By Mary Ellen Bogucki

When raising a child with Autism, the highs and lows can be extreme.  This particular time was very difficult and one that had me greatly concerned.

My middle daughter, Kailey was starting college four hours away from home.  In all the excitement of getting Kai ready, I failed to notice the depression my youngest, ASD daughter, Bree was slipping into.  Bree was starting her sophomore year in high school and her older sister was her best friend, her safe person.  Kailey was the one who taught Bree how to play, who kept her constantly engaged when Bree was stimming. Who shared a room with her and was there for Bree no matter what happened.  The transition of her sister leaving was greater than I imagined and Bree began to withdraw from the outside world.  Every day was a battle to get her to school and every evening I arrived home from work to find her asleep.  Doing homework and even eating became a challenge. Never experiencing depression before, I was at a loss as to how to help her.  After months of no improvement and the emergence of panic attacks, our Pediatrician recommended a wonderful therapist and our battle to overcome situational depression and anxiety began.

Now, if you know Bree you know she moves at a very slow pace.  A sense of urgency is non-existent in Bree’s world.   Being a teen, she also chooses to move slower when my instructions include the word “hurry.”  So, you can imagine my surprise, when only a few weeks after starting therapy, Bree came home and announced she had joined the high school track team!  My first thought was humor, “Have they met Bree?”  Really, her only high school detention was for being late to class….repeatedly!  I appreciated the fact that a friend was encouraging Bree to be part of the team, but figured this would be short-lived.

Then my panic set in, Bree wasn’t quitting!  We were finally seeing a glimmer of the old Bree the one before her sister left.  Now, she was adding more to her plate and I worried the every day practices would add anxiety and send her spiraling backwards.  I wanted to keep her away from the black hole she finally was climbing out of and my fear of quicksand became a real threat.  “What if she gets pulled back down?” Bree talked about how hard track was and she was exhausted, but she wouldn’t quit.  “She can’t go back!”  Depression is real and it’s horrible and I didn’t think we could do it again!”  I feared, “What if I can’t do it again? What if I couldn’t pull her out this time?”

I did what I thought was best; I reached out to the Head Coach (Anderson) and asked him not to encourage her.  I explained her anxiety and how this was going to be too much for her.  He assured me she had a spot on the team and he would make Bree his Manager if that was what I wanted.  He didn’t want to see her quit and I was overwhelmed by his kindness.  “Manager, that’s a good plan!” I thought.  If this coach is being nice enough to let her stay, it would be wrong of me to tell her she had to quit.

Well, that lasted as long as the first meet.  Bree came home and said “I don’t want to be Manager; I want to participate, I WANT TO RUN!”  Again, my panic set in.  Again, I shot an email off to Coach Anderson.  “Please don’t encourage my daughter to run!”  By now I am sure he was convinced I was the one with an issue, not Bree.  But, again he humored me and told me not to worry, Bree would be fine.  I thought, “How could he be so confident? How can I trust someone who barely knows her?”  After all, he didn’t know her history or what we had been through.

The day of her first meet arrived and I will admit I was relieved when I couldn’t leave work in time to see her run.  I couldn’t bear to see her fail, it would break my heart.  She called me from the bus and proudly told me “I did it, I ran for the team!  Mom, I’m on a high school team and I did it!”  Slowly I asked, “How did you do?”  Proudly, she announced “I came in last, BUT everyone was so proud of me!  They said I did GREAT!”  She was happy!  She was happy?  She told me how the coaches were proud of her, how her teammates were proud of her and she was proud of herself!  With tears in my eyes, I thought “I am the one with the issue!”  I am spending so much time protecting Bree, that I missed the fact that she is capable of so much more than I give her credit for!”

As the season progressed, Bree moved up a spot.  She was no longer last, but second from last and then third from last.  I remember standing on the side of the track watching her cover her ears, afraid of the sound of the gun going off.  I remember a pit in my stomach as she went to the back of the crowd to start the race.  Why is my daughter putting herself through this, she hates loud noises and she hates crowds.  “Why?”  The answer didn’t come immediately.

That was almost two years ago.  Bree not only stayed on the high school track team, she joined the cross country team too.  Again, I was like “Are you kidding me, what time do we need to be at the high school on Saturday morning?”  You see, while I was over here doing my complaining and worrying, Bree was over there working with some pretty amazing people.  They were four coaches who we now see as angels on earth.  They took Bree out of the Black and put her into the Blue and White…her school track uniform.  Now in her senior year, Bree went from running last to becoming an alternate on the girl’s varsity cross country team.  “Why?  Why was she doing this?”  Bree was doing this because for once in her mainstreamed life she was ACCEPTED.  It no longer mattered if she had Autism and was different.  She was part of a team and they liked her!  Their support, encouragement and friendship gave her the determination and motivation to improve and rise above any challenges she faced along the way.  Being a part of the team filled a void and pushed the darkness farther and farther away.  Now, the black hole is only a past memory, one we thankfully grew from.

I learned many valuable lessons over those two years. A good friend of mine often asks “Who is driving the bus?” I learned it doesn’t always have to be me and it is okay to trust others and let my daughter grow.  I learned I need to listen to my daughter more, she knows herself better than I do.  I learned winning doesn’t always mean being number one.  Some of the greatest wins happen during the race and not when the first person crosses the finish line.  I learned on the road of life the journey can be more important than the destination. I learned to appreciate every gift of kindness you receive, because it just may change your life.  I learned getting up early on my day off can actually be a lot of fun!  Most of all, I learned that angels really do walk on earth sometimes disguised as coaches and to never underestimate the power of kindness.

 

Cary Grove High School Girl’s Track and Cross Country Coaches

Head Coach Mark Anderson; Danica Esquivel; Brad Slupianek; Tom Smith