In his running career, 36-year-old Andy Bryant has completed 30 marathons including racing in Boston nine times, his most recent one being this year’s tough course in brutal weather conditions. His personal best for the distance is 2:55:23 with a half marathon PR of 1:21:26. Bryant is passionate about running and has been since the age of five when he competed in his first Special Olympics.
At 3-years-old, Bryant was diagnosed with Autism—but even at a young age, he wasn’t ready to let it be his identity. Two years later, he began competing in the Games in the assisted-walk events and ultimately began running more regularly to improve his craft. Thriving under the structure of a training schedule, Bryant finally began to realize that he was a solid competitor in the marathon.
This past March, Brooks Running announced they’d be signing the athlete along with fellow teammate Collen Bryant (no relation) and both would compete in this year’s Special Olympics USA Games from July 1-6 in Seattle. “We have always sought to sponsor the best athletes in the sport. In addition to an immense amount of athletic talent, Andy and Colleen are incredible sources of inspiration,” said Brooks sports marketing manager Steve DeKoker in a release this spring. “We are so moved by them and their love for the run that we are expanding our athlete sponsorship program, paving the way to a more inclusive sponsorship model in the future.”
On Sunday, thousands of athletes gathered together at Husky Stadium for the opening ceremony of Games. More than 4,000 athletes and coaches representing 50 states will have competed in 14 events throughout the week, with Bryant switching up his marathon roots and competing in the 3,000m, 10,000m and the 4X400m relay.
“You talk about running, and he just lights up. He has this energy about him with running; it’s really where he’s found his voice and his personality and identity,” said DeKoker. “He’ll smile, and he will talk to you for days about running. He finds me now; I’ve seen him in several social situations outside of work, and he’ll come up and ask me about my running, if I’ve run with a local run club.”
What’s he most excited about for at the Games? “Looking forward to a gold; it’s a stiff competition,” said Bryant. The athlete also shared his enthusiasm to be a part of the Brooks team saying, it made him feel confident to be a part of the family. And in case you’re wondering how he feels when he runs, “like Spiderman,” a.k.a. a superhero.
“When you ask Andy or Colleen if they’re runners, there’s just this pride and spirit that comes out of them. I think sometimes we’re a little insecure about those things, but they’re fully confident and happy and joyful to express their love of running with you,” shared DeKoker. “That’s inspiring. I struggle like anyone else to get out the door a lot of days. You see someone like Andy or Colleen who is just happy to be able to run every day and compete and have these opportunities. It inspires me to get out there.”
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Proudly standing by Bryant’s side is his mother and biggest cheerleader Colleen Engle. Having watched him develop his talent and compete over the years, she’s now noticing a new kind of competitor in the Games. “This is not your Special Olympics of the past. The caliber of athletes you’re seeing now. It’s like high school or college,” said Engle. “You saw fairly fast athletes in the 100 [meters], but for years and years, [Andy] had no competition in the 5K and absolutely none in the 10K. So now, with what we’ve seen today, with the men that raced the 5K, oh my gosh, they were flying. This is going to be a really difficult race; technically it’s going to be really hard. He’s going to have to really strategize.”
But Bryant was up to the challenge. This morning, the Brooks athlete finished first in the 3000m, taking home the gold. On July 5, he’ll be looking forward to competing in his final two events, just in time to start training for his next big race: the Chicago Marathon. After that, Bryant plans to conquer Boston a tenth time and compete in London, Berlin and Tokyo, eventually. But no matter which race he competes in next, you can guarantee he’ll be doing it with a big smile on his face.
**Editor’s Note: Andy Bryant went on to also secure the bronze in the 10K in the M02 division on July 5.