When Zachary Randle of Niagara Falls, Ont., was 12, he started looking for ways to keep fit and healthy. In this search, he found running, and the now-30-year-old Randle still loves the sport. Randle has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but that does not affect his life as a runner. In fact, he says he uses running to make a mark. “I have looked at running as a means to prove my worth to others and myself,” he says.
It’s unfortunate that people on the autism spectrum still feel they have proven their value in 2023, and eliminating that perceived need is what Sunday’s World Autism Awareness Day is all about. It’s a day to start a conversation that will, hopefully, last long after April has come and gone, leading to a world in which Randle and people with ASD everywhere no longer feel the need to prove themselves worthy.
Randle’s running career
Randle was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 15, three years after he first started running. This diagnosis did not impact his running career, and he has continued to train and race. Randle’s go-to race distance is 5K. He has run some 10Ks and a half-marathon, but he finds that 5K is the perfect fit for him. “It’s my main distance,” he says.
Randle is a member of the St. Catharines Road Runners club, but he says he tends to train solo. “I mainly work alone, though I am working on changing that,” Randle says. He also acts as a race ambassador for the Niagara Falls International Marathon, which is a role he has fulfilled before. The race is scheduled for October, so Randle has all of spring and summer to carry out his ambassador duties.
Looking back at his young career, Randall says that being a race ambassador is certainly on his list of highlights so far. Also included on that list are various age-group awards he has won, and several conversations he has had with legends of the sport. “Speaking with runners like [first woman Boston Marathon runner] Kathrine Switzer, [Canadian ultrarunner] Ray Zahab and [former Runner’s World editor] Bart Yasso” has been a major thrill in his career, he says.
Randle has had a long career in running already, but he’s only 30, so he has decades left in the sport, if he likes it. When it comes to planning for the future, his aspirations are pretty unique. His “running wish list” includes the Trinity Great Court Run (a race against the clock at the University of Cambridge Great Court in the UK that was made popular in the 1981 film chariots of fire), the Mount Terry Fox Trek (a fundraising event in Valemount, BC, that takes participants up the province’s Mount Terry Fox) and the Crystal Beach 5K, an independent road race in Fort Erie, Ont.
living with autism
Randle admits that life on the autism spectrum can be difficult at times, but he says that the support of those closest to him makes it easier. “I have had a true run of luck these past years, most notably in meeting people such as Julianne Miszk [a friend of Randle’s and fellow runner who passed away in 2020] and Michelle Unruhfriends who have encouraged me to be more accepting of myself and my disorder.”
It has been 15 years since Randle was diagnosed with Asperger’s, but he still needs the help of his friends to accept who he is. He still uses running to prove his worth to him, both to the world and to himself. Unfortunately, not everyone living with autism is as lucky as Randle is with his support group and his outlet of running, which is why he wishes he could get a couple of messages out into the world on Autism Awareness Day.
“To young people with autism, try to be patient with people who try to understand,” Randle says. “And to people without such a condition, be understanding of those around you, as we are all different in our own way.”
To learn more about World Autism Awareness Day, click here.