Every day Special Olympics athletes fight for inclusion, dignity, and acceptance. Like any serious athlete, they train, compete and push themselves to achieve their personal best. David Finland, a 6-foot tall, lean long-distance runner and Special Olympics athlete from Northern Virginia, is no different. He has achieved a feat that many people dream of attempting in their lifetime, not once but three times: running a marathon. On Sunday, along with Apolo Ohno who ran in support of Special Olympics, David finished the NYC Marathon in a swift 4:20.
Twenty-four year old David, the youngest of three brothers, is autistic. He works for the county parks at minimum wage in a supported services program. He easily covers five miles a day on foot, but that’s just his day job. David runs every night after work, in the dark and alone, in rain or clear skies. About two years ago, David got his driver’s license and now drives himself to work, and if you see his little Toyota you know his true passion is running. His license plate reads MSTFNSH (short for Must Finish) and sits in the middle of bumper stickers that consist of eight different ways to say “26.2 miles,” “Your punishment is my sport,” and “Runner!”
David ran the NYC Marathon on Sunday with Team Achilles. He was drawn to Team Achilles because of the commitment to the wounded warriors who bravely attacked the course on November 6th in their wheelchair racers or on prosthetic limbs or crutches. David has always admired soldiers, so the opportunity to be on a team with them and other runners with different abilities has really motivated him. And now, David can say he is one of them, thanks to Achilles which made him part of their team. In fact, David, his two older brothers and dad pooled their resources to donate a hand crank racer to be used by one of the vets in this year’s race.
As part of Team Achilles, David Finland was provided with a “guide,” a volunteer runner to accompany him in the race. However, early on David’s competitive side kicked in, he threw himself into high gear and “ditched” his guide at mile five! After several sightings along the way by his family, Special Olympics supporters, and Team Achilles runners, David crossed the finish line in Central Park—safe, sound, and solo.
“So what’s the takeaway for us?” says his mother and author of Next Stop: A Memoir of Family, Glen Finland. “David has proven something that we have been longing to see from him his whole lifetime. That’s right. Our David no longer needs a ‘guide.’ Today was his personal best any way you look at it.”