In 2011 his son was diagnosed with Autism and Travis Saunders started running. Four years, countless miles and an emergency trip to hospital with a life threatening condition later, he still hasn’t stopped. He’s on a mission. And he wants you to join him.

Plenty of people use their adventures to raise money for charity. Travis Saunders, the founder of Run4Autism, has taken his efforts to a whole new level, creating a community platform that allows people running anywhere in the world to raise money to support Autism charities.

In the short time Run4Autism has literally been up and running, it’s managed to raise a staggering $135,000 for a group of ten Autism organizations across Australia. It hasn’t been without its challenges though, with Travis suffering a serious case of Rhabdomyolysis – or ‘muscle melt down’ – and ending up in hospital during last year’s 6/12/24hr run in Adelaide, South Australia.

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Even though that run came to an abrupt and unexpected end, it was a far cry from his humble running beginnings just a few years ago. “To cope with the stresses of life when my son was diagnosed with Autism, I decided to go out for a 5km jog. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t actually capable of running 5kms – I basically ran around the block and then threw up. But over the next couple of months I managed to build up to 5, 10, 20kms and before I knew it I ran my first half marathon followed by a full marathon.”

Travis and friend hamming it up at the 2014 Adelaide Marathon

Since then, he’s gone on to clock up his longest run of 168kms in a 24hr event. That was part of his effort to run 12 marathons in 12 months which he went on to do, often substituting a regular 42.2km road marathon for something much longer or more difficult. During that time, he also managed to get a number of other runners to join in the fundraising efforts and he realized his idea had legs and he could encourage more people to run or walk in any event across Australia, or even to create their own.

The inspiration for the bigger idea, came in the form of Australian ultra running legend Pat Farmer, who famously ran 13,000 miles from the North Pole to the South Pole in 2010. “I went and saw Pat give a presentation and he said if you want to raise $100,000 you need to knock on the door of 100,000 people and get them to donate $1 each. That’s the way it is these days because it’s very competitive” Travis said. “And I thought, well I can’t do that because I’m busy being an ‘Autism Dad’ doing therapy all day long. But maybe if I create something that enables other people to raise the funds and awareness, we can do it together.”

From there the idea continued to grow, and last year’s 6/12/24hr running event looked like being the biggest and best ever, with 14 people flying the Run4Autism flag. Although the team put in a stellar performance with one runner, Dej Jamieson, cracking the 200km mark in the 24 hour time limit, placing second overall, Travis’s run didn’t go quite according to plan.

“Thankfully, the 24 hour event this year wasn’t about me running. It was about having a team presence so the wider community could see we had a great group of people working collaboratively together to raise awareness and funds.”

According to Travis, things started off well enough. “I headed off very happy go lucky, I got to 12.5 hours and I’d covered 100kms and seemed to be going OK, but when I got to 125kms I started to feel a bit ordinary and needed to sit down. I’ve been tired before but this wasn’t like anything I’ve ever felt and I started shivering violently. At first they thought I had hypothermia, but when they took my temperature it was high, not low, and the nurse phoned the ambulance.”

Once he reached hospital, tests confirmed it was Rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life threatening condition in which damaged muscle tissue breaks down which in turn can lead to kidney failure. “I ended up on an IV for 14 hours and after that I felt fitter and better than I’ve ever felt after any marathon or ultra I’ve ever done. I highly recommend that part” Travis jokes, having now fully recovered without any further complications.

So was he disappointed with not being able to finish? Far from it. “If this had happened during my 12 marathons in 12 months I would have been disappointed. But because it’s about all the other people being involved I couldn’t be happier. I feel really proud I’ve managed to get a group of people together form all walks of life to support people with Autism because it’s something we do need awareness of because people just don’t understand the disorder at all. And I actually got some great coverage being in hospital so in a strange way it’s a win all round.

“Even when I was taken away in the ambulance I wasn’t disappointed because I knew people were wearing the Run4Autism top and that meant more to me than anything I did or didn’t do personally.”

While Travis won’t be competing in this year’s 6/12/24hr event in June, he certainly won’t be taking it easy. Instead he’ll be racing the Caboolture 24hour in August, and before that, The North Face 100 in Australia’s Blue Mountains in May. This 100km trail race takes in over 4,000m of elevation and is part of the Ultra Trail World Tour. Travis is hoping for a strong sub-20hr finish to score the coveted bronze belt buckle. And no hospital visits.

April is World Autism Month and I/O Merino was proud to support Travis with an ‘Autism Blue’ Altitude Long Sleeve Zip top to keep him warm during the night. He also plans on wearing it during TNF100 where overnight temperatures can drop to zero or below.

Click here for more information about Run4Autism.  

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