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Autistic Great Neck runner, Alex Schneider, closer to magazine cover

Alex Schneider, 22, of Great Neck, at the

Alex Schneider, 22, of Great Neck, at the finish of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. He is competing in the Runner’s World Cover Contest, where he has earned a spot on the leaderboard. Photo Credit: Picasa / Robyn Schneider

Alex Schneider has pulled away from the pack.

The 24-year-old Great Neck resident who is competing for the cover of Runner’s World has earned a spot on the leader board.

Schneider is one of the roughly 1,700 runners vying to be on the cover of the national magazine’s December 2014 issue, and as of Monday morning, online voters had put him in the 15th place, with more than 1,800 votes. 

“It’s been crazy,” said Schneider’s mother, Robyn. “He keeps inching up and inching up.”

Robyn Schneider said many of the votes being cast for her son are coming from the autism community. Alex Schneider and his twin brother, Jamie, both have autism and are nonverbal.

The twins discovered their talent for running in 2005 when their mother introduced them to coaches with the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program. The not-for-profit running team on Long Island integrates “special needs individuals with their typical peers,” according to its website.

Robyn Schneider said that since her sons have never been able to communicate what they wanted to do, she always signed them up for activities and hoped for the best. She soon learned her boys were natural runners.

Alex is particularly gifted at the sport. He ran the 2013 ING New York City Marathon in only 3  hours 14 minutes and 36 seconds and the 2013 Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 23 minutes and 22 seconds.

“Running is his passion,” she said. “His behaviors and disabilities can be so crippling … but running brings him so much happiness, it’s made his life.”

One of Schneider’s Rolling Thunder teammates, Mike Brannigan, 17, of East Northport, who also has autism, is also competing in the cover contest, as is ultramarathoner Eva Casale, 49, of Glen Cove, who recently ran seven marathons to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. As of Monday at noon, Brannigan had 202 votes and Casale had 1,061.

Votes only account for 10 percent of the judging process, according to Runner’s World. A panel of the magazine’s editors will ultimately decide the finalist and overall winners, one male and one female.

To enter the contest, each contestant had to answer three questions including “Why is running important to you?” 

Writing on behalf of her son, Robyn Schneider told the magazine, “Running is the sole place that Alex can go where his autism is not front and center. … Running levels the playing field for him.”

His story is inspiring others. Robyn Schneider said messages have been pouring in through social media from other parents whose children have autism. They tell her Alex gives them hope.

“I’d be proud to have Alex depict what those with autism are capable of,” she said. “We would be celebrating for him, but we’d also be celebrating for all kids with autism.”

You can view Schneider's entry and vote here

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