Home > In Their Own Words > MSTFNSH…..Huh?


Glen Finland is the author of Next Stop: A Son with Autism Grows Up, due out from AmyEinhornBooks/Putnam in April 2012.  www.glenfinland.com

MSTFNSH. At first it was a mystery to me, but that’s what the vanity license plate reads in the middle of the eight bumper stickers on the back of my autistic adult son’s little Toyota.  He’s 24 and he’s been driving himself to work for nearly two years now, pulling trash at county parks for minimum wage.  There’ve been two tickets for going ten miles over the speed limit, but other than a broken rearview mirror and the unexplained yellow paint on the side of his gray car, no crazy-making incidents.  I tell myself to just breathe.

And all those bumper stickers?  They consist of eight different ways to say “26.2 miles,” “Your punishment is my sport,” and simply “Runner!”  Because the countdown is now on. My boy David is running every night after work, in the dark and alone, rain or clear skies, training like a true athlete these days because he’s just a month away from making his dream come true.  It’s not his first marathon.  It’s his third and you better believe he’s competitive, having completed the Marine Corps Marathon in a swift 3:52.

Get ready, I’m gonna brag here and you can’t stop me: On November 6th of this year, David will run the New York City Marathon.  He will run for Team Achilles International, a group of disabled athletes founded and championed by New York distance runner Dick Traum who knows what it means to be a different sort of human being.  Forty years ago Dick lost his right leg in a crushing car accident when he stopped to fill up his car. Today he says that “Empowerment is what Achilles is all about. We don’t work with magic spells. We just go out and run, and in doing that, we discover that we do not have to sit quietly at home and dwell on our disabilities.” But he also knows that “every time human beings realize more of their potential, all of society benefits.”

But hold the pity fest.  The runners in this club don’t care to hear it.  In fact, they represent the sturdiest of us all: there’s an 80-year old nun, a landmine survivor from Grozny, Chechnya, a Cuban burn victim, a blind runner, a struggling to quit drug abuser, victims of traumatic brain injuries, and a platoon’s worth of U.S. veterans—Wounded Warriors who will attack the course on November 6th in their wheelchair racers or on prosthetic limbs or crutches.  I’m telling you, you’ve got to see it to appreciate the strength of character and force of nature that make every one of these athletes fit to run.  And now my David is one of them.

One more thing.  I finally figured out what the cryptic vanity plate means on the back of my son’s banged up Toyota.  MSTFNSH = M-U-S-T  F-I-N-I-S-H.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

  1. Liz Godman
    October 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    He will run, and he will finish. because all of our energy will be there behind him and he will finish with the biggest smile.

  2. October 12, 2011 at 8:58 am

    How WONDERFUL! We’re SO proud of him! I know you must be “bustin’ your buttons” because that is QUITE an accomplishment! We’re SO happy for YOU too! We know how much that entails, and honor all the perseverance that it takes! Our son (49) was not able to do that same type of thing…but we consider them BOTH very brave, and they receive our utmost admiration for how they have dealt with their lot in life…Carole Norman Scott (autism45.wordpress.com)

  3. October 12, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Will support him all the way!!! God bless him and the family, Thanks for sharing this story.

  4. October 12, 2011 at 9:28 am

    He is amazing!

  5. may
    October 12, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Go David!! you’ll make it, I believe in you!!

  6. Crystal
    October 12, 2011 at 9:42 am

    You and your son have really encourage me to keep perservering no matter what. That we all “must finish” our different races, whether we are the proud parents or the exceptional children who never give up. I know I am cheering for you and so will all the hundreds that will read this. Thank you for sharing your story and the story of team achilles, it is inspiring. Also maybe one day our family will take part. Is there a website? Please update us on how the race went. Thank you and go DAVID!

  7. October 12, 2011 at 10:55 am

    This actually made me tear-up! My 3 yo was diagnosed this past year, and while I have seen so much improvement already, this just gives me so much more hope for the future! I can imagine the pride you must feel for David. What a wonderful story :) Thank you so much for sharing! Congratulations David, I know you can do it!

  8. Terry
    October 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I am proud your son also! My autistic son started running @ age 10 and has continued running and is now a varsity cross country runner at his high school. It has been great for him because despite his social akwardness, kids have taken the time to get to know what a great kid he is. All because he is a great runner!

  9. Lori
    October 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

    I have a 5-year-old son with autism who loves to run. Last week, he ran his first 5K, much to my surprise. I was supposed to run, and the plan was for him to ride in the stroller his dad was pushing. He wouldn’t ride; he wanted to run. And run he did, right across the finish line!!! I was so proud of his determination, as I am every single day that he overcomes the challenges autism presents and builds a great future for himself. Thank you for sharing your son’s story and giving me a little glimpse into the possibilities for my own son!

  10. October 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for all these good wishes, folks! You can be sure I’m passing them on to David. And Crystal, here’s the Achilles website — http://achillesinternational.org/

  11. October 13, 2011 at 12:09 am

    What a great story, I have a 15 year old autistic son and stories like this continue to keep me focused on making sure our son can live and function to the best of his abilities. Keep of the great work I can’t wait to read the book you inspire me to want to keep a journal of our son’s adventures.

    • October 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      NYC MARATHON UPDATE: David has been invited to represent Team Achilles as a U.S. delegate in the Parade of Nations at the Marathon Opening Ceremony in Central Park on Friday, November 4th from 6-8PM. He’s over the moon!

      • Megan Pioch
        October 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

        I’m volunteering for the ING NYC Marathon in the medical tents! I have an autistic son, and he keeps working hard too. I’ll be smiling and cheering for your son, and for all the others with disabilities as they come by me at the Finish Line! I’m a short, blocky redhead who’ll be cheering loudly as they finish in Central Park. I’m so excited! I’ll tell my Sunday School kids to cheer loudly too. They’ll be with me volunteering. :)

  12. Monica
    October 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    You’ve got this David. We’re all so Proud of You!!

  13. October 19, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I loved reading this piece. I just cried as I read your post! I feel such pride for your son and he is not even my child. Just so proud of everyone on Teach Achilles! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!

  14. October 29, 2011 at 10:50 am

    beautiful story… love the license plate!

  1. November 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

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