Autism, a very real and very serious problem that now impacts 1 in 6 children across the country. There are numerous theories out there as to how it manifests itself and how it can be cured, but oftentimes it's shrugged off as nothing with all the hustle and bustle of every day living.
But for those who are caretakers of someone with autism, or are perhaps living with autism themselves, it actually is every day living, and it is far from nothing.
Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino is among those who knows all too well what it's like living with someone who has been diagnosed with autism, as his son Michael was diagnosed with autism growing up. That's why he started the Dan Marino Foundation back in 1992, and last Saturday, the foundation hosted their 7th annual Autism Walkabout at Hard Rock Stadium.
"This is seven years, we're raising $4 million with this walk, and the support of the community has been unbelievable," Marino said.
Since its inception 25 years ago, the Dan Marino Foundation has raised over $53 million dollars towards battling autism and raising awareness, and the Walkabout has become a big part of how the Foundation receives its donations. Ironically enough, former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland had a lot to do with it as well.
"Jeff Ireland and Rachel have been here pretty much every year with this and they couldn't make it because of other issues," Marino said, "And I just wanted to tell you I appreciate Jeff and all he's done here in the community and helping us with this whole thing, so thanks, Jeff."
Ireland and his wife Rachel have two teenage daughters of their own, both of whom were diagnosed with autism when they were merely two years old. With no small thanks to them, the Walkabout has become a huge event, with numerous partners - most notably Walgreens - offering donations and drawing crowds over 10,000 to participate in the walk and following festivities.
Dolphins alumni arrived in droves to help support the cause, including former stars such as Dwight Stephenson, Patrick Surtain, Oronde Gadsden and Tony Nathan, along with many more. Along with those alumni, mascots from Miami's other three major sports teams - Billy the Marlin of the Miami Marlins, Burnie of the Miami Heat and Viktor E. Ratt of the Florida Panthers - joined mascot TD in wandering the area to take photos and add to the lighthearted atmosphere of the event.
But with all this money flying around, one has to wonder where it's all going. According to Claire Marino, Dan's wife, all of the profits from the event are staying right in South Florida, and that she's not surprised the event has gotten as big as it has.
"What's most important," Claire said. "Is the money that's raised here stays here. It's in our community helping children and families here. All of us are affected in some way. You know someone or another family member has a child with autism, so I think it's just a natural progression for us to keep growing."
As to why it's happened the way it is, Dan has a pretty good idea.
"I think it's the relationships with the community," he said. "That's it. Relationships are everything.
"I played here 17 years and I've had some of the dearest, best friends in this community help out with this whole thing, from the volunteers to the sponsors to families that have been affected by it, and that's it. That's what it's all about, really, if you think about it, that's what this morning is about – the awareness for the community and having fun and raising some money."
The battle against autism is very real and very concerning, and until a true solution is found, and perhaps even beyond that, the Marino family will continue their efforts to raise money and awareness, perhaps to the point where they can reach beyond South Florida.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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