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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Expressing Excellence—By way of Sports activities

Young man smiling and running.

Kennet Lefkovic

With out saying a phrase, Kennet Lefkovic has been sending an essential message concerning the energy and talents of individuals with mental disabilities—whether or not it’s on the bike observe, marathon route or out on the open water. 

He’s been a formidable and hard-working athlete for years. However now, with an IRONMAN 70.3 and a full 140.6-mile IRONMAN beneath his belt, Kennet has soared as considered one of a number of Particular Olympics athletes with autism who’ve been breaking obstacles in endurance sports activities. 

And—although Particular Olympics celebrates athletes with autism day-after-day—that is World Autism Month. So let’s shine a light-weight on these superior achievers with autism!

Kennet’s newest victories got here throughout a busy bunch of months, and after plenty of laborious work and coaching. A full IRONMAN is a grueling race that calls for a 2.4-mile open-water swim, a 112-mile bike journey, and a 26.2-mile run. With information Jeff Fejfar swimming, driving and working alongside him, Kennet completed the race in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 56 seconds.

In truth, Kennet has reportedly set a world report IRONMAN time for athletes with an mental incapacity with out bodily impairment. As Jeff says, ”Everybody has obstacles in life, however … if you happen to set a aim, encompass your self with supportive individuals, plan out a plan of action, and keep targeted, there’s a nice probability of success!”

And Kennet’s not the one athlete with autism breaking obstacles: fellow Particular Olympics athletes Jonathan Sady and Daniel Peacock additionally efficiently took on the IRONMAN Florida at Panama Metropolis Seashore that day. Daniel accomplished the total course with no information—and is believed to be the world’s second athlete with autism to take action. 

Young woman smiling.

Adrienne Bunn

Additionally lately, two different Particular Olympics athletes competed in—and accomplished—a full IRONMAN on the 2023 World IRONMAN Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Adrienne Bunn and Marlynne Stutzman not solely completed the race, they established some extra data alongside the best way.

Eighteen-year-old Adrienne completed first in her division and is now listed because the youngest particular person with autism to finish the race (she’d already kicked off a profitable yr by finishing the IRONMAN 70.3 the day after her 18th birthday). Three weeks later, she ran the New York Marathon, ending in 3:51:59. 

Marlynne, in the meantime, is named the primary particular person with autism to run each the Boston Marathon AND end a full IRONMAN. And they’re each listed as the primary feminine Particular Olympics athletes to finish an IRONMAN. 

“Autism isn’t a incapacity; it’s my superpower.”

Marlynne Stutzman

This new tremendous energy is changing into acknowledged all through endurance sports activities. When Kennet, Jonathan and Marlynne accomplished the IRONMAN 70.3 in Maryland—1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike journey, 13.1-mile half marathon—together with fellow Particular Olympics athlete Chris Nikic, they grew to become the biggest contingent of athletes with mental incapacity to race an IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon to this point. 

Young man coming out of the water after a swim

Jonathan Sady

Beth Atnip, who’s Sr Vice President of International Operations for The IRONMAN Group, referred to as it a “historic day for athletes competing with an mental incapacity.” She added, “All they wanted was a possibility to indicate what they’re able to doing, and it was nothing in need of wonderful.”

There was a time when individuals thought athletes with mental disabilities and/or autism didn’t have the stamina and focus to achieve endurance sports activities. Then got here the Particular Olympics triathlon pilot program within the early 2010s, which led to the primary Particular Olympics World Video games triathlon in Los Angeles. Then in 2018, Particular Olympics Florida began its personal triathlon pilot program. Chris, Kennet, Jonathan and Adrienne have been greater than prepared to hitch up—and see what they may do.

In a world the place individuals with mental disabilities are sometimes under-estimated, Chris Nikic made headlines in 2020 when he grew to become the primary particular person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN. Since then, Chris has continued to be a pioneer in endurance sports activities occasions all over the world, together with the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i in 2022.


After Kennet was recognized with autism at age 3 and there have been indicators that speech may be a problem, his dad and mom steered him towards sports activities. As his mom, Edita, recollects: “I hoped sports activities would open up a door to the world for him—and it did.”

Kennet began with swimming after which tennis, snowboarding, skating, bowling, and so on. “By age 10, he’d mastered all the person sports activities,” says Edita. 

Ultimately, by means of the competitors and camaraderie, Kennet started to pay extra consideration to others, although communication stays troublesome. At school, he acquired every kind of optimistic recognition—and constructed confidence to tackle extra aggressive occasions. “They revered him quite a bit,” says his mom, who emphasised from an early age: “No matter you begin, you will need to end.” 

“When he’s competing, he provides 100%,” says mother, Edita.

Young man racing on his bike.

Jonathan Sady

For Jonathan, who has ADHD along with autism, the toughest a part of coaching was studying to decelerate. His mom, Anne, says Jonathan was used to sprinting—which works for a brief course, not a 140+-mile swimming/biking/working marathon. “You might want to tempo your self so you might have the power to final the gap. It is tremendous laborious entering into to the occasion realizing you could be on the market for as much as 17 hours.”

Did anybody forged doubts on whether or not these athletes might truly accomplish an IRONMAN 70.3, a lot much less a full IRONMAN? “Nearly everybody”—recollects Anne Sady, who admits to being a bit skeptical as properly. The very best half? Says Anne: “Coaching and socializing with others having the identical dream and objectives and sharing your successes and failures in a secure setting.

Adrienne says, “I’m certain there have been individuals who questioned my skill to complete, however I used to be surrounded by individuals who inspired me and believed in me.” She provides, “I labored laborious to show the doubters unsuitable.”

One of many hardest components of coaching for Adrienne, who’s ending up highschool, was discovering a steadiness between college and follow. “Coaching was a full time job.” 

Young man cheering with his arms up as he finishes a race.

Daniel Peacock

Picture by Walter Poole

Daniel additionally needed to regulate to search out sufficient coaching time. He has a full-time job with the native Faculty Board, plus finding out for his GED and volunteering at an area museum. However he had essential assist from triathlon teammates, mentors and enthusiastic coaches. “I’m very fortunate to have a lot love and assist,” he says.

As for Marlynne, she simply loves coaching and staying in prime situation, so she’s already waiting for her subsequent marathons and particularly extra open-water swims. As she places it, “Everybody calls me ‘The Fish’,”—including, “Particular Olympics gave me confidence about all I can do, so I need to hold exhibiting individuals with disabilities they will do that too. Strive your finest and dwell out your goals.”


Young woman running.

Marlynne Stutzman

Marlynne’s enthusiasm and ambitions are hovering—and she or he reveals no signal of stopping: since 2022, she’s medaled at Particular Olympics USA Video games, completed the Boston Marathon and Atlanta Marathon; represented Particular Olympics Florida at a global triathlon in Slovakia—along with, in fact, the IRONMAN 70.3 and full IRONMAN. Her future objectives embrace swimming from San Francisco to Alcatraz and working within the New York Marathon; barely nearer to residence, she would possibly even strive a swim round Key West. 

Adrienne is planning to compete in additional 70.3 IRONMAN races (in Tennessee and Kentucky), so she will be able to follow racing with no information. Her aim is to turn out to be an impartial athlete. She is ready to listen to again about working the NYC marathon once more, plus the Berlin Marathon in early fall. Adrienne’s largest aim (to this point) is to qualify for the 2028 USA Olympic triathlon workforce.

Jonathan is doing extra half IRONMAN occasions, plus planning one other full IRONMAN at Panama Metropolis Seashore.  He continues to do half marathons and is now exploring biking races. And he’s maintaining with Particular Olympics swimming, biking, golf, stand-up paddleboard (and has even turn out to be a licensed coach) and, in fact, triathlon.

Daniel, who’s been doing triathlons for 17 years, can be keen to maintain up the tempo. He desires to proceed racing in IRONMAN 70.3 occasions, with the occasional full IRONMAN. He is additionally prepared to assist Particular Olympics increase triathlon in Florida—and encourage extra athletes to push their limits. Different objectives embrace racing in an off-road Xterra triathlon—with mountain bikes!

Man and young woman standing side by side showing off medals.

Adrienne Bunn along with her coach and information, Doug Guthrie

And Kennet continues to coach when he can, whilst he waits to listen to again on yet one more full IRONMAN—the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii. In the meantime, he is in coaching mode for the Problem Roth race in Germany this July.

Every of those achievers has realized—alot—by means of their coaching. Have they got any pointers they’d recommendation they’d wish to share for others with autism. 

Says Anne Sady, “Our recommendation to everyone seems to be, no matter pursuit you endeavor to do, encompass your self with like minded individuals who need to allow you to succeed. Additionally, have enjoyable combining your ardour along with your goals.  Discover your tribe like Jon did and comply with your coronary heart.”

Adrienne says, “By no means let your diagnoses sluggish you down! Encompass your self with individuals who assist your objectives, and be sure you are doing one thing that you simply love doing.” 

Daniel sums all of it up succinctly: “You are able to do it! Consider in your self!”

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