On Aug. 29, Linda Reilly watched her 5-year-old son board the school bus en route to kindergarten for the first time. This is a milestone for any parent, but in the case of the Reillys, it meant just a little bit more.
“He is in regular education today, went into regular full-day kindergarten,” Reilly said of Alexander, who was diagnosed with Autism at age 2. “He’s going to have a TSS, therapist support person, with him but he’s in a regular classroom with typical kids.”
When Reilly and husband, Shane, learned of their second child’s diagnosis, they felt, like most parents, unequipped to help.
“I just feel like with Autism, a lot of it is that your hands are tied and it’s frustrating because there are so many kids and it’s so different and there are a lot of things you can’t control with it,” Reilly, a native of Second and Ritner streets, said. “I wanted a way to help him. Running was my way of raising money and empowering myself to make a difference.”
Since 2009, the self-described formally “casual” runner amped up her workouts and participated in multiple races to raise money for Organization for Autism Research. Last year, during which she completed her first marathon, she raised $2,000.
“With Run for Autism and Organization for Autism Research, they look at things that apply to day-to-day living, studies to try to help kids grow,” the 36-year-old said. “They try to help them with certain therapies that help in school or with the transition to adulthood … Our hope is that when they get to be adults the therapies will help them extend that to their day-to-day life.”
Reilly now has her sights set on the Philadelphia Marathon, taking place Nov. 18, with a personal time goal of about four-and-a-half hours. Also this year, her daughter, Charlotte, 8, is following in the family’s footsteps.
“Charlotte is running the children’s run the day before. It’s a fun run, like a mile. She asked to participate and wants to be a part of the weekend, so I said go ahead,” Reilly said.
Shane, who has been on active military duty for 14 years and is currently deployed until March in Kuwait, also is standing by in case he gets a chance to lace up his shoes.
“Shane, although he is where he is, he’s brought his shirt with him and he said if there’s any 5K runs that he would wear his shirt and participate,” Reilly said of her husband who runs alongside her when he is stateside. “[The military] likes to do wellness events so if any races came up, he’d definitely sign up and wear our shirt.”
Growing up in Pennsport, Reilly attended St. Maria Goretti, 1736 S. 10th St., before matriculating at Temple University.
“I studied marketing and business. That’s where I met Shane,” Reilly said. “I actually commuted everyday from my parents’. Basically, I lived with my parents until I got married.”
With her bachelor’s in hand by 1999, Reilly spent some years in the insurance business before staying home full-time to care for her two children.
“[Charlotte’s] actually fantastic with Alexander. Honestly, with my husband being gone, she doesn’t get all the attention and she’s so good with him. She’s protective of him,” Reilly said. “She’s a little therapist in training.”
Moving to Carlisle to be close to Shane’s work, Reilly misses her South Philly roots, but is able to visit often, as well as make sure her children know a little bit about the family’s history.
“I miss the Mummers. Being born and raised on Second [Street] it was a big part of my family. I have cousins that are in the string bands and brigades and stuff. I love to bring [my children] down,” she said. “I brought my daughter down as a baby and she had a blast.
“My aunt lives at Second and Snyder. We go down for a family reunion and go see each other and go down to watch the brigades and then warm up back at my aunt’s house.”
Celebrating on New Year’s Day is just one piece of her childhood that Reilly shares with her children. But in Central Pennsylvania, the Reilly clan is making new memories, including the first marathon, completed in 2011.
“It was harder than anticipated. After doing 13.1 miles it’s a huge mental thing for the marathon. You have to keep on going once you hit 13.1. You have to do the loop into Manayunk,” she said. “It was definitely a different kind of challenge.
“I kept thinking that my family was there, first of all, and that Alexander was at the finish with my 8-year-old daughter holding signs during the race. It definitely gave me motivation.”
Charlotte and Alexander will be in attendance once again in November for their mother’s second 26.2-mile run. With more than $1,300 raised so far under the team — the Reilly Regiment — Reilly is still collecting donations and building up her mileage over the coming months, knowing there is always more to be done past the finish line
“Not a lot of parents are able to get the therapy that we have in place. When Alexander was diagnosed, no one gave me information out there and my best resource was organizations like this,” Reilly said. “They put that information out there and also families talking to me. They connect everybody and really make sure families get this information.”
With this in mind, Reilly continues to run for organizations that further research the best methods of coping with an Autism diagnosis. Luckily, Alexander and the Reilly family has been afforded top-of-the-line care and Alexander is making strides that one day did not seem plausible.
“I was just saying to my husband today, we never thought — we worried Alexander would need special education. But through therapy he’s going to regular school. We all want moments like today,” Reilly said of watching Alexander board the bus to kindergarten. “What typical parents take for granted are huge moments for us.”
To learn more or to donate, visit firstgiving.com/fundraiser/lindareilly/phillyfull2012.
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