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Murray Journal

With community support, two Murray teens with autism run in marathon

May 24, 2018 01:04PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Tim Boyle (left) pushes Braxden Shank while his father Scott Shank pushes his brother Jaden at a pep rally at Hartvigsen Elementary School. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | s.delliskave@mycityjournals.com

Sure, there are plenty of brothers who compete in marathons together, but not many who happen to be teenagers. And certainly there are not many teenage marathon competitors who also happen to be autistic. Murray’s 12-year-old Braxden Shank and 15-year-old Jaden Shank competed in their second Salt Lake City Half Marathon on April 21.

You can often find the Shank brothers training with their father, Scott, on the Jordan River Parkway near their home. Both brothers have their own racing jogger, which Scott pushes them in weekly. “Many people will come up and give them high-fives when we jog down the Parkway,” said their father.

When word got around that the boys would be running their 28th race, it caught the attention of Tim Boyle, founder of the nonprofit I Run 4, Inc. This national organization provides partners for people who cannot run, due to physical or developmental conditions, so that they can participate in races across the country. 

Boyle volunteered to pair with Braxden, and Scott took Jaden. Scott and Tim pushed them the full 13.1 miles of the route, from the starting line at the University of Utah to the end at Library Square in downtown Salt Lake City.

“They are the heart, I am the legs,” said Boyle. The tall jogger who hails from Fargo, North Dakota, is also an associate for sporting good retail chain Scheels. The sporting good outlet champions Boyle’s organization and has declared him a “Sponsored Ambassador.” 

Shanks’ mother, Crystal, found Boyle’s group on Facebook and wanted her two sons to join. “I think it is great,” she noted. This year marks the second time that Boyle will race with Braxden. 

Boyle started I Run 4, Inc. in 2013 when he was inspired by a friend with Down syndrome. The nonprofit connects all types of athletes with people who have dreamed of competing but not able to race. This includes children and adults with physical, mental and developmental special needs, as well as those with physical deformities and disorders, like lost limbs. The nonprofit has been featured in Runner’s World and now serves 43,000 members and 20,000 matches collectively, in all 50 states and overseas. 

When Braxden and Jaden’s school caught word of their racing, a pep rally was in order. They are in seventh and ninth grade at the Hartvigsen School in Taylorsville, a school serving about 200 students with special needs, ages 5 to 17.

Students came to the April 20 rally with posters cheering the Shank brothers. One such poster sported a large picture of actor Christopher Walken stating, “This is no time to be Walken!” The Scheels store in Sandy provided T-shirts. The entire student body was then invited to do a practice lap outside the school with Boyle and the Shanks. 

“I was looking for something we can do together,” remarked Scott. According to him, the boys love being outside and especially being around the race crowds. Scott’s employer, Arctic Circle, helped him acquire the specially designed racer in 2016. 

“Two people who were once strangers can achieve something that was not possible alone and experience the profound power of encouragement and support,” Boyle said. “It is about more than miles; it’s about building relationships and bolstering support systems.”