Leah Esquivel of Kansas and her father Doug Wilsey of Oklahoma have traveled all the way to Potomac to compete in the annual Cure Autism Now 5K run — twice.
The motto of race organizer Susan Pereles — ‘If you don’t know somebody with autism, you will’ — proved especially pertinent for their family.
“We did the run two years ago and it was just a neat run,” said Esquivel. “My niece hadn’t been diagnosed [with autism] at that point.”
This year, they ran with 20 others on Team Miller to raise nearly $3,000 for autism research. Chloe Miller, who lives with her family in Silver Spring, is Esquivel’s niece and Wilsey’s granddaughter.
Runners, walkers and volunteers at the Cure Autism Now 5K raised over $170,000 to help find a cure for the autism that has affected Chloe and many others like her. More than 1,400 runners, walkers and volunteers took part in the annual July 4 event, which was held by Potomac Library.
“EVERBODY IS TOUCHED by [autism],” said event organizer Susan Pereles. “I started this when my brother’s son was diagnosed six-and-a-half years ago.”
Pereles’ brother was the one who got her involved in running, so it seemed fitting to raise money to combat her nephew’s disorder with a 5K race.
“He lives out in Boston so I couldn’t help his family, but I wanted to get involved,” she said. “It’s been incredible. It makes a big community like Montgomery County shrink down in size. People are incredibly friendly, even if they have no connection to autism.”
Cure Autism Now is a national organization that was founded in 1995 by parents of children with autism. It raises money for research to find a cure for the increasingly common disorder.
“This is one of the leading autism organizations in the world,” president and CEO Peter Bell told the large crowd on July 4th. “[Cure Autism Now] has put more than $35 million into autism research.”
Bell’s son Tyler, who has autism, stood smiling beside him for most of the speech.
“It’s a wonderful community,” Bell said of Potomac later. “Everyone’s not only celebrating the birth of America, but also finding a cure for autism.”
PARTICIPANTS’ DETERMINATION to travel long distances for the annual event is testament to its value to community members and their families and friends.
Alyssa Shooshan served as volunteer coordinator of the race during its first five years, and her husband Chip Shooshan has been the event announcer all six years. The couple relocated to New Hampshire two years ago but travel down to volunteer for the event each year.
“Dan and Susan [Pereles] are two of our best friends. Her nephew was diagnosed with autism, and she asked some of us if we could help” to organize the 5k race.
“[Autism] is such a prevalent problem, and any child can be affected,” said Shooshan. “So many parents are dealing with it, and as a parent, it touches you whether or not it’s your child.”
The race was also a crowd pleaser for local families seeking to spend time together and get in shape.
“It was so much fun – a great way to spend the 4th of July and support a really great cause at the same time,” said Potomac resident Renee Alarie, who has participated in the 5K for the past three years. “My goal this year was to keep up with my eight-year-old daughter.”
“At the end I started getting cramped,” said Isabella, Renee’s daughter. “It’s fun to try and beat a record.”
Did mom keep up?
“Not so well,” said Renee with a laugh.
“You have to have three people to catch up with me,” said Isabella.