Valerie Rosen, Compass coordinator, has been running marathons for many years and has helped Achilles program runners, who are athletes with special needs.

“Training for and ultimately competing in and finishing a marathon is undeniably an extraordinary achievement. It is a challenge that pushes any individual to the absolute brink physically and emotionally. Any marathoner faces countless crises of faith in his or her decision to persevere, unavoidable injuries and a world of discomfort. It is said that the greater the challenge, the greater the accomplishment. Every runner brings his or her own challenges to the starting line. It is, and always will be, a true test of character; it is about enduring the unendurable.

For many years, I have had the distinct pleasure of sharing the experience with a few very, very special runners from the Achilles program. In 2012, I trained with an extraordinary young man, Matthew, who has autism. Matthew participates in the JCCA Compass Project in Long Island and I am a social worker at the JCCA Compass Project in Westchester.

I first met Matthew at an airport when we were both going to Israel as part of a JCCA Birthright trip. His dad asked me if I could make sure Matt got out a few times for a run because this eased his anxiety. Matt and I ran together in Israel and then when we came home, we arranged to run together in preparation for Matt’s first marathon. Matt’s goal was to train and complete the 2012 NYC Marathon. Due to Hurricane Sandy, his dream was delayed a year but he kept his focus and trained even harder for 2013. Mathew and I worked on his nutrition, training and ultimately, hand in hand, we ran the 26.2 miles of the 2013 NYC Marathon.

We experienced the millions of cheering fans, the different neighborhoods, the different smells, the different terrain, and the mental and physical changes.

He ran beautifully and finished with a smile from ear to ear. Mathew faces obstacles daily but he now knows that regardless of the day’s challenges, he has overcome even greater challenges. It is an accomplishment that will never be take away from him and that he will always cherish. Matthew said, “Running in the Marathon freed my life, it made me feel like a super athlete.”