By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CAMANCHE — Stephen Rhodes didn’t know if he would be able to keep his promise to his son, Dillon, on Saturday.
But as he crossed the finish line first at the Strides for Clinton County Autism 5K race, throwing his hands in the air with elation, he knew he made good on his word.
“I really wanted to win for Dillon,” Stephen said. “I told him in the beginning, ‘I’m going to win for you,’ and I did.”
Dillon and thousands of others like him suffer from autism, one of the fastest growing serious developmental disabilities in the United States. Saturday’s event aimed to shine light on the condition and raise money for programs throughout Clinton County.
Organizers were shocked to see the amount of support they received at the fourth annual 5K race and family fun walk.
“It has been very overwhelming today,” Strides for Clinton County Autism Chairwoman Lori Bigwood said. “Our goal was to get 800 participants and we came in with 867 registered this year.”
Those participants were graced with sunshine during the race and family walk and as each one crossed the finish line, applause erupted for a job well done.
Whether they were walking for a loved one or racing for a friend, the 800-plus people were all there to raise awareness for the challenges faced by those with autism.
Jennifer Chapman isn’t directly affected by autism but her support came for her friend’s son, Justin.
“I’ve never participated in this before but I wanted to come out for Justin,” said Chapman. “We’re already talking about doing it next year.”
Chapman and the rest of “Team Justin” were one of many teams that participated in Saturday’s event, all of which raised more than $7,000 in the Strides for Clinton County Autism’s first team fund-raising challenge.
Bigwood said the organization has talked about doing the fund-raising challenge in years past, adding they were shocked to see how much money was raised in the first year trying it.
“It’s amazing the amount of support we get for this,” she said. “A lot of the teams have been together and with us since the beginning and some teams are new this year but the team fundraising was so successful it’s something we’re definitely going to do again.”
The $7,000 raised will combine with an estimated $20,000 generated on race day with entry fees, a bake sale and raffle ticket sales. That money will then be distributed to area schools to help special-education programs, something the special-education teachers say they appreciate.
And as the event continues to grow as Bigwood expects it will, that money could more than double in a couple years’ time.
“This has been the best year so far,” she said. “And it just keeps growing every year. As we start reaching a larger number of people I think this will become one of the biggest events in the area. I think we’re ready for that.”
Among those sure to return are Stephen and his family.
“This is the only one we’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s other ones in the area but we really like this one so we’ll definitely be back next year.”