For three years, Sheena Leedham and Blaine Tate have been training together.
Sheena has been the teacher, while Blaine has been the student.
Blaine, a near 14-year-old young man has used fitness training as a way to cope with some of the social anxieties he experiences due to his autism diagnosis. The story behind his first competitive race is enlightening and encouraging.
Through his training and perseverance with his goal of running in a 5k, Blaine became a teacher for many.
His parents Dave and Traci Tate own and operate Elitefts, a London-based company which runs the gamut in fitness training — instruction, competition, clothing, equipment.
In Sheena, Blaine has not only had a trainer, but an encourager and a friend who sometimes needs to help him cope with various surroundings.
“Our training goals are to have fun, play, move, get stronger, and expand our social network,” Sheena said. “A typical training day is segmented to incorporate conditioning, strength training, fine motor skills, play, games, sport, rest, and food.”
While training has remained the same, the focus shifted some following a trip to the Columbus Zoo in 2015.
Sheena and Blaine made a day of it — staying constantly in motion in the 90 degree heat. Before they knew it, the pair had walked seven miles. They got to enjoy the animals while covering a tremendous amount of ground.
That is when the idea of Blaine working toward participating in the Zoo Run Run 2016 5k was born. They would work upon that great day at the zoo as a motivational memory.
“The zoo was familiar, fun, and a place where he showed competency,” Sheena said. “Sandwiching this with the idea of running three miles, (which) paled in comparison with our seven-mile trek.”
Sheena then presented Blaine with a 14-week training game plan. Because of his love of the zoo, Blaine began to realize that the pain of the race would be washed away when he considered the gain he would have of spending the rest of the day visiting with all of the different animals the zoo had to offer.
While the words ‘race’ and ‘squats’ were early on triggers of negative feelings and actions, over time Blaine learned to not only lose fear in them, but embrace them.
The training incorporated things such as weighted-vest walks, elongated running, and med-ball sprint work.
“I’ve found movement and strength to have a positive effect on all people, especially individuals with autism,” Sheena said. “Movement is an integral part of our existence. If this is abandoned how can progress be made in all the other areas we’re looking to develop?”
The day of the race in mid-May, the 3.1 mile run only served as a warm-up for Blaine. He and Sheena spent an additional seven hours enjoying the animals and atmosphere of the zoo.
“My hope is our story inspires trainers and parents working with children and adults with autism to continue to differentiate training, move outside of comfort, create and commit to challenge, use interest to guide your decision-making, and celebrate small and grand progression along the way,” Sheena said. “The results will be extraordinary.”