Vanessa Bieker, Founder
Fly Brave was created in January of 2016 in response to a need for continued support for adults with developmental disabilities following the school years. Fly Brave started with 5 families and today serves over 250. Over the last 3 years, Fly Brave has established a community based employment training program (landscaping), pubic speaking network of self advocates, social skills workshops, numerous events (proms, karaoke, Fashion Shows, Talent Show, Art Shows), a successful microbusiness (t-shirt shop), fitness programs, police involvement, art programs, and community integration through volunteerism.
When my son John, who has non-verbal autism, was aging out of the school system at 22 years old, I began searching for programs to continue his growth and steps to independence into adulthood. Coming up short, I left my career behind to build a foundation for John and others like him in our community, to build upon their strengths and talents to live a purpose filled life. I could not do this alone. It is with a village consisting of a dedicated Board of Directors, community members, and parent volunteers who share the same vision, that we celebrate our third year of operation.
You can say we grew up together as I was just 22 years old when he was diagnosed at 18 months of age. 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 and his dream got bigger, to run in the Boston Marathon. He began running 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 ran the 2019 Boston Marathon on April 15th, in 3:52; sponsored by Total Nutrition and coached by Darren Morgan, Fleet Feet Racing.
John reached Boston and he isn't done. He has turned his passion for running into a professional career. His next set of races are new challenges. He will take on his first mountain, the Revel Big Bear Marathon on November 9th, in prep for his first 50 miler. One year from running Boston, he will enter a journey of 50 miles on April 4, 2020 in the AR50 race.
He receives messages of encouragement and appreciation from all over the world. His story is one of hope and inspiration and his message remains the same, he is first a runner, who happens to have non-verbal autism. He holds a job, has found love with girlfriend Drea and is a professional athlete. Non-verbal autism doesn't define.
John's words to you (as he uses sign language) is this; "You can do anything you put your mind to, regardless of your disability so NEVER GIVE UP!"
You can find John on Instagram at @runrunJohn; Facebook at Run John Run and Twitter at @flybrave4autism.
John's Media coverage can be found below; with special thanks to CBS13, Good Day Sac, ABC10, KCRA3 and Fox40.
Community Champion KCRA3
Our journey, from the beginning.