Detective uses triathlon to raise awareness of autism
Nate Rath is the baby of eight Champaign police officers who have completed grueling Ironman triathlons.
The 36-year-old detective finished his first Ironman in Panama City, Fla., on Nov. 5 in 16 hours and 15 minutes.
While all the officers do it for the health of it, Rath had an additional motivation — to raise awareness of the early signs of autism.
He began running as a hobby in 2007, the same year his then-3-year-old son Collin was diagnosed as being autistic.
"Devastated, scared, confused and very alone," were among the feelings Nate and Kristina, his wife of 10 years, were experiencing.
They knew their son wasn't hitting developmental milestones like other infants and toddlers, but it wasn't until after Collin's third birthday that a specialist labeled what was different about him. And as the news sank in, the Raths began researching.
"There was not much information readily available," the Raths wrote on their website, "Crusade For Collin."
While he was out running, Rath said he had lots of time, without distractions, to think about his son and what he could do for him and other parents similarly situated.
"I thought ... 'Is there any way I can somehow link raising awareness for the early signs of autism to running?' The gap I was trying to fill was the lack of information for parents," Rath said.
From the seeds planted during his runs sprouted the Raths' willingness to help other parents and their children.
On their website, crusadeforcollin.com, Rath shares the story of his family's journey from Collin's birth to now, and how he's trying to raise money to promote awareness of the early signs of autism. Readers can donate through Champaign Cops for Kids, an established charity.
"Carle Hospital has generated an informational pamphlet based on one I created. It's available in waiting rooms and to parents at the 1-year well-baby checkup. Carle Clinic and Provena have also agreed to make information available," Rath said.
Those medical entities have helped with the cost of printing. Rath also has Crusade for Collin shirts available to buy.
"Once the informational effort is satisfied, if there's any money left, it will go to the Champaign-Urbana Autism Network and Cops for Kids," said Rath.
Rath said training for the Ironman triathlon was tough, especially on top of a stressful job and the challenges he and his wife have at home with Collin. They have another son Aaron, who is 4.
Rath said he decided in October 2010 to compete in the Panama City Ironman, his biggest challenge so far. Before that, he had run four half-marathons, a full marathon, two Olympic triathlons and one half-Ironman.
He said his wife has been understanding of his time away from home for training.
"She knows I needed to do this for some reason," he said. "Several of us have our eye on doing another one this year."
In the meantime, Collin Rath is doing well in his own version of an Ironman — reading, writing and interacting.
"He has much more desire to be with other kids, to share experiences, and he has more verbal interaction," Rath said of his son, now in the second grade in Mahomet.
The extra help he has received in the form of speech and occupational therapy have helped him progress from being a quiet but content baby who preferred being alone to one who can read and write and wants to be with other children.
"Everybody knows about autism, but nobody knows how critical early intervention is. To get early intervention, you've got to get the diagnosis, which means you have to be aware of the early warning signs," Rath said.
This story appeared in print on Nov. 26.