EJ Autism Foundation In The News:

High-mileage help
Runner raises money to fight autism which has touched her family


Thirty-six thousand people will run the New York City Marathon next week, motivated by approximately 36,000 different reasons. Here is a particularly good one: Bea Huste-Petersen is raising money for the foundation she started last year in the name of her two autistic sons. "I say to people, 'I'm running the marathon; can you help?'" she said. "The marathon is so in-the-news now, and it is the only logical way I could think of raising money. You can't just ask people for money; I wanted to do something to earn it."

It is safe to say she will earn it.

Huste-Petersen, 42, works the graveyard shift as a physician's assistant at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on the East Side of Manhattan. She commutes by car to her home in East Islip. She has a herniated disc in her back and doesn't get enough sleep, raising four children with her husband, Pat, who is employed in computer operations at Dowling College.

The Long Island running community is plenty familiar with Pat Petersen, who in 1989 ran a marathon best of 2:10:04 that was recognized for seven years as the American record while officials wrangled over whether various types of courses were acceptable for record consideration. An Islip High School and Manhattan College graduate, Pat, now 46, finished fourth in the 1984 New York City Marathon and third the following year, still owns the 13th fastest marathon ever run by an American and might still be competing at longer distances except for an episode of racing heartbeat that landed him in the hospital in 1991.

He has atrial fibrillations - racing heartbeat - which he describes as "an electrical problem, a short circuit; not particularly dangerous" and managed with medication. "The doctors said I could keep running. But it ruined my running career." He still runs regularly, five miles a day, five to six days a week, though his last full marathon was in 1993, at 2:25, and he was "just getting slower and slower."

So it is Bea, a Division II all-America middle-distance runner in her days at Kenyon College, who last year decided to take on the 26-mile, 385-yard challenge again to generate awareness and support for the EJ Autism Foundation. "Pat was the darling of LI running," she said, "and that's paid off. And I never realized all my running all these years is for now. People say, 'Wow. She works, she's raising four kids and she's running the marathon; I'll give her some money.'"

She raised $11,000 last year and is up to $9,000 this year. She has seen her son Jack, 5, make remarkable progress through the Young Autistic Program (YAP) at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Medford, so that Jack is now being mainstreamed in kindergarten. And she is hoping for similar results for Eric, 4. (The other Petersen children are Maggie, 7, and Joy, 2.)

Bea is training 60 miles a week, hopeful of running New York in 3:05 or 3:10, which doesn't quite match her marathon personal best of 2:45, on her first try at the distance in 1989. (Pat ran 2:14 that day "on my way down," he said "And he blames me," Bea kidded.) But the plan is to be much faster and more pain free than last year, when her back problems caused her toes to cramp at seven miles and her knees to scream with discomfort at 14 and it took her "four hours, 10 minutes or something to finish," she said.

"I was in agony, but I had $11,000 as my commitment. People give $50 here, $25 there. I cried when I went to the bank to deposit it in the foundation. I was so proud." The idea is to generate attention as well as funds for autistic programs, "to give parents [of autistic children] hope every day. When Jack was diagnosed with autism, I was as lost as I could be. He was such a perfect baby, didn't cry, but he didn't engage with people and we thought he was deaf. I took him to a hearing doctor and I'm thinking, 'Great, now I have to learn sign language.' Now, I wish it were that easy."

Life as marathon: One foot in front of the other.

(To contribute, visit ejautismfoundation.com)

October 29, 2006

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