As runners are striding the 26.2 miles from Staten Island to Central Park for the 43rd annual New York City Marathon today, one family waiting at the finish line couldn’t be prouder of what their two sons are accomplishing. Identical twins Alex and Jamie Schneider, both 23, are severely autistic, but running has given them joy and relief from the frustrations of not being able to communicate. “[Alex ] is born to run. I have to cheat on the off-days when we don’t run together,” his running coach, Kevin McDermott, told ABC News. “I’ll sneak in four or five miles just so I can stay in good enough shape [to keep up with him].” For Jamie Schneider, who runs with his dad, hitting the pavement is about the experience. Both boys have to run with the assistance of a guide, but when it comes to running styles, the twins approach the sport differently. “Jamie is so sensitive,” Allan Schneider said, “even if he sees you frowning on the phone, or someone frowns in the room, he picks up on it and gets very upset himself.”
Jamie, who is less task-oriented, runs for pleasure. When feeling good, he likes to run races near young women on the course and high-five people at water stops. He lacks Alex’s speed, but he can easily run for more than six hours at a time, with energy to spare. Jamie is also prone to erratic behavior; sounds like the starter’s gun can startle him, so he listens to an iPod.
Alex is more focused and less hindered by tics and outbursts. He has the look of an elite runner: slim, sinewy legs and a relaxed but unflinching stare. He was competitive from the start, running his first marathon, the 2010 Hamptons Marathon, in 3 hours 27 minutes 47 seconds.
The twins are running for the Association for Science in Autism Treatment to raise money and awareness for the non-profit dedicated to the education and care of people with autism.“They don’t have a normal life, so [running] is something that really, I think, connects with them, and makes them happy,” Allan Schneider said.
Alex and Jamie run with identification tags on their wrists and sneakers that include their diagnosis and contact information. They each run races with at least one guide to help keep a steady pace, provide water, avoid hazards, navigate crowds and deal with their reactions to noise and other distractions. The guides use simple commands and hand signals to keep them focused.
The family began running on the beach when the boys were about 8; Special Olympics races followed when the boys were teenagers. The twins gained more experience with the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program, a club for mainstream and challenged athletes.