! for Military Families hosting their first annual 5k/10k in San Diego. My husband, Mark, and I are big supporters of this remarkable organization. Something in my gut told me that I would regret it if I did not drag Mark over to San Diego to support this event. With my husband deploying very soon, this was going to be our last bonding trip.

Mark and I have never been to California so we had no idea what to expect. I grew up in Alaska and Mark grew up in Montana so we are used to dealing with smaller towns and the thought of traveling around San Diego made us extremely uncomfortable. With that said, we decided that supporting ACT Today! for Military Families outweighed our big city phobias. Once we bought our tickets, there was no turning back.

Karen Driscoll, who did a phenomenal job putting on this incredible event, was another reason for the trip to San Diego. Karen is one of those people that energize you. I want to strive to make a difference or do something great after being around her. She has dedicated her life to advocating for military children with autism and there are so many military families who appreciate all her passionate hard work to ensure our children are not forgotten.

At the race, the grounds were covered with Marines, their families, and other residents from around the area who either had a child with autism or who worked with military children with autism. After the race, I was able to mingle through the crowd and talk to families who were fighting for their child. This was one of the most therapeutic moments for me because I realized it didn’t matter where you lived, if you were a Marine, Mrs. Santa Clarita, or a celebrity, we were all there at that certain place and time for one thing; our children.

I know it may not be possible for everyone to travel to another city to take part in an event, but this experience has taught me to get out there and support our organizations that want to help our children. When you partake in these events, it’s amazing how many people you meet and the types of discussions you may have that will allow you to heal and come to terms with the difficulties in raising a child with autism. What was so gratifying was standing next to a father and having him tell me, “I know how you feel. It can be frustrating, can’t it?” He knew what it was like to want to hear his son’s voice or to talk about planning for his son’s future. It’s scary when there are so many uncertainties in your child’s future, but somehow it wasn’t as scary when I was around three other parents who were right there with me. I didn’t want to leave that day because I had such a strong bond with the parents there. Even though I was not in Texas, on that beach in San Diego I felt like I was home.

That evening, we struck up a conversation with a taxi driver. He had asked us why we were visiting so we opened up about our son, Broden, and how passionate we were about ACT Today! for Military Families. We had a great discussion on autism and we were able to answer some questions he had about the neurological disorder. Once we got to our destination, he turned to us and said, “This ride is on me. Have the money go to your organization on autism.” Mark and I were so moved. San Diego had become our small town. It wasn’t so intimidating after all.

I am happy to say that April 2nd by Fiesta Island, ACT Today! for Military Families was able to raise a significant amount of money to continue to provide grants for our military children with autism. The 5k/10k run will now be an annual event and I am planning to attend again next year. San Diego, you have won me over and to the wonderful families who were there at the event this year, I can’t wait to see you again next year.

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