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Running Helps Sacramento Man Cope With Autism

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A young Sacramento man reaches new heights through the simple act of running, and he's breaking through barriers with every stride.

The young man who sits at the water's edge in a prayerful pose is fueled by faith, a love for family and friends, and a relaxed assurance he's just discovered.

We caught up with John Almeda one recent morning at Sacramento's McKinley Park. Keeping up with him isn't easy.

John is a 22-year-old young man with autism. When he was 18 months old, his life changed overnight. His mom says it set in seemingly overnight. From that day on, he hasn't spoken more than a few words, but his story speaks volumes.

Before he started running in local Special Olympics events, he struggled with the growing pains all young people go through and more.

"When John was going through puberty--that was a really tough time--across the board--for any parent--but for a parent with a special needs child--it's even harder--especially for John because he can't communicate so he can't really express that he had all these hormones raging--we didn't know what to do with him," his mom Vanessa Bieker said.

And then it happened.

"We started going for long walks--and the walks led into jogs--and one day we were at the track and he started running really fast--and I started running with him--and I said--maybe we're on to something here," she said.

After just a few friendly races, his world opened up, and so did people's eyes after he ran a five-minute mile.

It was as if his brain took a giant deep breath. His positive energy shot up and the anxiety that often comes with autism dropped dramatically.

The running has brought out so many abilities in John—he makes jewelry, he cooks dinner, he washes the car, he mows lawns, he washes the dog.

Now he and his family want to share that world with others through the Fly Brave Foundation. It's designed to help young men and women with special needs transition into adulthood. He's started a weekly running club on Saturday mornings at McKinley Park.

He and his mom are encouraging anyone and everyone to come out and join them on Saturdays, starting this weekend at 9 a.m. by the pond.

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