East Northport’s Mikey Brannigan needs no introduction anymore. Nowadays, the cheers start the moment he walks in a room.
The 19-year-old Northport High School graduate, who has autism, won gold in the 1,500 meters at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro last week and received a hero’s welcome at his homecoming celebration at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga Friday morning.
“He is an inspiration,” Brannigan’s mother, Edie, said. “People with autism in their life all over the country see that autistic people can be elite athletes. There are no limits. Mikey showed that.”
Brannigan, who returned home Tuesday morning, had a winning time of 3 minutes, 51.73 seconds in the T20 category, which is designed for athletes with intellectual impairments. He is the first American runner with autism to win gold in the 1,500 in the Paralympics, according to NBC news.
“Mikey is the first, but he won’t be the last, for sure,” Edie said.
Cause Cafe founder Stacey Wohl was one of the many inspired by Brannigan’s success.
“Having two autistic children myself who were pigeonholed and were told that they couldn’t do this or that and could never do things that other typical kids could do, having someone like him here is just amazing,” she said.
Brannigan, who is attending Suffolk Community College this fall, was all smiles as he took his gold medal out of his pocket and showed it to star-struck onlookers. He signed autographs, met with fans who had followed his story through the media, and told — and retold — stories from Brazil.
“I wasn’t worried about time, just the kick,” he said of his race.
Said Edie: “Mikey took an early command of the race. No other athletes would pass him. He set the pace. It was his race. He executed the race perfectly. When he crossed the finish, I can’t even describe how great it was . . . We were relieved, thrilled for him, the United States, and Northport. He wanted to bring the gold medal home to Northport and he did.”
And they love him for it.
“I wanted to honor him. The kids that work for me were very excited to be a part of this,” said Wohl, who employs people with autism and other disabilities.
None of the attention bothers Brannigan, who seemed naturally at ease addressing the approximately 20 people who were at the cafe when he showed up.
“It was good,” Brannigan said. “I’m enjoying every second of this moment.”
“I’m still kind of in shock,” Edie said of the enthusiasm her son is now being met with. “It still hasn’t sunk in, what this means. This is our first opportunity to see our community since we got home. I’m overwhelmed.”
Brannigan isn’t shy about what his ultimate goal is — running in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“There are better things to come,” he told the crowd.