NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Paula Muller of New Canaan had 12,000 reasons to run last year’s New York City Marathon. The race was canceled due to Superstorm Sandy, but Muller’s commitment to raise awareness for autism has remained steadfast.
On Sunday, Muller will run her second New York City marathon and third overall. She raised $12,000 for Autism Speaks before last year’s race. When the race was canceled, runners were given the option of running this year. “It was a no-brainer,’’ Muller said. “I said I’m definitely running next year.”
Muller’s 7-year-old son, Andrew, was diagnosed with autism a few years ago. Muller met another runner who was running for Autism Speaks and liked the idea of running for charity. She had never done that before. “Especially because it was my own child, I thought it was a great idea,’’ Muller said.
She spread the word and was astonished to receive $12,000 in donations. The minimum fundraising level was $3,000. Her fund raising page for this year's race is online.
“I think people really related to it,’’ said Muller, noting that autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys. “There’s more of a connection to it than if I had run for another charity. It’s staggering. Autism is not a rare thing anymore. I got all kinds of emails and responses.”
When Superstorm Sandy blasted New York City, race organizers stayed committed to holding the race up until just two days before the runners would have stepped off. It was an emotional roller-coaster for Muller, who wrestled with the decision to run if the race had gone on.
“My instinct was saying don’t do it, it’s a bad idea,’’ Muller said. “I was relieved when it was canceled. Forget that I had trained four months for it. I thought it was the right thing to do. It was unfortunate it wasn’t called sooner.”
Muller started training again in the summer for this year’s race, and it took some time for her commitment to kick in. “Eventually I got back into the swing of things and felt strong,’’ said Muller, who ran 1:44:39 in the Ridgefield Half Marathon in early October. “I feel better this year than I did last year.”
Muller’s last marathon was in 2000 when she ran Chicago.
“I think it’s even more meaningful this time,’’ she said. “It’s like training twice for one marathon. Every run I go on, all I think about is Andrew. I feel like this will be a very emotional day. I will definitely be giving him my medal. He won’t know what it’s all about, but one day he will.”