Calm and confidence: Athletics is a game-changer for runner with autism

connorConnor Baete never misses his daily run with his mom, Lora. It’s often one of two everyday workouts for the 18-year-old from Jefferson County — and is a powerful example of the therapeutic power of exercise.

Connor, who has autism, is quite the athlete, successfully competing in Special Olympics track as well as softball, football and basketball. He even ran track and cross-country for Moore High School in Louisville last year.

But that wasn’t always the case.

“Connor struggled with his weight and stress related to his autism and intellectual disability,” Lora says. “By following a low-fat, vegan diet and consistently doing strength-training and running, he has trimmed down and found more focus and joy in his life.”

On Sept. 24, Connor and his mom — a one-time marathoner herself, with at least 10 half-marathons under her belt — will be running the second annual Kentucky History Half Marathon. Lora’s sister, Dana Todd, and close family friend, Kelly Caldwell, who both live and work in Frankfort, will join them, while Connor’s dad, Michael Baete, also a runner, will be moving along the course cheering them on.

You could say running is a family affair for the Baetes. And so is history. In fact, the Kentucky History Half Marathon won’t be Connor’s first history-inspired race.

connorrunningHis greatest loves are working out at the gym and learning about history,” Lora says. “We are cousins of Mary Todd Lincoln, so Connor especially likes to hear about all things Abraham Lincoln. He ran his first half marathon in Springfield, Illinois [this past April]. This race will only be his second half marathon, but he has competed in multiple meets.”

Connor currently attends Providing Access to Community Transition (P.A.C.T.), a program at the University of Louisville that helps young adults ages 18-21 with mild to severe physical and mental disabilities complete high school. It’s where he can interact with other young people and take an adapted course load.

While, of course, he continues running and exercising.

“We have found that athletics keeps him calm and builds confidence,” Lora says. “He has made so many friends through running and has learned to persevere when the going gets tough.”