y Maria Valdez Haubrich


Last Sunday I ran my first half-marathon in over 10 years. Before I became a mom, I had done a few races now and then, just to prove to myself that I could. This time, my race had more meaning.
My 10-year-old son, Henry, has autism. We’re luckier than some parents in that Henry is high-functioning and very lovable, but he has his issues socially and in school that keep us on our toes. Like all families with children on the autism spectrum, we cope with the day-to-day by researching online for help and praying that the experts will figure out the reasons “why” autism happens so we can manage the “how.” And, like many families affected by autism, we do our part by raising money for charities than help fund the needed research.
Fortunately for the rest of us, there are others who are driven to do more. Ben Fesagaiga is one of those people. Ben, 38, founded Train 4 Autism in 2007 when he went looking for an autism fundraising/race training group similar to the “Team in Training” for leukemia and lymphoma. When he couldn’t find one, he did what any entrepreneurial and socially motivated individual does—he started his own.
“As a parent, we are wired to fix what’s broken, to provide, to protect,” says Fesagaiga. “When I was trying to process the disorder that my daughter had, I realized the difficult truth that this wasn’t something that I couldn’t fix or protect her from. I could support her and do my part by fighting for therapies, but it still left me with a great deal of frustration and energy. Luckily I found a positive outlet to channel this and at the same time bring others together in a healthy way.”
Luckily for me, too, I discovered Ben’s wonderful group Train 4 Autism and decided to train for the Long Beach Half Marathon and at the same time raise money for a cause close to my heart. Team coach Shannon Murphy gave us our weekly schedule and encouraged us with personalized advice, and every Saturday the group met to run and chat and share stories.
I met so many amazing people in this group, but no one more so than its leader. Ben not only still holds a job as a nurse, he also works with Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields,” and promotes and organizes his Train 4 Autism charity, something he someday hopes to do full time. “Train 4 Autism is truly my baby and my passion,” says Fesagaiga. “Like any person with a passion, I’d love to be able to pursue it on a full-time basis. I get so much excitement and satisfaction when I see what I love doing making a positive impact on other people’s lives.”
Needless to say, Ben has made a positive impact on my life. This time, doing a race had more meaning to me. This time, I had a support group and cause to run for. This time, it was for Henry.