Vanessa Bieker, Founder
I started Fly Brave in 2016 after seeing a need when my son John, who has non-verbal autism, was aging out of the school system at 22 years old. I began searching for employment opportunities that met his interests, social outlets, and community involvement to continue his growth and steps to independence into adulthood. I could not do this alone as a solo mission. It is with a dedicated Board of Directors and community of volunteers that we celebrate our third year of operation.
You can say we grew up together as I was a young 22 year old mom when he was diagnosed at 18 months old. Although I was a single mom who worked full time and attended college at night, my quest to fill every free hour with giving John a purpose filled life was a priority. When he was diagnosed, I went through a roller coaster ride of emotions. However, I didn't sit there long. I got up and became pro-active in making sure he experienced everything life had to offer. I joined a parent support group where I met a therapist who told me the best thing I could do for him was to immerse him in the world; to give him every life experience possible to help him navigate through the world of autism. I took that information to heart and over the next 22 years we would become explorers.
We found his gift of running in 2014 when we were out for a walk and stumbled upon a high school track. John experienced the normal pains of puberty and our evening strolls gave him a sense of calm. However, this time he was different. After running around that track several times, his anxiety was lessened and instead of getting up throughout the night, he slept a full 8 hours uninterrupted.
He joined the Sacramento County Chargers Special Olympics Track and Field team and wowed the community with his 5 minute mile. He went on to run in 5/10k races, half marathons, 20 milers and eventually his first full marathon, CIM, (California International Marathon), on Dec 3, 2017, in hopes to Boston qualify.
John sustained an injury during the marathon. What we thought was a sprained ankle would later be diagnosed as a broken ankle. However, he did not give up. He was determined to finish and he did. He ran 9 minute miles despite his injury completing the race in 4 hours and 27 minutes.
Although we initially believed that he had to run the marathon in 3 hours to BQ (Boston Qualify), it was later discovered by his friend Lisa, part of the marathon pace team, that he had a delayed time of 6 hours, with his autism diagnosis. He was officially accepted via US Mail in October 2018.
John WILL run in the 2019 Boston Marathon on April 15th. He is sponsored by Total Nutrition and coached by Darren Morgan, Fleet Feet Racing.
I couldn't foresee this decades ago. It took years to find out what he was passionate about. However, when our children find their gifts, all I can say is watch out world, here they come.
2018 Boston Announcement
CBS13 with Macy Jenkins, click here.
2017 Race Day Coverage
John's story by Ananda Rochita, ABC10 News, click here.
John's story by Cambi Brown, CBS13 News, click here.
Graduation Day - 22 years old.
John officially aged out of school and walked the stage in May of 2016.