How an Iowa teen with autism found happiness in running cross country

ADEL – ADM-Adel high school cross country runner Brycen Timmer stands under a tree with his teammates. They’re waiting for practice to begin on a sunny September weekday.

Timmer leaves his spot in the shade when he notices coach Josh Chapman walking over from the parking lot.

“Hey, Coach Chapman!” Timmer yells.

Chapman smiles.

The coach can always expect a warm welcome, giant smile and big greeting from Timmer.

“Every day,” Chapman says.

Timmer, a first-year runner for the Tigers, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 and didn’t start using words until a year later.

For years, sports never seemed like a possibility.

But Timmer has found a passion for running, a home on the ADM junior varsity track squad and a newfound family with his teammates.

“It’s not always about winning the race and running the fastest time,” Chapman said. “It’s about making sure people are accomplishing things regardless of their abilities.”

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‘Back then, it was like, “Don’t run.”‘

ADM-Adel sophomore cross country runner Brycen Timmer warms up at practice.  Timmer, who has autism, is in his first season competing for the high school team.

Timmer’s mother, Melissa, remembers a time when letting her son out of her sight seemed unrealistic. Melissa Timmer and her husband, Mike, noticed their son, like some kids with autism, tended to be fearless. When he was overwhelmed, he’d run off, sometimes toward traffic, not understanding how dangerous that could be.

They took precautions to keep him safe. They bought a special stroller for when they left the house. They installed locks around the home to stop him from trying to take off.

“Back then, it was like, ‘Don’t run,’” Melissa Timmer said.

Brycen Timmer, who didn’t start using simple phrases until he was 8, got plenty of help. He used a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and then a device with simple requests to communicate. His parents signed him up for speech therapy, and when he got older, enrolled him in school in ADM. There, he worked one on one with an associate.

“It was hard,” Mike Timmer said.

Brycen Timmer participated in Miracle League baseball for kids with special needs. He ran in the Special Olympics.

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