TOWNSEND – This Saturday at Heritage Park in Townsend, more than 120 runners will gather for the Many Abilities fun run organized by Big Sky Autism Project. The event includes a 1k, 5k, festival, and even a virtual event for those unable to attend in person.
The race is inclusive of all abilities. Monique Prevel, executive director, founder and lead coach of the Big Sky Autism Project, says there are participants who will be running, walking and rolling. The event is not timed and there are other activities at the event available to everyone.
“We closed Broadway, and we made sure that all of our activities could be done by anyone who wanted to, whether or not they had an intellectual disability,” Prevel said.
Vendors, pizza and ice cream and raffles will be available at Heritage Park. Since Broadway Street will be closed, several businesses will have sales that day for the event.
Although the event has not yet started, Prevel is already proud.
“It is already a successful event. We have, as I said, 120 pre-registered runners, runners, walkers, rollerbladers. We have over 18 vendors and upcoming activities. The overwhelming response from communities around Montana…several communities asked us when we would come and do this in their town. And we chose Townsend because that’s our base of operations. And this is our first major event. And, you know, April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month and we thought, whatever the weather, we should have this event in April in Townsend at least for this first year,” she said.
One hundred percent of the money for race entries, t-shirts, ice cream, pizza and donations go to the non-profit organization. They are currently working on finding suitable fitness trainers for all major cities in Montana.
Big Sky Autism Project works with neurodivergent people on progression and regression exercises that translate into everyday life.
Prevel started the Big Sky Autism Project because of his son who has non-verbal autism. She went to train with Eric Chessen, who developed fitness for autism, and got certified. She is the only person in Montana to be certified under her program, and there are only 350 certified people worldwide.
“So I thought, you know what better way to help not just my son, but this community by providing a service that’s not here. And it can do a lot for them by helping them develop the strength, stability and stamina needed to complete everyday tasks. And it also allows them to release energy that gets pent up and causes problems when they can’t, you know, find an outlet,” Prevel said.
Prevel explained why it’s so important to educate autistic and neurodivergent people.
“It is important to raise awareness about neurodiversity and autism as it is becoming more and more common in society. The latest figures from the CDC are that one in 44 children aged eight and older have been diagnosed. In 2020, they released a report indicating that 2.21% of American adults have autism. And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s actually over 5 million people. So autism and neurodiversity are there. And anytime you see someone acting a little weird to like societal norms, you know, you have to think for a minute and be aware that they might be autistic or neurodivergent,” she said.
Register for Saturday’s race here.