Utah 7th grader with autism gearing up for SLC half marathon with help from a stranger

SALT LAKE CITY – A 12-year-old boy with special needs will be competing in the 15th annual Salt Lake City half marathon Saturday, and a stranger is giving him a big boost to help him across the finish line.

Inspired by a friend with Down syndrome, Tim Boyle created the program I Run 4. He matches runners with a child or adult with special needs.

“The runners and the other athletes dedicate all their miles and their workouts to the buddy that they’re matched with,” Boyle said.

Boyle is teaming up with 7th grader Braxden Shank for this year’s Salt Lake City Half Marathon on April 21. This will be Braxden’s second half marathon. They also competed in last year’s race.

Braxden’s dad, Scott Shank, will also be pushing Braxden's brother, Jayden, at the race. They’ve been training for weeks.

“Both my boys have autism," Shank said. "I was looking to do something where we could involve both of our boys."

Shank said his boys enjoy the training.

"They love it," he said. "We go out every weekend to train on Saturday or Sunday, even if it's raining or snowing."

On Friday, Braxden’s friends and teachers at Hartvigsen School held a pep rally to show their support.

Scheels, who sponsors Boyle, was also at the event to dish out T-shirts.

“The rally was awesome. Amazing,” said Crystal Shank, Braxden & Jayden's mother. “We kind of all get sidetracked and we don't look at the bigger picture just to include everybody and not just certain ones, whatever the disability is. They're just like us.”

For Boyle, the cheers are nice, but the biggest payoff comes at the end of the race.

“When you cross the finish line, pictures, and you see the smiles on your face and you see the parents at the finish line, that takes running to a whole new level that I can't even explain," he said.

I Run 4 has 50,000 members worldwide. To learn more, click here.