Jul 26, 2014

Marathon Mom: Palos Park Woman Sets Out on 252-Mile Mission for Autistic Son

Stephanie Ebert, of Palos Park, loves her autistic son, and has found inspiration in their struggle to cope with the effects of his diagnosis. She'll run the Boston Marathon—and many other races—to raise money for a cure.

Marathon Mom: Palos Park Woman Sets Out on 252-Mile Mission for Autistic Son Marathon Mom: Palos Park Woman Sets Out on 252-Mile Mission for Autistic Son
Stephanie Ebert doesn't always feel like a good mom. 

The turbulence of raising an autistic son shakes her confidence, as difficulty communicating combined with his impulsive behaviors leave her with a frustrating sense of disconnect from the 9-year-old. 

Then she laces up her gym shoes and hits the ground—running. The avid marathoner finds affirmation and peace on the pavement.

Roughly hundreds of miles of peace. 

Beginning with the 2014 Boston Marathon Monday, April 21, Ebert will run, bike, or swim a total of 252 miles, to raise money for the Organization for Autism Research. Ebert leads "Team Beckham" into a journey of triathlons and marathons beginning in Boston and ending with the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 26 in Arlington, VA. She has set a fundraising goal of $6,000, via FirstGiving.com. 

"I tend to overcommit myself," Ebert said, laughing. "I do what I set out to."

'I'm Out There, Campaigning for Him'

Ebert's son "Sasha" Beckham was adopted from Russia in 2005. Since then, he was diagnosed with autism, in addition to oppositional defiance disorder, which leads to defiance and occasional shows of an argumentative nature. A simple chore or action can take much longer for him to accomplish, as it's harder for Ebert to motivate him. His moods shift quickly, with aggression sometimes surfacing. 

"When you're raising a child who changes every day, it's hard to know if you're doing a good job," Ebert said. "Running gives me some self-worth."

Husband Jeff said though she doubts herself, one thing is very clear.

"There's no doubt about it," he said. "She's a great mom. She's too hard on herself."

"When your child's doing the opposite thing than what you're telling him, you always wonder. It messes with your nerves."

The frustration hasn't stopped Ebert from feeling compelled to help her son and children like him. She and Jeff have become ambassadors. 

During her research after Beckham's diagnosis, she discovered OAR on the Internet. OAR is the Organization for Autism Research, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help families, educators and individuals with autism gain access to answers for their immediate questions about autism. OAR also funds research and awards grants annually to support pilot studies for autism. 

Today, Beckham is in a communication development program at a school with a special needs curriculum. He looks forward to his weekly swim lessons, learning about dinosaurs and jumping on the trampoline. He also receives ABA therapy at home for additional support.

"Not a day that goes by that we don't worry about Beckham's future and what will happen when we are no longer able to care for him," Ebert said. "I'm out there, campaigning for him." 

'It's Our Calling'

Stephanie and Jeff consistently find ways to give back to the autism community. Jeff owns and operates Ebert Studio, with locations in Oak Park and Hinsdale.

"We've really pushed to give back as much as we can," Jeff Ebert said. 

He started the Kids with Cameras program, which inspires children with special needs to photograph the most important things in their lives. Ebert then selects each child's top two images, prints, frames and sells them, with proceeds going to Charlie's Gift Autism Center in Downers Grove. He also crafts each child's best image into a T-shirt for him or her. 

"Some kids would turn in a couple photos, some would turn in a couple hundred," he said. 

His specialty is photographing special needs families, as his experience with Beckham has taught him patience and kindness. As an additional fundraising effort, Ebert will donate all session fees from the month of April to Autism Speaks. 

Boston or Bust

Ebert leaves for Boston Friday, April 18, for the April 21 race. It will be her first time in the race, though she has run the Chicago Marathon and others in the past. 

"It feels like it's something that's a little more tangible," she said of the distance. "It's something I can actually see."

Her journey will then take her to the Southwest Half Marathon in Palos on May 4, then the Lemont Quarryman Run on May 10, followed by the Soldier Field 10-miler in Chicago May 24. For a complete list of the races ahead of her, check out her fundraising page. 

While she focuses on tackling the miles ahead of her, the moments at home unfold. The couple continues to learn and grow with Beckham, while also caring for their second son, 8-year-old Zelalem, adopted from Ethiopia. Sometimes it's about small victories, but they're accomplishments nonetheless. 

"Some days when I'm so confused," she said, "I tell myself that it could be so much worse."

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