For father-son duo of Dan and Josh Padilla, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K represents much more than a kickoff to Chicago’s racing season. It represents achievement, discipline and an unwavering commitment to not letting anything, even autism, stand in the way of chasing their goals.
Dan Padilla has run the past eight Bank of America Chicago Marathons with his son, Josh, as his inspiration, but not his training partner. Josh has autism, and Dan ran for the Organization for Autism Research in Josh’s honor.
“In the beginning, [Josh] being 10, 11 years old, he didn’t get what I was doing for him,” Dan says. “I never thought he would. As he aged and got older, it seemed like he kept getting more and more into it.”
The loud and energetic atmosphere of the marathon often proved challenging for Josh, but Dan still hoped that one day his son could join him in some capacity. Last year, that dream came true at the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K. Dan and Josh ran the race together, and like many runners, Josh experienced the excitement and hype of running his first major event.
“He calls it his marathon,” Dan says. “He got excited training. He trained a little bit, only up to about three miles, which was really good, and then took off like crazy [on race day]. He got to mile one and he was dead. It was a struggle, but then we saw firemen in full gear, which excited him, and took we took off after them. When he got up the hill and around the corner, he was excited to finish. For me, it was inspiring and a great experience.”
Dan and Josh will run the race again this year, with Josh doing his own fundraising for OAR as part of the event. Though Dan would love to someday run a full marathon with Josh, in the mean time he has recruited those who know Josh to join them on race day, either in spring or the fall.
“A lot of [Josh’s] special ed teachers are signing up for the Shamrock Shuffle,” Dan says. “For last year’s marathon team, I know I bugged people to join our team, but he’s their inspiration. They see what he’s accomplished and what he does. They do it for him, and for him to inspire people: to me, that’s humbling.”
Though the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle may have been Josh’s first time participating in a major road race, it wasn’t his first time in the athletic spotlight. As a student at West Leyden High School, Josh played football for the combined Leyden High School team, attending practices and dressing for games. On the final game of his senior year, the team designed a play that gave Josh a scoring opportunity, taking a pass from the quarterback and running 66 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. Seeing Josh grow in four years on the football team inspired his coaches, Tom Cerasani and Mike Anderson, to sign up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last year.
“I just want everybody to realize that [those with autism] don’t let the disability limit their abilities,” Dan says. “I really do believe that. That’s why he did football: not for a touchdown or to get him to play, but to make 30, 40, 50 boys on a team aware of autism—so when they’re out in public and see some kid acting differently, they know who that is. It’s not just a kid being a goof: that kid has autism.”
The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K will take place in Grant Park this Sunday, April 3.