By Dee Marks
Dee Marks adopted her son, CJ, through the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program in Ohio.
My son, CJ, has always been a runner.
Sadly, running used to be CJ’s way to escape. He spent almost seven years in foster care. That can be a traumatic experience for any child. Emotions run the gamut of loss, abandonment, uncertainty and lack of control. CJ also has autism and was non-verbal when I first met him at age eight. Imagine the pain and confusion of having those emotions and not being able to talk to anyone about what is going on in your head. Running away was how CJ showed that he was scared and overwhelmed.
I adopted CJ on his ninth birthday through the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. Those first few years were challenging, particularly for CJ who couldn’t control the “fight or flight” instinct within him. I used to have huge STOP signs on my doors as a visual reminder for him not to run outside and into the street.
But CJ was one of the lucky ones. Through adoption, he finally had a safe, permanent home and a mom who loved him unconditionally. He began to understand that I would be with him through the good and bad times. I was not going to leave him like many others had through the years.
In 7th grade, CJ joined the middle school track team. I was nervous, but not my son. When CJ’s feet hit the track, he began to run…and run…and run! He wasn’t the fastest, but he could run much longer than his peers. His teammates praised him constantly, saying things like, “CJ, you ran two more miles than I did today! You don’t stop!” My beaming son would simply respond, “He likes to run!”
During a track meet in 8th grade, CJ wasn’t feeling well, so I pulled him out of his first event. He was devastated. He insisted on competing in his second race. After talking with the team trainer, I gave in. We positioned adults at all four corners of the track to help CJ if he needed it, and I escorted him to his lane on the track. The gun went off, and CJ ran. It wasn’t pretty, but everyone could see how determined he was to finish. CJ was the last one on the track and still had two laps to go when suddenly, I heard loud cheering from the stands. It wasn’t just our team. Runners from the other school were cheering for CJ too!
It’s difficult to explain all that I felt for CJ in that moment: pride, concern and immense love. I was amazed at his perseverance and in awe of the smile that lit up his face as he ran into my arms at the finish line. Running has been such a positive force in CJ’s life.
Today, CJ is starting 10th grade and has started practice with his cross-country team. I am excited to see what this year holds for him. Through running, CJ has grown so much over the past seven years. Running keeps him healthy physically and emotionally. And, he is calmer and more focused at school.
My handsome son is also a social magnet. He still struggles with communication, but people can read his smile and know that they are in the presence of someone who wants to connect with them each day.
CJ and I have also talked about him participating in his first half marathon in the next year!
Running used to be a way for CJ to escape. Now, he is running toward goals, friendships and a healthy lifestyle. All I can say is, “Run, CJ! Run!”