Nothing Slows Down Runner With Autism Getting Ready to Compete in Drake Relays

DES MOINES, IOWA –Nothing stops one runner that’s about to take the track at Drake University’s Blue Oval.

It's fun to watch Mikey Brannigan race. Coach Sonja Robinson said, "It's thrilling, exciting."

He's got the speed of an elite athlete. "Mikey is an incredible athlete. He's a sub four-minute miler," said Chris Verlengia, Grand Blue Mile Race Director and Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Senior Brand Marketing Manager.

Mikey also has the medals to match. He won gold at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio for the 1500 meters. He won by four seconds in 3:51.73.

Something you won't learn from his running resume is that he has autism. He is unstoppable when he runs. Brannigan said, "It feels good. I love running. It releases stress and feels like running in heaven, freedom and travel and getting to experience new opportunities."

The 21 year-old from Long Island, New York was diagnosed when he was 18 months old. His parents got him into running after team sports became a challenge. Dad Kevin Brannigan said, “He learned through peer modeling. His thing is to watch someone and see what they do, and he'll come back and try to do exactly what they've done. He's been pretty good at it."

So good, he was invited to compete in the Grand Blue Mile on Tuesday. It was for the USA Track and Field 1 Mile Road Championship. He ran it in 4:11.56, coming in 17th. Verlengia said, “Not only is his story really exceptional, The Grand Blue Mile is really about inclusion. So, it’s special to have him here. Not only from the perspective of it being Autism Awareness Month, but also because Mikey is an incredible athlete.”

He'll run the mile invitational at the Drake Relays Saturday afternoon. Robinson said, "I'm hoping he can block out the emotions and be brave and just race and compete and show everybody how much he loves to run."

Brannigan will try to defend his title at the Paralympics in Tokyo and train to make it to The Olympics in 2024. "That's my dream since I was little," he said.

Running has opened up the world for Mikey, not only in the places he's been, but where he can go. "In the autistic spectrum there shouldn't be any limitations put on anybody because if I stopped and said he couldn't do anything, we wouldn't be here today, and for that I'm grateful," said his dad.