Autistic Michigan teen tackles triathlons
The Monroe News
AP Member Exchange
TEMPERANCE, Mich. (AP) — Jake Bockey of Temperance doesn’t speak much, but he has built confidence with athletics.
With every stroke of his arms, pedal of the bicycle and repetitive motion of footfall, Jacob Bockey accomplishes tasks some never would imagine.
The 18-year-old, who goes by Jake, completed three sprint triathlons last year. He hopes to accomplish more this year.
The athletic feats aren’t necessarily surprising on paper, but ask his parents Julie and James (Shawn) Bockey of Temperance. They understand just how impressive these accomplishments are for their son.
Jake is autistic. He doesn’t speak much. He struggles with anxiety. Yet, Jake is an athlete and he has come a long way in a year.
“Jake is incredibly energetic and reeling in his energy had become a bit difficult,” Mr. Bockey explained.
To channel his energy, the Bockeys decided to pass on their love for triathlons to their son. Julie Bockey, a 42-year-old registered nurse, has participated in triathlons for more than a decade. About six years ago, Mr. Bockey, 43, joined in. The pair has completed dozens of distance races, including a half-Ironman.
Though training for competitive racing can be difficult with two sons who are severely autistic, they still manage to stay competitive in their age divisions. The couple’s oldest son, Christian, 21, is non-verbal. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. When Jake approached the milestone, he didn’t necessarily share the same markers as his older brother, Mrs. Bockey explained. Then, at 3, Jake also was diagnosed.
The Bockeys met while they were serving in the Air Force. They moved to Michigan after Mr. Bockey took a job with the Internal Revenue Service.
A few years ago, the couple signed Jake up for a few road races just to see if he would be interested.
“We first tried to get Jake in fun runs and 5ks,” Mrs. Bockey said. “But, it was hard for him to focus. He sometimes would fixate on something off course and turn his attention away from running.”
A student in the moderate cognitive impairment (MoCI) room at Mason High School, Jake participates in intensive home-based therapy. Getting him in the pool was part of the therapy.
Early last year, Jake began swimming at the Francis Family YMCA in Temperance. He started following his own schedule within a few months. Now, he swims while his parents swim their training laps nearby.
Last summer, the Bockeys entered Jake into three sprint triathlons sponsored by Michigan-based 3 Disciplines Racing. The couple knew the company sponsored a dad, Rick, and his daughter, Maddy, who has cerebral palsy.
“One small conversation a few years ago with Rick created a friendship of trust and understanding that we could approach 3-D and throw out the idea of Jake racing,” Mrs. Bockey said. “This was by far a pivotal moment and then a bond of two dads (formed) who really get why they do this sport and the joy they have of doing this with their kids.”
The Bockeys asked the race director if Jake could compete and he didn’t hesitate.
“They have been so accommodating even knowing Jacob’s behavior can be unpredictable,” Mrs. Bockey said.
At first, Mr. Bockey was concerned about competing with his son. It wasn’t because he didn’t think he could compete but more of a fatherly safety concern.
“I wasn’t sure if he would be able to swim, but he did it and made the transition from the pool to the open water,” Mr. Bockey said.
For the super sprint, the pair swims 250 meters in open water followed by a 6-mile bike ride and 1-mile run. By comparison, Olympic triathlons, which both Mr. and Mrs. Bockey have competed in, are a 1,500-meter swim, nearly 25-mile bike ride and a 10k run.
To compete in the race, Jake swims and runs with his dad by his side. The men ride a tandem bicycle during the cycling portion of the races.
“He loves it,” Mr. Bockey said. “He gets excited to go and keep going.”
This year, the racing company named Jake and his family race ambassadors. Their goal is to encourage more people to get involved with triathlons and to show anyone, no matter their abilities, can participate.