Tyler Fryberg calls himself the “Tulalip marathon man,” but Saturday’s cheers celebrated a run of just one mile. That mile, though, represented the end of a 1,000-mile journey, and a young man’s wish to help those with special needs.
Together with Jim Strickland, his former teacher in the life skills program at Marysville Pilchuck High School, the 28-year-old Fryberg ran the last mile in the Leah’s Dream Foundation Miracle Mile Challenge. The teacher and his former student had each logged 999 miles of running this year in their effort to raise awareness and help people with disabilities.
“Our goal is to help Leah’s Dream, and our inclusive community where everyone has a place,” Strickland said after he and Fryberg, joined by several others, rounded the last of three loops around the athletic field at the Don Hatch Youth Center on the Tulalip reservation. “This is only the beginning,” Strickland said.
The nonprofit Leah’s Dream Foundation provides support for families of children and adults with autism, particularly those from Marysville and Tulalip. Hosting parties and activities designed with the needs and sensory issues of people with autism in mind, and providing special education materials to the Marysville School District are ways the foundation has helped since its start in 2015.
By scooter rather than on foot Saturday, 10-year-old Leah, the daughter of Leah’s Dream co-founder Deanna Sheldon, circled the concrete track outside the Alpheus Gunny Jones Sr. Ball Field along with Fryberg and Strickland. Leah, her mother said, was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
“A thousand miles is a lot,” said Amy Sheldon, Deanna’s sister, as she presented Fryberg with a ribbon and golden medal at the end of his run. “Deanna and I thank you. Keep on running,” she said. Amy Sheldon, who helped her sister create the foundation, knows the challenges of children with special needs. Her 24-year-old daughter, Kelsey, also has autism.
Fryberg does not have autism, said his mom, Mignonne Walstad. Related to his birth mother, Walstad said she raised Tyler from before his second birthday. His disability, Walstad said, stems from being exposed to substance abuse before birth.
“I call him my pure heart. He has an amazing journey, and I let him walk it,” Walstad said.
Beyond the Leah’s Dream effort, Fryberg has stepped up to many challenges. A longtime Special Olympian who has excelled at state events, he recently took second place representing the Cascade Area in the Virtual Summer Games fitness challenge. In July, he came in second in the YMCA of Snohomish County’s Yankee Doodle Dash, also a virtual event this year. He’s also involved in the Marysville Tulalip Aktion Club. Affiliated with the Marysville Kiwanis Club, it offers service-club opportunities for adults with special needs.
Fryberg said Saturday he hasn’t yet run a full marathon. A half marathoner, he hopes one day to tackle 26.2 miles. His dog Rambo ran one lap of Saturday’s last mile with Fryberg and Strickland.
As of Saturday, Strickland said, more than $1,200 had been raised by the Miracle Mile Challenge. An annual golf tournament is a major fundraiser for the Leah’s Dream Foundation, Deanna Sheldon said.
“I’m really impressed by Tyler. He jumped on this,” said Strickland, describing Fryberg as “an amazing young man” and “quite a runner.”
“He has a huge heart for people with disabilities,” Strickland said. Evidence of that was on the back of Fryberg’s T-shirt Saturday: “I Run Because I Can,” said the shirt’s bold lettering. “When I Get Tired I Remember Those Who Can’t Run.”
A Tulalip tribal member, Fryberg has dreams of his own, Walstad said. He took a criminal justice course at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center and has volunteered with the Tulalip police, and in security at the Tulalip Tribes administrative offices, she said.
“Tyler, he just never stops,” she said. “He’s all ready to set his next goal.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Leah’s Dream Foundation helps children and families affected by autism in the Marysville-Tulalip area. Learn more at: www.leahsdream.org/