Thursday, July 24, 2008

Four months and 3,200 kilometres ago, Canadian runner Jonathan Howard began his run across the second-largest country in the world, to raise awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

A graduate of McMaster University, Howard arrived in Toronto this week, to address the nation’s largest city before continuing his westward run which will take him through all ten Canadian provinces.

Howard was met Monday at a charity barbecue by Senator Art Eggleton. The fundraiser was part of Howard’s strategy to raise 2.5 million dollars to assist families that support children with ASD. “Spectrum is a very puzzling word,” he told the gathering “because there are many types of autism on that spectrum”. The real goal of his charity drive though, Howard explained, was simply to “get people involved in the issue” and generate attention for the little-understood disorder.

Eggleton, who welcomed Terry Fox to the city as mayor in 1980, drew comparisons to the Marathon of Hope runner who became a Canadian icon. While praising Howard’s efforts to raise money and awareness, the senator said he believed that “an awful lot more needs to be done” at the political level to combat the financial and emotional difficulties that face those dealing with autism.

Howard reassured supporters that he still intended to reach Victoria, B.C. before December 31. “The challenges are great,” he confessed “but as long as the determination is greater, anything can be achieved”.

Terry Robinson, a two-time Canadian Paralympic contender born with cerebral palsy, pledged to follow Howard’s journey two weeks ago on its three-month leg from Ottawa to Winnipeg.

Robinson addressed the city, speaking about how his own disabilities left him with an appreciation for how important it was to ensure that people struggling with autism had access to services that could support them.