Race to shed light on Autism

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

DENMARK — Jamie Gullikson of Denmark knows the energy and hard work it takes to be a high school track state champion in the pole vault and a successful soccer player.

She also knows first-hand how much commitment, patience, energy and love it takes to care for a child with autism.

The Fryeburg Academy junior plans to bring both worlds together on Saturday, Sept. 3 when she holds the Blue Light Race — a 5K Run/Walk at 8 a.m. Both start and finish take place at the Denmark Town Hall.

The goal is to raise public awareness regarding autism, as well as a fundraiser for Gullikson’s cousin, Alexander Lowe, who suffers from the neurobiological disorder.

“I decided to put together the race because of how much I wanted to help my uncle and aunt. As much as we love Alex, he needs a lot of help,” Jamie said. “I’m calling it the ‘Blue Light Race’ because one, the color of Autism Speaks is blue. Plus, I liked the symbolism of a light bulb — to illuminate autism and how serious it is.”

Autism now affects 1 in every 110 children, and 1 in 70 boys (boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism). More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States, costing the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to significantly increase in the next decade. Yet, autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases. There is no medical detection or cure for autism.

Jamie says a child with autism requires many special services, which adds to a family’s expenses.

“He has speech therapists and he goes to special classes. My uncle and aunt are trying very hard to make it so Alex can have as normal a life as possible. Until a couple of weeks ago, he didn’t recognize sounds or words and he wouldn’t speak. Recently he learned to associate sounds with objects. He has also become more social. Autistic children usually don’t like to be touched too much. However, Alex is learning to be like a normal child, to talk and to touch,” she said.

Jamie wanted to help her aunt and uncle, and thought a road race would be a good fundraiser.

“It wasn’t just my love of track, more my love of athletics that inspired me to have a road race. I think road races are fun events that bring communities together for a good cause,” she said. “My track team is being very supportive of me, and most of them plan on being at the race. I think the race shows that everyone can help. As busy as I am, I am finding time to organize this race. I am trying to help my cousin and other children fighting autism, and I hope other people will be inspired with this idea and try to help. Nothing about this race is about me, I don’t want it to be. I want nothing to distract from the reason that people are running — autism.”

Putting together a road race is a major undertaking. Jamie has received solid support from her aunt and uncle — Ashleigh and Chris Lowe — as well as her parents, Kimberly and Michael Gullikson.

“I came up with this idea on my own, but there was no way that I could do everything alone. They remind me to do things and keep me on track,” she said.

The course is set. Participants will leave the Denmark Town Hall area, travel up Route 117 to Berry Road, where runners and walkers will take a right, continue down Berry Road onto Cross Road, at the end of Cross Road onto Bush Row Road, at the end of Bush Row Road onto Route 117, and back to the Denmark Town Hall. The gravel and paved course covers 3.1 miles.

Awards will be given to the top three runners in each age group (13 and under, 14-18, 19-35, 36-55, 56 and older) and the overall top three walkers. The first 50 people to enter will receive a free t-shirt. Shirts will also be for sale at the race for $10. The race fee is $25.

To register or make a donation to this cause, go to Jamie’s website at www.thebluelightrace.webs.com

Jamie is still looking for prize donations, as well as food and beverages. Any businesses or area residents wishing to help should e-mail her at Jamie.gullikson@gmail.com

Pulling the race together and hoping for a big turnout weigh on Jamie’s mind, but the worries and hard work are worth it when she thinks of her cousin, Alex.

“My aunt and uncle have been extremely supportive of Alex for his whole life. They are the definition of unconditional love and support. I admire how strong they are in such a hard situation,” the teen said. “I really hope that this race will help them. Even though Alex has this horrible disease, he is one of the strongest kids I know. I love him to the moon and back, and I hope that this race will help him and other autistic children.”

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