When it comes to David Finland's feelings about running, he wears his heart on his sleeve, or rather, his car's bumper. Stickers adorning the backside of his little, gray Toyota read, "Runner!" "Your punishment is my sport," and "26.2." His license plate says: "MSTFNSH" representing "MUST FINISH."
A tall and lean 25-year-old, Finland is clearly built for the sport. From his early days with the Special Olympics track program to more recently completing three marathons, he doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Finland's future wasn't always so bright. Born in 1987, he was initially diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. When he didn't learn to walk until after he was 3 years old, other diagnoses came, including autism, static encephalopathy and Tourette's syndrome. There were many questions and few answers at that time, leaving the family to forge ahead and take one day at a time.
As Finland got older, however, his life came into focus. It was during adolescence that he was first introduced to running, which proved to make all the difference.
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Upon joining the Special Olympics track program in middle school, Finland began honing his craft. In her book, Next Stop, his mother, Glen, writes, "Ever since he was a child, he could run like a deer."
By the time he reached high school, Finland scored a spot on the varsity track squad. As he got older, it was running that would give him the chance to set and execute goals individually. Running was and continues to be an endeavor that allows him to go it alone, giving him a sense of direction and achievement.
Over the years, Finland's running endeavors have opened new doors of opportunity. He kicked off his marathon career finishing the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon in a swift 3:52:41. Two years later, he accompanied Team Achilles through the streets of the Big Apple for the 2011 ING New York City Marathon in support of the wounded warriors competing alongside him. Indeed, he holds great admiration for these soldiers who were wounded in battle. Undoubtedly, the feeling is mutual.
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Perhaps most telling is the fact that during that marathon, Finland managed to outrun his guide, leaving him in the dust at mile 5 to take on the rest of the course on his own. Throughout the race, his family made several sightings along the way, as well as received text messages from friends who noted the relative ease with which he was running. He finished in 4:20, proving something to himself, while also contributing to a good cause.
As a result of his New York City experience, Finland had planned on running the 2012 ING New York City Marathon. That is, before Hurricane Sandy hit. After arriving in New York and checking into his hotel, he got the call the race was cancelled. "He still ran with Team Achilles in Central Park the next morning," says Glen. "And he's doing a half marathon with Achilles in Florida in January." Having found a place on the team, he continues to revel in being a part of the organization, whether it's for 26.2 or 13.1.
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For his family, the take-away from these experiences is the realization that David no longer needs a guide. If he was able to take on 26.2 miles through the streets of New York City, the possibilities for his journey seem boundless. "Running is the perfect metaphor for getting ahead and moving forward on his own toward independence," says Glen. No longer is he defined by intellectual disabilities, but rather by achievement. David Finland is a harrier through and through, solidifying an identity rooted in running, rather than a disability.
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