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 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 a broken ankle during the marathon around mile 6. Yet, he was determined to finish and he did. Despite his injury, he qualified for the Boston Marathon, completing the 26.2 mile race in 4 hours and 27 minutes.
On December 2, 2018, John ran CIM once again to upgrade his time for Boston and finished in 3:17!
John WILL run in the 2019 Boston Marathon on April 15th, seeded in his 2018 CIM finish time of 3:17. 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 what he was passionate about. However, when our children find their gifts, all I can say is watch out world, here they come.
Community Champion - KCRA 3 News
Story by Melanie Hunter
CBS13 News with Macy Jenkins, click here.
2018 CIM36 result, click here.
John's Story - 2016
Graduation Day - 22 years old
John officially aged out of school and walked the stage in May of 2016.