FOLSOM (CBS13) – A local man with autism reached a milestone this week. John Almeda, 24, has a qualified for the Boston Marathon and a Sacramento business is sponsoring the trip.
"I started crying, I just burst into tears!" said Vanessa Bieker, Almeda's mother.
Bieker got the news on Tuesday that Almeda had qualified for the 2019 race in Boston. Overwhelmed, she and her son made a video sharing the update with their friends and family.
"How do you feel about that?" she asked John.
"Happy!" he replied.
Almeda has a nonverbal form of autism. For most of his adolescence, he found it difficult to express himself and suffered from bouts of anxiety.
"I never imagined this when he was younger," Bieker said. "The early years of autism is so difficult, it's so challenging." "I always worried, would he have friends? Would he ever find his gift or his passion?"
But Almeda found his place 4 years ago on a track.
"I signed him up for Special Olympics and he wowed the community his 5-minute-mile," Bieker explained.
His new coach, Darren Morgan, is committed to keeping John on the right pace to get to the Boston Marathon.
"John likes to go out really fast, too fast, so I gotta slow him down a little bit in the beginning," Morgan said.
The two met at a race back in June while Bieker was on the hunt for the right companion to run with her son.
"He has so much enthusiasm for running that it just inspires me to get out of bed and come to practice and run with John," Morgan told CBS13. "It's very rewarding for me and it just makes me feel good."
"We did not think he qualified initially," Bieker said.
But a friend found out that with autism, John could qualify for the Boston Marathon if he ran the California International Marathon within 6 hours. He did it last December in 4 hours and 27 minutes with a broken ankle.
"You earned every minute of it," Bieker told her son. "You worked so hard!"
Now he and Morgan are out running three days a week in Folsom. On the other days of the week, they do yoga and strength training. They save Fridays are for resting up.
Another first for Almeda: a sponsorship by Total Nutrition.
"They gave him the gear, they provide all his supplements and told us 'Don't worry about travel costs to Boston which is huge,'" Bieker told CBS13.
The last week has been full of shining moments for the son who brightens up Bieker's world.
"Johnny Cash says 'life's rough, you gotta be tough' and John is proof to that!" she said.
This weekend, Almeda and Morgan will run the Urban Cow Half Marathon in Sacramento. Then they'll run the California International Marathon together on December 2.
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