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Michael Brannigan keeps on running, with Rolling Thunder's support

Michael Brannigan, 17, of East Northport, finished in

Michael Brannigan, 17, of East Northport, finished in first place at the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program’s 16th annual Thunder Run 5k run/walk held at Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge on Sunday, July 13, 2014. Photo Credit: Jennifer A. Uihlein

When Edie Brannigan, 50, of East Northport, gave birth to her first child, Patrick, she was in labor for 24 hours. With her youngest son, Thomas, labor lasted 16 hours.

Michael, her middle son, sped out in two hours.

“He ran out of my womb,” Brannigan chuckled.

Michael has been running ever since.

Constantly on the go, he had to learn to slow down. At the age of 6, therapists worked with Michael for six month to teach him how to walk, so that he could keep pace with his mother.

“Mikey never walked,” Brannigan said.  “He went from crawling to running. In fact, that’s how we first found out that he had autism, because at 13-months-old, he was running around my house, running right into walls.”

After his parents recognized his talent, Michael Brannigan was encouraged to join the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program in 2006 at the age of 9. From the beginning, his abilities were recognized. 

“I saw somebody who had a runner up front, wasn’t afraid to run from behind, and you could see the talent,” said head coach Steve Cuomo, who founded Rolling Thunder in 1998.  Rolling Thunder is an all-inclusive organization that provides challenged individuals the opportunity to participate in mainstream running events with typical peers. 

Michael Brannigan’s successes keep on coming. In 2009, at the of 12, he ran his first 10k race, participating in the Marine Corps Marathon Race, in which he placed 22nd of 5,480 runners. Brannigan, now 17, is a nationally recognized runner. 

On Sunday, Rolling Thunder held its 16th annual Thunder Run 5k run/walk at Hidden Pond Park in Hauppauge. About 80 percent of Rolling Thunder athletes are on the autism spectrum. The Long Island-based organization has 181 members in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens counties.

It was no surprise that Brannigan placed first, finishing the 5k run in 15:58. The Thunder Run drew more than 400 runners with all abilities, running side by side.

“I took it easy and was just jogging today, it felt like a cross-country work out,” Brannigan said.  “I felt smooth and relaxed.”

For Brannigan, diagnosed with autism at the age of two, running became a life changer. The hyper-focus that he demonstrated with autism was no longer limiting. The sport has helped him concentrate on academics, build confidence and grow socially.

Brannigan’s positive attitude and determination has become his way of life.

“My main goal is, keep on winning, go undefeated, remember from memories.  ‘Who got me there?’ If you believe in this sport, everything can come true in the future,“ he said. 

Surely, Brannigan’s future is bright. 

When asked why he likes to run, “I am there to win,” he says, with sincerity, and of course, a smile.

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