Autistic Teen Josh Manning Set For Marathon Debut in Honolulu

HONOLULU (09-Dec) — With bright sunshine beaming down out of a crystal clear sky, Joshua Manning runs back and forth along Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach with a grand smile on his face. As a photographer snaps pictures, the 17-year-old looks eager and excited for his next big challenge: Sunday’s Honolulu Marathon.

A native of Australia’s Gold Coast, Manning has followed his heart here to Hawaii, where he’ll be competing alongside some 30,000 participants in the race’s 42nd edition, hoping to break three hours in the process. As a beach-goer asks if he’s racing Sunday, Manning nods his head and says yes. Little does the woman know the journey that Manning has taken to get here, achieving great heights through running despite having Autism.

“I’m a bit nervous, but excited,” said Manning, speaking to Race Results Weekly in the lobby of a local hotel. “I know I’ve gone further than the marathon [in another race] but haven’t done it in probably quite this hot. Bit nervous, but I’m very excited!”

In 2012, Manning started training for triathlons after meeting Brian King, a coach at C1 Performance Coaching back home on the Gold Coast. Soon thereafter he achieved success in the sport, winning the 2012/2013 National Olympic Distance Triathlon Championship for 14 and 15-year-olds. From there, a love of endurance sports began.

Of the three disciplines making up triathlon, running stood out most to Josh. Lacing up his shoes and going out for training runs, Josh felt as if he was flying. Unlike other sports he’d tried, such as swimming and surfing, running made him happy. There were no bounds — neither Autism nor other people could hold him back.

“I like how the first person over the line is the winner,” he said, sporting a Honolulu Marathon T-shirt.  “I like how the fastest person is the winner. It’s cut and dry.”

Running –particularly long distances– soon became Josh’s ultimate passion. Observing his son’s love for the sport blossom first hand was Josh’s father Paul, an Ironman triathlete and marathoner himself.

“He goes to a place that most people can’t go,” Paul described. “In the zone, and he just goes. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him once talk about distance or how far or how long a run is. It’s ‘I can do it’ and [he goes] out there and run. It’s ‘This is what I want to do.'”

While running was fun, racing was a whole different ball game. With an added boost of adrenaline pumping through his veins, Josh thrives on race day. Mention Sunday’s marathon and a big grin comes across his face, eyes widening with anticipation.

“I just love racing. I just find I can go so much faster racing,” he says. “It’s exciting and you’ve got the crowd.”

Josh enters the Honolulu Marathon determined to break three hours. Past races indicate that it is within his grasp. Bypassing the marathon distance, Josh finished a 50-K (roughly 31 miles) mountain and trail race in April, then made his half-marathon debut at the Gold Coast Airport Half Marathon. Timing 1:26:31, Manning placed sixth in his age group. He’s also completed numerous 30-kilometer (20.5 mile) competitions.

“That gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. “Knowing that I’ve gone further before it really helps coming to a marathon and trying to run it fast. I think it helps me very much.”

Although he’s been an athlete for quite some time, Paul Manning never imagined Josh would discover a sport that would help him live life to the fullest like running has.

“For us, Autism has never been a limiter for Josh,” he said. “Running is opening up the world for him. He has big goals.”

While the marathon is his goal right now, Josh plans on returning to Hawaii someday to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

“The most important thing through this is the message that you’ve just got to do what makes you happy,” said Paul. “It brings a whole different spectrum, brought him out of his shell… It’s just about him doing what he enjoys, and that passion is key. Find what makes you happy and do it, do lots of it!”

Come Sunday, keep an eye out for bib number 14,172 to stride down into Kapiolani Park, the clock beginning with two hours and fifty-something minutes. That’ll be Josh, doing just what he loves: running and racing.

“I just love it. Yeah, I just love it. You go out not too happy and come back really happy and calmed down and much better,” he said. “Once I get down to a pace that’s good and I’m running along, I forget how hard it is and all that. It’s a lot of fun.”