Chris Mattice isn't quite sure how this particular journey started. At one point, he surmises, he used the hashtag #RunForAutism, which caught the eye of Organization for Autism Research. The national organization reached out to see if Mattice would be interested in running the Chicago Marathon.
That's the short version of how Mattice ended up spearheading a group of nine runners from Western New York who will be running the 26.2 miles in Chicago on Oct. 7 while raising money to help with autism education and research.
But as with any good story, there's a longer back story.
Let's start with Mattice, who ran his first race in 2014. It was the Run The 'Burg 5K, which supports autism services and awareness in Western New York, and his son Cameron, now 11, is on the autism spectrum.
"That was my first and I did that specifically because it was a 5K for autism," Mattice said. "And it's funny how you go and you get that feeling at a race and meet like-minded people and you just do more and more and more. You don't think that when you go out for your first 5K that this is where it's going to lead to."
Catching the running bug, he and some friends started the Run For Fun group, which meets weekly out of the River Pub in Niagara Falls. Mattice quickly moved up the distance ladder, running a half marathon then tackling the marathon distance at the 2016 Buffalo Marathon.
That, quite frankly, was awful. For those who remember, it was a long, cold, winterlike spring with race day temperatures soaring into the 80s. The sudden heat killed Mattice and many others. So Mattice was looking for a redemption marathon.
That's when the Organization for Autism Research reached out to Mattice. Its major fundraising division is Run for Autism, which includes entries as charity runners into a number of major marathons.
"I knew I wanted to do another marathon to get 2016 out of my brain," Mattice said. "I don't know how they found me, but last year they reached out to me with a message on Facebook asking if I had any interest in running Chicago last year," Mattice said. "At that time, I was training for Wineglass and they're a week apart. I was like, I would love to, but I can't. Then I ended up getting hurt last July and I didn't even get to do Wineglass."
When the Wineglass Marathon didn't happen for Mattice, he asked the Organization for Autism Research if they were still interested in having him run for them.
Of course they were.
So he posed the opportunity to his running group and to his pleasant surprise, eight people joined him. They call themselves the "Fellowship of Chicago" as an homage to "Lord of the Rings" and collectively hope to raise $10,000 with each required to raise $1,000 as a charity runner.
For five of the runners – Andrea Kresman (Niagara Falls), Christina Zacher (Niagara Falls), Bill Williams (North Tonawanda), Katie Williams (North Tonawanda) and Amanda Johnston (Cheektowaga) – it will be their first marathon. It's the second for Mattice, Cathy Shanahan (North Tonawanda) and Josh Zacher (Niagara Falls), while John Wayda (Niagara Falls) is ready to run his seventh marathon.
When Mattice ran his first marathon in 2016, Wayda helped keep him accountable, but he did all his runs alone. Now, members of the group will do some runs together, plan to attend the same races to use in training, and support each other through the roller coaster of emotions and physical ailments that come with marathon training.
"We range in ages and sizes and abilities, but we're all together for the same goal," Mattice said. "It's nice to have that sounding board because you come home to your spouse or your friends and they might not understand what 18 miles did to you. You know, when you reach the 'Oh my God I might be OK' point. It's nice to have all the people doing that right along with you."
But not only are they going through training together, they're all-in on the bigger goal: raising money, awareness and educational opportunities around autism. All nine runners will attend the Saturday prerace dinner held by the Organization for Autism Research and Mattice will be one of the speakers.
The Organization for Autism Research focuses its research funding on studies that directly impact the day-to-day quality of life of learners with autism along with supporting caregivers and providing community resources. They provide educational resources not just in schools, but in community settings, including helping first responders learn how to recognize and appropriately interact with those who are on the autism spectrum.
The group is holding one last fundraiser from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the River Pub, 6004 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls. A $20 donation provides unlimited domestic bottled beer and well drinks. There also will be a donation station for direct donations to the fundraiser and a 50/50 raffle.
Saturday, Oct. 6
- Queen City Women's Half Marathon and 5K, 8 a.m., Coca-Cola Field, 275 Washington St.
- 5 KAC Challenge (5K, 1K), 9 a.m., Kenmore Alliance Church, 175 Bonnett Ave., Tonawanda
- Fall Festival 5K, 9:30 a.m., Holiday Valley Resort, Ellicottville
- Meghan Memorial Cross Country 5K, 10 a.m., Hilbert College, 5400 South Park Ave., Hamburg
- Maggie Lee Memorial for Epilepsy Awareness 5K, 10 a.m., St. George's Church, 2 Nottingham Terrace
- Knights-Kaderli Memorial 5K Run, 11 a.m., East Shelby Fire Hall, 5021 East Shelby Road, Medina
Sunday, Oct. 7
- Holy Cross 5K Mass Run, 8 a.m., Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, 345 Seventh St.
- Buffalo Home Sellers 5K, 9 a.m., Delaware Park Ring Road
- Peter Glavin XC Series No. 2 (6K), 11 a.m., Akron Falls Park, 44 Parkview Drive, Akron
- Homeless Female Veterans 5K, 11 a.m., American Legion South Buffalo Post No. 721, 136 Cazenovia St.
- East Eden Tavern 1 Down 1 Up (1 mile), 4 p.m., 8163 East Eden Road, Eden
Saturday, Oct. 13
- St. Mark's, Get Set, Go! 5K, 9 a.m., St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 61 Payne Ave., North Tonawanda
- Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K, 10 a.m., Canalside
- Run for Bereda 5K, 10 a.m., Welch Field, Westfield
- Niagara Falls Firefighters Christmas Toy Drive 5K an 10K, 11 a.m., LaSalle Waterfront Park, Niagara Falls
Sunday, Oct. 14
- Niagara Falls International Marathon (Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, Buffalo to Niagara Falls, Ontario
- Lou Reuter Scholarship Run 5K, 10 a.m., Ben Franklin Middle School, 540 Parkhurst Blvd.
- Monster Scramble (5K, 10K), 10 a.m., Holy Cross Cemetery, 2900 South Park Ave., Lackawanna
Saturday, Oct. 20
- Strider Glider Quarter Marathon (6.555 miles), 9 a.m., Westwood Park, 175 Pavement Road, Lancaster
- The Woods at Bear Creek Trail Races (3, 6, 9 or 12 miles). 9 a.m., the Woods at Bear Creek Resort, Franklinville
Sunday, Oct. 21
- Ridge Walk & Run (25K, 10K, 5K), Wellsville Campus, Alfred State College
- Niagara County Deputy Sheriffs PBA 5K Run. 10:30 a.m., Widewaters Marina, Market Street, Lockport
Friday, Oct. 26
- BOO Bash & Dash 5K, 7:30 p.m., Hotel Lafayette, 391 Washington St.
Saturday, Oct. 27
- The Bulldog Dash 5K, 9:30 a.m., Hamburg High School, 4111 Legion Drive, Hamburg
- 20th Annual Jack O'Latern Fall Classic 5K, 10 a.m., Whirlpool State Park, Niagara Falls
- Miles for Michael 5K, 10 a.m., Delaware Park at St. George Orthodox Church, 2 Nottingham Terrace
- EVL Halloween Half Marathon and 5K, 11 a.m., Monroe Street, Ellicottville
- Lew-Port 5K Glow Run, 6:30 p.m., Lewiston Porter High School, 4061 Creek Road, Youngstown
Sunday, Oct. 28
- Buffalo Runners Chestnut Ridge Challenge 10K, 9 a.m., Chestnut Ridge Park Casino
- YellowJacket/FleetFeet Pumpkins in the Park 5K, 10 a.m., Parkside Lodge, Delaware Park
- Pumpkin Run 5K, 1:30 p.m., Gateway-Longview Lynde School, 6350 Main St., Williamsville
Saturday, Nov. 3
- Veterans Race 5K/10K, 9 a.m., Templeton Landing
- UAW Region 9 Veterans Appreciation 5K Run, noon, UAW Local 686, 524 Walnut St., Lockport
- The Mighty Fitz 5K, 2 p.m., Brickyard Pub, 432 Center St., Lewiston
Saturday, Nov. 10
- Take A Breath For Life 5K, 11 a.m., Hamburg Fairgrounds, Lower Grandstand, 5600 McKinley Ave., Hamburg
Sunday, Nov. 11
- Iroquois Foundation 4 Miler Salutes Veterans, 9:30 a.m., Iroquois Central School District, 2111 Girdle Road, Elma
Saturday, Nov. 17
- Michelle's Memorial 5K, Middleport Fire Hall, 28 Main St., Middleport
- Kaely's Kindness 5K, 11 a.m., the Mahoney restaurant, 199 Scott St.
Sunday, Nov. 18
- Run With The PAC 5K, 10 a.m., Holy Cross Cemetery, 2900 South Park Ave., Lackawanna
Thursday, Nov. 22
- YMCA Turkey Trot 8K, 9 a.m., Delaware Avenue YMCA, 2564 Delaware Ave.
- Cold Turkey Run (4.5 miles), 9 a.m., Sunny's, 43-45 Water St., Fredonia
Saturday, Nov. 24
- Home For The Holidays 5K, 9 a.m., Medina City Hall, 600 Main St., Medina
- Amy's 5K, 11 a.m., Lakewood Community Center, 9 West Summit St., Lakewood
Saturday, Dec. 1
- Holly Jolly 5K, 10 a.m., Orchard Fresh plaza, 4050 N. Buffalo St., Orchard Park
Saturday, Dec. 8
- Niagara PAL Santa Dash 5K, 9 a.m., Sheraton at the Falls, 300 Third St., Niagara Falls
Saturday, Dec. 15
- Ugly Sweater Caroler 5K, 10 a.m., 11th Frame, 206 Main St., East Aurora
Sunday, Dec. 16
- Freezer 5K, 11 a.m., Buffalo Iron Works, 49 Illinois St.
Saturday Dec. 22
- Holiday 5K at Old Fort Niagara, 11 a.m., Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown
Monday, Dec. 31
- New Year's Eve 5K, noon, Fort Niagara State Park, Lewiston