Kanata runner to compete in world Para championships
Elite athlete heading to Switzerland, England with Team Canada
Kanata’s Tommy Des Brisay wins the 5-km Road Race on Canada Day 2016 with a personal best of 15:24. The elite runner with autism will compete at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, England this July. – Zoomphoto Event Photography Pool
Kanata’s Tommy Des Brisay will represent Canada at the World Para Athletics Championships in London, England this July. The 25-year-old elite runner with autism is ranked third in the world in the 5,000-metre for athletes with an intellectual impairment. – Jessica Cunha/Metroland
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Kanata’s Tommy Des Brisay will represent Canada at the World Para Athletics Championships in July.
The 25-year-old elite runner with autism was named to Team Canada and will travel first to Switzerland for training, then on to London, England, for the championships, running July 14 to 23.
Currently ranked third in the world in the 5,000 metres for athletes with an intellectual impairment, Des Brisay will race in the 5,000 m and 1,500 m.
“He’ll be there wearing the Maple Leaf,” said his mother MaryAnn Given Des Brisay. “He’s going to make Canada proud.”
The Bridlewood runner – who owns an extensive collection of Disney movies and can quote characters from any film – said he’s going to channel his inner Dash Parr, the young superhero with superhuman speed from the animated picture The Incredibles. Des Brisay uses bits from Disney films to relate what he’s feeling and thinking.
“I decided to be like Dash Incredible,” he said. “I must find some way to be the first toughest runner in the world.”
Sometimes he says he wants to be the fastest runner, or the happiest or the strongest. The words change, but his passion for running doesn’t waver.
“He’s gotten to know more athletes from all over Canada and gotten to know coaches,” said MaryAnn. “Now for him to be selected to go to worlds … it’s helping him grow as a person and helping him become more self-sufficient.”
Des Brisay has excelled at long-distance running and the evidence hangs on a wall in his bedroom, which is crowded with medals, trophies and ribbons.
Among his long list of running accomplishments are a first-place win at the Canada Army Run half-marathon last year where he finished ahead of 8,500 participants with a time of 1:12:25; a silver finish in the 5,000 m at his first international race, held in Italy in 2016; and three years running he’s been named Road Racer of the Year at the Ottawa Sports Award banquet.
Des Brisay, who was next in line to race at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, is a Paralympic hopeful for Tokyo 2020. His goal, he said, is to represent Canada and compete at the Paralympics.
“I like being active,” he said. “I’m going to be the first strongest runner in the world.”
Des Brisay began running competitively at age 14 with his father, Peter, a past member of the national cross-country ski team and former runner.
“Tommy’s dad was always going out for a run and Tommy really liked being active,” said MaryAnn. “The idea was that maybe he would like the routine and maybe it would give him a new outlet for some of his energy.”
Des Brisay took to the sport. He began competing in high school track, and then cross-country and road races. He does interval training with his dad in the basement and is a member of the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club, where he trains three times a week, “Monday, Wednesday and Saturday,” he said.
“It’s been such a transformation for him; it’s given him so many opportunities for socializing and being part of this community,” said MaryAnn.
“When you get a diagnosis like autism, it’s kind of like people saying that your child has all these limits, all these disabilities – and he is very disabled, he’s still very autistic, he needs a lot of support – but when he gets on that track and he runs, he’s independent.”
Around the same time he began competitive running, he also launched a YouTube channel. He enjoyed watching other people’s videos and wanted to make his own.
“He told me to put him on YouTube, it wasn’t my idea,” said MaryAnn, adding she figured they would post a couple of videos “very discreetly” because she was concerned about online safety.
“I didn’t foresee (this),” she said, laughing. The channel now has more than 21,500 subscribers.
It features videos of him at races and while training, as well as trips to Disney, playing guitar and family celebrations.
The family has received messages from people around the world, some who were inspired by Des Brisay to take up running, while others have written that the videos helped them when they were depressed.
“That means a lot when you really think about how autism is a thing where you supposedly can’t communicate, but Tommy has communicated a really strong message to a lot of people,” said MaryAnn. “He’s touched a lot of lives.”
Des Brisay leaves for training in Switzerland on July 7 before flying to London on July 12. He returns to Ottawa on July 24.