Close to 10,000 participants showed up ready to run or walk this past Saturday, Nov. 16,for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Irvine.
At the front of the pack, was 14-year-old Sam Dameshek, wearing too small borrowed running shoes. His own were left in a locker at school. He waited patiently with his family and friends, all part of Team “Walk For Jake.” This was the second year that this young man had brought together a team for this event and worked to raise money for autism research. His motivation is his fraternal twin brother Jake, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
Over a six-week period, starting around 22 months, his speech disappeared as did his ability to make eye contact, socialize, play with his brother and feed himself. Every hard earned milestone evaporated. He slipped back to the level of a 6 month old baby trapped in a 2 year old’s body. As a parent I can tell you there are no words to describe the loss. Our boy was changed forever. It was many years before I would fully understand that we as parents were not the only ones that had suffered a loss. A little boy also lost his brother and playmate.
For the next many years, Sam lived in a household whose daily activities, schedules, outings, vacations were all driven by what Jake could “handle” or tolerate. Many kids would start to act out or rebel. They might feel resentful or angry. Not Sam. He was always centered on what his brother needed. He seemed to have a level of empathy and understanding that I marvel at to this day.
Jake spent years undergoing intensive therapy and schooling. Eventually language returned as did many of the lost
skills. Sammy’s role during these years was to model for Jake appropriate behavior and play skills. As the years went forward, Sam was Jake’s protector in the school yard from bully’s who might taunt or tease. Jake was dependent on his twin for providing an insulation to the outside world and all the noise, confusion and calamity we call life. Sam stepped to the plate and championed his brother. Everyday life for Jake was navigated with fear and uncertainty. In the midst of this was Jake’s guardian angel, Sam.
This past Saturday when the signal was finally given and participants launched from the start line, Sammy took off running. He ran for his brother. He ran for all those individuals who had donated and sponsored him. (Over the past two years, he had raised close to $6,500.) He ran as if Jake depended on it. He was the first to cross the finish line!
As the follow car came around the bend, heading towards the finish I could see a runner but wasn’t sure who? As they came closer and the crowd cheered, I could see our Sam. He was smiling ear to ear. He waved as he ran by me. I cried as I snapped pictures, overcome by love and pride. With all that Sammy lost all those years ago, here he was 12 years later running for the good fight! No longer a boy but a young man who still champions his brother!
I am writing to my community of Laguna Beach and asking for your support for my son Sam and his loving efforts. Donations can still be accepted. Please go to www.walknowforautismspeaks.org and type in Sam Dameshek. It will bring you to Sam’s fundraising page.
Kimberly O’Brien- Young is mom to three boys and an instructional aide in special ed for the Laguna Beach School District.