For Jessica Hernandez, running was never a talent. In fact, anything athletic, like riding bikes, roller skating, or swimming, took her years longer to learn than her peers. But Jessica was never one to back down from a challenge, and that’s why she signed up for a local wellness program in 2017, where the focus was to improve all-around wellbeing by addressing nutrition, mental health, and movement.
Autism And Trail Running Start
Jessica had been working a very stressful, demanding, and exhausting job in social work for three years at that point, and she felt deeply lost and depressed. So she picked up running, something she knew she could stick with. Five years prior she had completed her first 5K and glimpsed the potential she had within her.
“I was so relieved, lol! My goal had been to run the whole thing no matter how slow and I achieved it. I’ve never had an ounce of athletic ability, and crossing that finish line was the first spark in my mind that maybe I could do more someday but it would take years to rekindle that spark into the drive I have now. In that moment, I told myself that I’d never sign up for a 5K again. Boy was I wrong!”
By the end of the wellness program, she had lost 50 pounds, felt a lot better emotionally, and was completely hooked on running. Jessica never imagined that she would want to run longer distances, but she found herself drawn to the sport. “After watching multiple documentaries on ultra running and watching others conquer 100 milers, I asked myself ‘Why not me? Why not someone like me?'”
Building Her Own Community
Jessica is an autistic, Latina runner, and she knows that she is not often represented in the running world. That’s why she started a public Instagram account (@runsautistic), where she posts about her running journey and challenges as an autistic, Latina runner. Her purpose is to make herself visible to others like her so they won’t feel alone and to make herself visible to the trail running community so that one day people like her are just normalized in the community and accepted.
“I haven’t found a running group I fit in with yet. I’ve tried starting my own running group locally without any success. But I’m not giving up. I hike with a friend regularly, continue to engage in running circles on social media, and I sign up for trail races that are outside of my comfort zone. I enjoy my own company, and most of my runs are solo, but I hope to one day find or build a running community where I feel welcomed.”
My Life Changed With My Diagnosis
Jessica’s autism diagnosis was the catalyst to a full life transformation for her. “I had spent 36 years trying to fit into a world that was not built for me. My diagnosis was a lens of my life that had suddenly snapped into place. I was free. Free to be compassionate with myself. Free to transform my life into something that was comfortable for me and a lot less of a struggle.”
Jessica hired a coach in November 2021 after multiple injuries just trying to get to the start line of her first half. “He’s been an amazing support for me since.”
Let’s Chase Our Goals
Jessica has set herself a goal of running a 100 miler in 2024. She knows that it won’t be easy, but she is determined to achieve it. “I know now that I can adjust timelines and keep working towards my goal even if I don’t get it done by 2024. I know I can do it.”