Stafford Police Join Running Guides for Athlete With Autism

By VICTORIA FORD | Jul 16, 2019
Photo by: Lexi Schnell

Stafford Township — Matthew Monaco, a.k.a. Matty, is an Achilles Athlete from Bergen County who is on the autism spectrum. Just a few weeks ago he was in need of a local running buddy.

Now he has a whole flock of new friends and supporters.

Achilles International, formerly known as the Achilles Track Club, was established in 1983 to encourage those with special needs to participate in mainstream athletics. Today the worldwide organization provides support, training and technical expertise to runners at all levels.

The Monaco family lives in Waldwick, where Matty has a running guide who regularly accompanies him on workouts. His mom, Dawn Monaco, was looking for someone to run with him when they stay at their Brant Beach house. Right away Stafford police officers stepped up and volunteered.

Patrolman Anthony Vincent has experience as a paraprofessional in Southern Regional High School’s autism program and has led autism trainings for the police department. He also provides fitness training to his fellow officers and military guys for the Torch Run. He was enthusiastic to meet Matty and encourage his health and well-being. The extra miles for Vincent to run were just a bonus, as physical fitness is vital to him.

“There’s been times I’ve had to carry someone out of a four-story building; I can’t imagine if my fitness wasn’t there,” Vincent said.

Vincent enlisted the help of officers Zach Wiatrowski, Gerardo Jorge, Andrew Mozliwicz and Master Police Officer Allen Jillson so they could coordinate a schedule. Vincent said Jillson has run many marathons and will run with Matty a few times a week to help him with pacing. But the workouts, generally four or five miles, are largely dictated by Matty’s pace and comfort level. Down the road, Vincent would like to have Matty attend a Torch Run workout, too, so he could feel like part of the team.

Wednesday, the Monacos met up with Vincent at the police department in Manahawkin for a group run in which all the officers participated, with a patrol car driving along behind, playing motivational music. Dawn said it was “priceless.” Two days later, Jillson and Matty did six miles together on the Island.

The New Jersey Chapter of Achilles was created two years ago. Its first major fundraising event, the Hope & Possibility four-mile race, is Sept. 22 in Englewood.

As soon as Matty was diagnosed, Dawn dedicated her time to research and education, and now she works for SPAN Parent Advocacy Network in Newark.

Running is great for him, according to Dawn. The activity has given him a community. The atmosphere at Achilles events is uplifting for everyone involved and very social, she said – and “Matt loves a party.”

Guides always talk about how fulfilling it is. They love it, Dawn said. Young kids may also be running guides, which teaches them about compassion and service, she said.

For information about getting involved, check out achillesnj.org.

—Victoria Ford

victoria@thesandpaper.net

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