Posted by: Autism Speaks | July 1, 2010

Why I Run – Running for a Cause

This article was originally published in Iowa Spectrum.

Parents often want to contribute their talents to the cause of autism once they have a child diagnosed on the spectrum.

Some parents go back to school to become therapists. Some create support groups. Even some form newspapers.

In Steve Johnson’s case, he ran.

“I was trying to connect cause with  hobby,” he says.

On November 1, the 43-year-old commercial real estate professional from Des Moines found himself running the New York City Marathon on behalf of Autism Speaks. In the process, he and his wife, Christina, had raised close to $40,000 for the cause.

“I did what I did for a reason,” Johnson says. “So now we have a voice.”

At the time that Johnson applied for a spot in the race, his six-year-old son Trevor had only recently been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.  Like many parents, he and Christina were consumed with the diagnosis.

So when Johnson discovered he did not initially get accepted into the marathon, he and Christina could not help but notice one charity partner associated with the event.

“When I didn’t get into the lottery, my wife found that Autism Speaks was a partner,” says Johnson. “We thought ‘This is perfect. We’ll combine the two.’”

As a charity partner of the New York City Marathon, Autism Speaks had 125 spots available in the race. To run on their team, a donation of at least $,2600 was required.

The Johnsons donated the money themselves.

They could have stopped there.

“We did not want to make it about me running a race,” he says.

Instead they set their sights on tripling the donation.

“My wife began talking with a bunch of friends,” he recalls. Before they knew it, a fundraiser dinner for 50 people was being planned. From there everything began falling into place.

“I talked to a friend who worked at a hotel,” Johnson recalls. “He donated a ballroom.”

A website was donated.

A committee began to shape up. And suddenly plans were being made for food, speakers, a band, salza dancers and a silent auction.

In a three-month period, the entire event was executed with great success. On September 25,  around 200 people attended the event at the Embassy Suites. Over 100 items were donated for the silent auction.

The Johnsons were amazed by the generosity.

“People would give $20 here, $50 there, $1,000 there,” he says. “Donations came in different sizes and began to accumulate.”

Before it was all said and done, the Johnsons had raised $37,500. On the day of the race, Autism Speaks duly noted who raised the most money on their team.

As a result, the Johnsons joined the president of Autism Speaks, Mark Roithmayr, for a breakfast for the New York City Marathon Charity Partners.

The Johnsons now sit on the committee for the Autism Speaks Walk in Iowa. He has a direct connection to the national organization.

When Johnson was accepted to compete in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon on May 2, he was able to contact Autism Speaks with an idea of representing the organization at the competition. They gave him the nod. The newly developed jersey was waiting in his hotel room when he arrived in San Francisco.

Johnson believes his contribution has not only helped Autism Speaks’ awareness campaign; the connections he has made as a result will also help Iowa’s autism community.

“Having connections from national to local is a pretty powerful thing,” he says.

Fewer than 30 positions remain on Autism Speaks’ 2010’s  ING NYC Marathon team. If you are interested in participating, please e-mail:


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