Runners take big steps with SSHS track | SteamboatToday.com

Runners take big steps with SSHS track

Austin Colbert

— Jill Rowan did her best to contain the tears. She didn't want to embarrass her son, Steamboat Springs High School freshman Cade Rowan, as he stood on the podium to receive his medal Friday at the state track and field meet in Lakewood.

Cade, who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in the fifth grade, had to overcome a lot to even get to that point, standing in front of hundreds at Jefferson County Stadium after doing something he didn't believe he could do.

"We wanted him to be part of a sports team, and he does not particularly love sports," Jill Rowan said. "There are so many life lessons to learn being in a team sport, so we just wanted him to find a place that maybe he could develop some social skills and to develop some friendships."

Cade Rowan and SSHS sophomore Jon Ruehle each competed for the Sailors over the weekend in a pair of unified races at state, designed for athletes with disabilities. Both boys struggle with autism, but have found an avenue through track to help bridge the social gap that comes with the condition.

Ruehle first competed with the Sailors last year as a freshman, and the difference between then and now is night and day according to his mother, Pam Ruehle. Jon Ruehle was born 16 weeks early and given only a 50 percent chance of living. Between that and a lifetime of living with autism, seeing him come out of his shell with the Sailors' track team has been nothing short of a miracle for his parents.

"He really wants to be a part of the team. He likes being with the kids and talking to them," Pam Ruehle said, noting a moment at a meet in Craig earlier this season where Jon spent a rain delay dancing with a group of girls from the Sailors' track team. "We saw a big change from last year to this year in school, and how he interacted with peers. I think it started with being on the team last year, and continuing with cross country this fall and now track again this spring."

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Much like Jon Ruehle, Cade Rowan has embraced track and field, both mothers quick to give much of the credit to SSHS coach Lisa Renee Tumminello.

Cade, the second oldest of four boys and the only one with autism, was nervous about competing with the Sailors this season and was particularly hesitant about running at state.

But, before Friday's 200-meter unified race, Cade went around and wished all the other competitors good luck, lined up like any of the hundreds of athletes competing that weekend, and afterward stood on the podium alongside Ruehle to receive his medal.

"It was such a great experience for him to get that medal, for him to see he got something for all of his hard work throughout the year," Jill Rowan said. "Honestly, every race he ran (this season), I'm pretty sure he came in last. But, it never got him down. He would always just focus on setting a personal goal for beating the time he did before. And that just came from coach Tumminello, trying to give him something positive like she does the rest of the kids."

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert