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Young Adult With Autism Competes In Olympic Distance Triathlon


Zachary Hamrick, a 22 year old with autism, will compete in the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon on July 8. The event is an Olympic Distance race consisting of a 1500m swim, a 40k bike, and a 10k run. That’s about 1 mile swimming in the Hudson River, 25 miles riding on the Westside Highway and 6 miles running through Central Park.


According to Stephen Hamrick, Zach’s father who trains and races with him, “Zack has been aided on his path to becoming an accomplished triathlete by the years of intense training he has received at Alpine Learning Group, a program for students with autistic spectrum disorders. Spending hours each day learning behaviors that did not come naturally to Zack, he picked up a whole lot of perseverance and discipline. Doing what’s difficult, even painful, has become easy enough for him. Now he has no problem putting one foot in front of the other and repeating, repeating, repeating.”

While Zack’s success has been recognized by several distinctions and medals, he has no real sense of competition,” continued Hamrick Sr. “He swims, bikes, runs because he enjoys doing those things, not to finish ahead of others or turn in a great time. On the other hand, he does love wearing those medals.” Zach has no sense of danger in traffic and cannot go out on his own. He depends on his father or a friend for instructions (turn right, go fast, etc.).

Events like this one tend to be the province of adults who have the endurance that comes with physical maturity. When Zach ran the New York City Triathlon in 2009, he was younger than 99% of the other entrants. It’s believed he was the only cyclist who aimed for and hit every puddle on the bike course and probably the only triathlete who sang from the start of the swim to the finish of the run (mostly Disney, but alternating with entire sound tracks from Dr. Seuss, Curious George and the Spice Girls videos).

Contrary to popular belief, autistic spectrum disorders do not preclude athletic achievement, though athletes with autism spectrum disorders generally prefer individual physical pursuits to team sports. Zachary Hamrick proves what can be achieved when an athletic activity becomes the special interest of an individual with an autistic spectrum disorder. Many experts would credit Zack’s achievements to the intense focus, adherence to routine, and to some of the unique cognitive abilities that come with autism spectrum disorders.

Zachary Hamrick is currently a member of the Alpine Learning Group Adult Program. Alpine Learning Group opened its doors on 1989 as one of the first nonprofit autism education centers in Bergen County. Located in Paramus, Alpine Learning Group serves learners and families across the lifespan through its education, adult and outreach programs.

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