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Operation Jack

Posted Aug 07 2009 6:25pm
Jack Felsenfeld, 5 1/2, has autism.

We all have our reasons for running -- some of them elaborate, complex backstories, others more simple ("I want to get rid of these unsightly love handles!")

Some stories are too good to pass up. This is one of them.

A reader of this blog, Deirdre Egan Edwards, recently referred me to one of her running pals, Sam Felsenfeld.

Next year, Felsenfeld will be undertaking an extraordinary journey.

Felsenfeld, 34, of Foothill Ranch, has an autistic boy, Jack, 5 1/2, along with two other healthy children, Benjamin, 8, and Ava, 3 1/2, with his wife of 10 years, Tiffany, 33.

To raise awareness and money for autism charities, Felsenfeld will attempt next year to run at least one marathon a week, for a planned total of 60.

Runners can support him by signing up for one of his marathons and raising money through pledges. For details, visit

Almost all of money will go to Train 4 Autism, which raises money for various autism charities (runners can select which autism charity the money will go to).

"I'm hoping we end up topping $250,000, but I have no idea," Felsenfeld says. "I'm hoping for 1,000 people to participate nationwide, and if they average $250 raised through our various fundraising efforts, then we're looking at $250,000.

"I really don't have any idea, but if we hit $250,000, I'd be absolutely thrilled. My real goal is that this generates long-term growth for Train 4 Autism. I really think it can be like a Team In Training for the autism world."

Jack, born Sept. 16, 2003, was diagnosed with autism shortly after he turned 3, although he has been in constant therapy and treatment since before his second birthday.

He is showing signs of progress, but has very limited speech. He struggles with communication and social interaction.

Felsenfeld considers it a gift to be in the position he's in to raise money through running.

When he was 16, he broke his neck in a swimming-pool accident.

"I was lucky I wasn't paralyzed," he says.

Never fast or athletic, and partial to partying while in college, Felsenfeld's weight soared to 261 -- about 60 pounds more than it should have been.

A former smoker, Felsenfeld started walking less than five years ago. Walking turned into slow jogging, and eventually, slow jogging turned into his first marathon.

"I'm never going to win any races, but I know I'm a fairly decent runner and there has to be a reason why my legs were spared," he says.

"I also think there has to be a reason my son was born severely autistic, because an innocent child shouldn't face the lifelong struggles he will.

"I really think this might be a good opportunity to make a purpose out of it all."
Felsenfeld has completed 25 marathons and two ultramarathons ( Malibu Canyon 50K and the PCT 50, both this year), and he has 11 Boston qualifiers and a personal-best time of 3:00:05.

"Someday I'll revisit trails," he says of ultrarunning. "They're a whole different beast, though. I'm pretty much a road warrior right now."

Tiffany is training for her first marathon, Long Beach, in October. She is hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon and join her husband there next year.

For more information, visit, or contact Felsenfeld at or (949) 292-1432.
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