Running is a way of life for the Schneider family, but not in the same way as it is for most runners. Twin brothers Alex and Jamie Schneider are severely autistic -- they are nonverbal and when anxiety takes over they bite themselves or slam their feet into the hard floor, they cannot tell their mother Robyn if they are hurt or hungry, and they can never be left alone. Yet they have run almost 150 races, including six marathons. In Silent Running, Robyn Schneider shares her family's incredible story of triumph in the face of enormous hurdles, and of the shared passion that has fueled their fight. It is a story of hope and of never giving up.
The early morning air is chilly, but the sun is bright -- the perfect day for a marathon. I make my way into the throng of people at the starting line to kiss my son Jamie and squeeze my husband, Allan's, arm. Jamie smiles, though his eyes are searching the sky above the crowd. Allan gives me a quick hug. I know he's nervous.
"Good luck! I love you," I say. And then, fighting back tears, I add, "Have a great run!"
I move forward until I can see my other son Alex, Jamie's identical twin. Alex's coach, Kevin, is next to him, and they’re near the front, flanked by the elites. I know Kevin is anxious, as well. The boys only train three days a week, and Kevin says you can fake a short race on three days, but a marathon is a whole different game. Alex -- Alie -- is looking straight ahead, a huge smile on his face. Even if he doesn't know that he’s running his first marathon, he knows it’s a race day, and his joy is almost palpable. Unlike the runners surrounding him, he's not worried about his time. He doesn't have a plan. He just knows he gets to run.
Still, I can't help but feel apprehensive. Alie had a rough morning, and I’m worried it will affect his race. What if something on the course sets him off again? But he looks calm now. I give myself a mental shake. He's ready.
I shiver as I watch the other runners pull one foot and then another up behind them, stretching their quads. They glance down at their watches, adjust their race numbers, and pull their arms across their chests, stretching their shoulders.
The boys are 20 years old, and this is their 70th race, so I shouldn't be as nervous as I am. But it’s their first marathon, and I’m worried. What if something goes wrong? What if one of them gets hurt? Or worse, lost?
I find my friends Randy and Leslie in the crowd. Leslie, who is married to Kevin, is holding their five-year-old daughter Mercy on her hip. Mercy is smiling widely, taking in the music and the people. I wish I could give myself over to the thrill of the moment, too, but instead I grab Randy's arm. "Do you think they’re going to be okay?"
Randy is a marathoner and has known the boys since they were toddlers. She was the one who first encouraged us to get them into running, and she’s giddy with excitement. "They’re going to do great!" she laughs, tucking her dark curly hair behind her ear.
Leslie smiles and says the same thing. "They’ve worked so hard for this."
Yesterday we drove the two hours from our home in Great Neck, Long Island, to the Hamptons, picked up the race packets, and had a big pasta dinner with Randy, Kevin, Leslie, and Mercy. The boys were all smiles during dinner, familiar with the ritual of carbo-loading the night before a big race. Back at our hotel, they watched me lay out their running clothes on the couch, pinning their race numbers to their shirts. I knew they were happy; there were huge smiles frozen on their narrow faces. I wondered, as I had thousands of times, what they were thinking. What was going through their minds?
When I was done laying everything out, Alie smoothed each item of clothing with his hands until all the wrinkles had been eliminated.
Then he arranged all of our running shoes -- mine, Allan’s, his own, and Jamie's -- in an arcing horseshoe on the floor, the laces of every shoe pulled taut to each side, the tip of one lace just barely touching the tip of the next one. Allan and I smiled, shaking our heads.
Now Kevin is holding Alie's hand, as he always does at the starting line, and they’ve moved to the front of the pack. Kevin and Alie have been running together for four years now, and I wouldn’t have Alie run this race with anyone else.
I take a deep breath, and my eyes fill with tears as I think about what Kevin said before a race a few years ago: tomorrow morning all the runners will return to their normal busy lives -- commuting to work and going to school -- and Alie and Jamie will be at a distinct disadvantage. But today when that gun goes off, it's a level playing field. Today, they're just runners.
-- Excerpted by permission from Silent Running: Our Family's Journey To The Finish Line With Autism by Robyn K. Schneider with Kate Hopper. Copyright (c) 2015. Published by Triumph Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.