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Running: Race raises more than money for autistic families

He was only about 11 years old when Jack Lacina Jr. entered the Run The 'Burg 5K.

His father recalled it was an inauspicious start to what would become a pretty darn good high school running career.

"My son ran it as a young kid not knowing he'd become this track athlete," Lacina Sr. said. "He took off and he cramped up and had to be brought back."

But that wasn't the end of the story.

Lacina Jr. found his way back to running his sophomore year at Hamburg. His autism didn't hold him back, particularly during the fall cross country season when he excelled. Twice he qualified for the New York State meet and the 2017 Hamburg graduate went on to Edinboro University; spending this year as a redshirt on the cross country team.

Heck, he finished ninth overall at this year's Shamrock Run running the 8K in 27:34.

But more than results, running helped give Lacina a place to build his tenacity among peers who accepted him without question.

"It was a confidence builder for him and he's got work ethic, he just grinds and works," Lacina Sr. said. "It's like anything when you're young in high school. It's so hard to fit in especially as an autistic kid. But the kids at Hamburg were always very good to him and the runners, well I've coached basketball for 35 years and I've never seen a nicer group of kids than distance runners. They're a different breed of athlete. They seem to be more humble and not clique-y. These kids running with him were his best friends in the world."

Lacina is hoping to convince his son, who is staying at Edinboro this summer, to again participate in the Run the 'Burg for Autism 5K, scheduled this year for June 2 at J.P. Fitzgerald's in Hamburg.

Now in its eighth year, the race raises money for Autism Services Inc., and was a major source of funding for opening the Autism Resource Center in Hamburg.

"Our goal was to open up a resource center in Hamburg," said Bob Brunner, one of the organizers of the event and owner of J.P. Fitzgerald's. "People from the south towns – from Hamburg, Derby, Angola, Boston – would have to drive two or three hours to Buffalo for services."

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the 5K, the resource center opened in Hamburg and the race continues to provide for  its operation.

"It came at a time that was so needed for us in order to support our folks," said Veronica Federiconi, CEO of Autism Services Inc. "We always wanted to have a presence in the south towns. This is doing a huge service to the community and it's bringing services and support to people who have autism as well as their families and educators who are associated with autism."

Lacina Jr. isn't the only autistic runner. There are many who participate in this race, along with running at high schools and in other events, finding confidence and camaraderie with a simple pair of sneakers.

"There definite are some physical benefits," Federiconi said. "A lot of our folks really need movement and sensory input. But more importantly, it's an opportunity for them to be able to socialize. That's something that can be a challenge for them. This gives them a chance to interact with people and communicate in whatever way they communicate.

"It puts them on a level playing field with everybody else. They're not looked at as being different. They're just part of the running group."

And the event has a benefit for those on the spectrum who aren't able to run as well. That's the case for Mike Santoro, who rides with his father, George, in a golf cart to patrol the race, cheering on runners and helping those who may need assistance.

"It's one of the biggest days of the year for my son," George Santoro said. "He gets to see so many people and reconnect with them. Some are former aides and teachers and others are people from various workshops. He's been involved in so many schools and autism services. He's 30 years old now and he gets to reconnect with a lot of those people."

Running Calendar

Thursday, May 17

  • Knox Farm Trail Run, 5 miles, 6:30 p.m. Knox Farm State Park, East Aurora

Friday, May 18

  • KMR Memorial Road March 5K Youth Race, 5 p.m., Ages 10-18 only. Como Lake Park, 2220 Como Park Blvd, Lancaster.
  • Kelly Tough 12 K, 6 p.m., ADPRO Sports Training facility, 1 Bills Drive, Orchard Park.
  • Brian Dugan Memorial Scholarship 5K Road Race, 6:30 p.m., Lincoln Arena, 1200 Parker Blvd., Tonawanda
  • Tiger Trot 5K, 6:30 p.m., Bishop Timon/St. Jude High School, 601 McKinley Parkway

Saturday, May 19

  • LockRock Armed Forces Day 5K, 9 a.m. Lock 34 Bar & Grill, 80 Main St., Lockport
  • St. Andrew's Country Day School 5K, 9 a.m., St. Andrews CDS, 1545 Sheridan Dr, Kenmore
  • 26th Annual Chris Griswold 5K Race, 10 a.m., Como Park, Lancaster
  • Lewiston St. Peter 5K, 5:30 p.m., St. Peter Roman Catholic School, 140 N 6th St., Lewiston

Sunday, May 20

  • Niagara Edge 5K and 10K, 10 a.m., Summit Healthplex, 6934 Williams Rd., Niagara Falls

Tuesday, May 22

  • Dirt Devil Trail Series No. 1, 3-miles, 6:30 p.m., Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood

Saturday, May 26

  • Buffalo Marathon Weekend John Beishline 5K, 8:30 a.m., Hyatt Hotel, Two Fountain Plaza

Sunday, May 27

  • Buffalo Marathon Weekend Marathon, Half Marathon, Relay, 6:30 a.m., Hyatt Hotel, Two Fountain Plaza
  • Bemus Point 5K, 7 p.m., Bemus Point Golf Course and Tap House, 72 Main St., Bemus Point

Tuesday, May 29

  • Dirt Devil Trail Series No. 2, 3 miles, 6:30 p.m., Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood

Wednesday, May 30

  • The Gay 5K, 6:30 p.m., Larkin Filling Station, 745 Seneca St.

Friday, June 1

  • Alden's 5K Race for Scholarships, 6:30 p.m., Alden Central High School, 13190 Park St., Alden
  • Superhero Race &  Wellness Walk, 5K run, 1.8-mile walk, 7:15 p.m., St. George’s Church, Delaware Park near Nottingham Terrace & Amherst St.

Saturday, June 2

  • Independent Health Foundation's Kids Run, 1.8 miles, 9 a.m., For children age 2-5, Delaware Park, Buffalo near the Zoo parking lot.
  • Rosie The Riveter 5K, 9 a.m., Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park
  • Run The 'Burg For Autism, 5K, 11 a.m., J.P. Fitzgerald’s, 4236 Clark Street, Hamburg
  • Salmon Run 5K, 5 p.m., Clark’s Park-Wilson Harbor, 57 Harbor St., Wilson.

Sunday, June 3

  • Rosie's Run, 5K and 10K, 9 a.m., 122 Park Street, Sherman
  • Girls On The Run 5K, 9:30 a.m., University at Buffalo Amherst/North Campus
  • Matthew Hazelton Memorial 5K, 10 a.m., Clarion Hotel, 30 Lake Shore Dr. East, Dunkirk

Tuesday, June 5

  • Dirt Devil Trail Series No. 3, 3-mile run, 6:30 p.m., Sprague Brook Park, Glenwood
  • The Grace Run, 5K, 7 p.m., Christian Central Academy, 39 Academy Street, Williamsville

Wednesday, June 6

  • The Big Run 5K, 6:30 p.m., Wilkeson Pointe, 225 Fuhrmann Blvd.

Friday, June 8

  • Mount Mercy Academy 5K, 6:30 p.m., Mount Mercy Academy, 88 Red Jacket Pkwy.
  • Boys On The Run 5K, 7 p.m., Buffalo Harbor State Park, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd.

Saturday, June 9

  • Albion Strawberry Festival, 5K and 8K, 8 a.m., Orleans County Courthouse, Corners of State & Main Streets in Albion
  • Sea Lion Run 5K, 9 a.m., Aquarium of Niagara, 701 Whirlpool St, Niagara Falls
  • Maple Grove Raising The Dough 5K, 9 a.m., Bemus Point Elementary School, 41 Liberty St, Bemus Point
  • Be Kind 5K, 9 a.m., Falconer Park, North Phetteplace, Falconer
  • Susan G. Komen WNY Race For the Cure 5K, 10 a.m., Buffalo RiverWorks, 359 Ganson St,
  • St. Mary of the Lake 5K, 6:30 p.m., St. Mary of the Lake, 4737 Lake Shore Rd., Hamburg

Sunday, June 10

  • FG III Memorial 5K, 10:15 a.m., Lake Erie Beach Volunteer Fire Department, 9483 Lake Shore Rd., Angola
  • A Walk/Run/Roll in Lauren's Shoes, 5K, 11 a.m., Wilkeson Pointe, 225 Fuhrmann Blvd., Buffalo
  • Boys on the Right Track Spring 5K, 9 a.m., Woodlawn Beach State Park, S-3580 Lakeshore Rd., Blasdell
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