Many thanks to reporter Jessica Cunha at the Kanata Kourier-Standard: Metroland Media for these two stories about Tommy Des Brisay before and after he competed at worlds! It’s been an incredible, exciting journey for Tommy to have the honour to represent Canada at the World Para Athletic Championships in London this summer!
The Washington Post wrote a story about Tommy on May 6, 2017! You can read the story here:
Tommy was featured in Runner’s World Magazine April 27, 2017!
FOR MANY WITH AUTISM, RUNNING IS A SPORT THAT FITS
As opportunities for training and racing grow, runners and their families are seeing results they never anticipated.
BY ALISON WADE
“Tommy Des Brisay had an insatiable need to move when he was a child.
He began walking at 8 months old. He would bounce on his backyard trampoline for hours and climb heights fearlessly. He slept only three hours a night until he was 7. As he grew older, he would go on long tandem bike rides, cross-country ski, and lead his father on walks that would leave them stranded miles from their home in Ottawa, Ontario.
And when he was stressed or upset, Des Brisay—who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and a half—would run. This posed a danger, because he didn’t understand what could harm him: traffic, exposure to weather, strangers.
When he was 14, in 2006, his mother, MaryAnn Given Des Brisay, asked her husband, Peter Des Brisay, to try taking their son along on his daily run, hoping to provide him a way to channel his desire for movement.
“It made sense—take something someone is instinctively driven to do and make it into a positive, rather than try to squelch a behavior,” Given Des Brisay said. ”
To continue Click to read Story and see Video here!
Para-athlete Tommy Des Brisay and his mom MaryAnn talk about Autism means Friendship shirts
Published on Mar 31, 2017
Today, staff at the Bank of Montreal offices in Ottawa, are wearing special t-shirts that say Autism means Friendship. Hear the wonderful story behind this community action from para-athlete Tommy Des Brisay and his mother, MaryAnn.
Our family is in Zoom Autism Magazine’s new Issue 11 released today! Whee! See Page 50 and 51 here: https://www.joomag.com/magazine/zoom-autism-magazine-issue-11/0899549001490496625?short
Previously, in Issue 6 on page 11, Tommy and Adel, his Autism Assistance Dog Guide had the honour of being featured in a story in this wonderful online magazine as well!
Tommy had his very first live radio interview with Mark Sutcliffe on his W1310 and Ottawa Rogers radio show “Ottawa Today”! You can hear the interview online at this link! (select Ottawa Today – Mar. 31 (11:00-12:00, and in the audio file our interview begins at 18:46) http://www.1310news.com/audio/ottawa-today/
Our local BMO Van Leuwen branch nominated Tommy Des Brisay as an inspiring customer, and BMO selected him to share his story as they celebrate BMO’s 200th anniversary! Watch their film here: https://youtu.be/38c934ejBNM#BMO200#AutismMeansFriendship#Whee#FirstFastestRunner#Paralympics#AthleticsCanada
Sept 18, 2016 Canadian Running Magazine story about Tommy’s Army Run Half Marathon win: http://runningmagazine.ca/thomas-des-brisday-canada-army-run-2016/http://runningmagazine.ca/thomas-des-brisday-canada-army-run-2016/
Nov 2015 Canadian Running Magazine November 2015 featured a four page story about Tommy. Here is the pdf of the story-CanadaRunning
Tommy Des Brisay and Adel, his Autism Assistance Dog Guide had the honour of being featured in a story in a wonderful online magazine called Zoom Autism!
The link to this issue of the Zoom Autism magazine is here…
Tommy and Adel are on Page 11!
Ottawa’s Tommy Des Brisay proves an inspiration to all
BY TIM BAINES ,OTTAWA SUN
“I’m going to be the fastest runner in the world.”
– Tommy Des Brisay
It is great to dream, to set goals. Maybe you accomplish the goal, maybe you don’t. But you try.
Flashing a brilliant smile with a glint in his eyes, Tommy Des Brisay, in his first marathon, crossed the finish line on Sunday in 28th place out of more than 7,000 runners.
It was a brilliant debut, timed in 2:39:21 — basically 2 1/2 hours.
It was also one of the feel-good stories of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.
His parents were told when he was five years old that Tommy may never effectively speak.
But he speaks … and he runs … and he loves Disney … and there’s so much more to the story. Tommy, 22, a graduate of the Ottawa Tech and a member of the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club, is autistic. After Sunday’s race, he headed straight to his Autism Assistance Dog Guide, Adel.
The decision was made five days before the race to enter the marathon instead of the half-marathon.
“It would have turned out his half time would have brought him in during a crowded marathon’s finish time,” said his mother MaryAnn. “We try to manage his autism. This was a far less crowded finish and start, the show shebang.
“The difficulty is you can’t ask Tommy exactly what he wants to do. He communicates — just not in the details. He doesn’t have strategy. More than anything, he’s just running for the love of it.”
He was helped through the marathon by a training partner, Joe Boland, who urged him on through the first five and last five km.
Boland called Tommy “amazing, he talks almost the whole way.”
Tommy remembers the first time he went running.
“I walked and ran 3 km with my dad Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006, when he was 44 and I was 14,” he said.
“It’s something he finds satisfying,” said the father, Peter, whose first marathon was this same race — 30 years ago. “Sports issn’t for everybody, for Tommy his thing was athletics. It’s the running environment. He trains mostly with the university kids. It’s an open and friendly environment. For him, that’s really the attraction. He likes athletics and athletic people like him.
“For somebody just trying it for the first time, he didn’t seem to have any trouble until, like anybody, the last four km or so, he couldn’t turn it over anymore. How can you possibly complain? It was wonderful. He had a big smile on his face right to the finish.”
Tommy has found his happy place — actually plenty of them.
“It’s a partnership,” said Peter. “Parents have to work with their kids to try and find what they’re interested in and what allows them to shine and be happy and find a place in society and life.”
Tommy keeps busy with rock climbing, kayaking, cross-country skiing along with running. But he’s also an artist and a storyteller and he’s very active on Facebook.
He’s also got a huge hit of a You Tube channel, with five million views — Autism Means Friendship, because as MaryAnn explained, “That’s how Tommy defines autism.”
Tommy is also a huge Disney fan.
“His favourites are the classics, so he’ll usually say his favourite is Jungle Book,” said Peter. “He’s Mowgli and I’m Papa Bear, Baloo.”
“He dances with princesses, he marries Cinderella’s stepsister, he does things,” said MaryAnn. “He’s an interesting guy in terms of his social media usage. He’s stronger in the written word than in the spoken word. So he uses Facebook all day long and he’s got friends all over the world.”
An amazing story — maybe the first chapter in a book about a future marathon champion.
May 2014 Here is a link to the story the CBC ran about Tommy.
- Tommy finished his first marathon in a time of two hours, 39 minutes and 24 seconds.
- Tommy placed 10th among Canadian men, 21st among men
Tommy Des Brisay, 22, was diagnosed with autism at an early age, but that hasn’t stopped him from winning countless racing medals or from clocking a half-marathon race time of 1:14:55.
On Sunday, Tommy laced up on Ottawa Race Weekend for his first ever marathon. And despite the much longer course, his focus remains the same as it has been since he first started running eight years ago.
- LISTEN | Tommy talks about his first marathon
“Determined to win the race, win my age category,” said Tommy.
Tommy wasn’t always an athlete.
When he was five years old, experts told his parents, MaryAnn Given and Peter Des Brisay, that he may never develop the ability to speak.
By the time he was 14 years old, he was overweight as a result of medication he was taking, and his parents wanted to find an interest for him to pursue.
Hooked on running
MaryAnn suggested to her husband Peter, who was a regular runner at the time, to take Tommy out on one of his runs.
“We started thinking, you know, maybe Tommy could go with him on his jogs. And the first time out, Tommy was a very different guy than he is now … he was overweight, he was not fit. He was a guy who could probably run a couple hundred metres then needed to walk for a bit,” said MaryAnn.
“My dad and I went out for a run for 3 K on Wednesday August 2nd, 2006,” said Tommy proudly.
After that first run, Tommy was hooked on the sport.
In his first year of running, Tommy trained regularly, lost 35 pounds and started to develop a muscular physique.
Tommy signed up for and started competing in a variety of road races, sometimes taking first place in his age category.
“I run every day, every week, every month, every year,” he said proudly.
One of the gang
Over the next eight years, running became part of Tommy’s daily routine.
“It became a different way to help Tommy with his anxiety to give him a positive outlet for a lot of energy he had, to give him opportunities to feel good about himself and feel healthy,” said MaryAnn.
His father Peter has dedicated hours to coaching him and he cycles alongside Tommy giving him words of encouragement on long training runs.
Tommy also trains with the Ottawa Lions Club three times a week and MaryAnn said being part of that team has given him true friendships and enriched his life.
“He has become part of the running community of Ottawa and that is huge … the Ottawa Lions Running Club have embraced him and supported him and accommodated him and made him just one of the gang,” said MaryAnn.
“For Tommy it’s been an amazing way to have his life head in a slightly different direction.”
Organizers at Ottawa Race Weekend agreed to let Peter ride his bike and guide Tommy during his marathon on Sunday since Tommy can be unpredictable in crowds and needs guidance to follow the route.
Tommy looked forward to taking part in the run and hearing the cheers of the crowds along the route.
“I train to be the first fastest runner in the world,” he said.
April 2014 Canadian Running Magazine ran a story about Tommy in their April/May 2014 edition! Here is is:
Tommy was interviewed by Kathleen Kelly of specialmouse.com
Here is the podcast of the interview!
admin on March 30, 2014
Elite Paralympic Athlete and YouTube sensation, Tommy Des Brisay (and his mom) join Kathy to kick off Autism Awareness Month on the Special Mouse podcast. We discuss Tommy’s autism and his lifelong love of Disney, his service dog, Adele, and his Disney’s Frozen meet ‘n greet video that got over one million views on YouTube!
Tommy is an accomplished athlete with Autism from Ottawa, Canada. He has an Autism Assistance Dog guide, Adel. He trains with the Ottawa Lions. Tommy’s Personal Bests are: 1500m 4:23 3000m 9:21 5k- 16:32 10k- 33:54 Half Marathon 1:14:56. A T-20 (Intellectual Disability) Para-Athlete, he’s training towards competing at the Paralympic and World level. Tommy’s also a Nordic skier, kayaker, rock climber, sailor, horserider, swimmer, canoeist and mountain biker. He loves Disney, YouTube, and Facebook. Tommy could read/type words before he began to speak at about age seven. The subtitles of Disney movies helped him develop language. Tommy inspires through his determination and enthusiasm! The YouTube channel lookyus educates about Autism and allows viewers to appreciate all that a person with Autism has to share with others.
Here are the two videos mentioned during the podcast:
Thanks, Kathleen, for a great interview and story 🙂
The Ottawa Citizen ran a story about Tommy in October, 2013. Here it is:
Ottawa’s own ‘first fastest runner’
Tommy Des Brisay isn’t letting autism get in the way of athletic accomplishments
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The hand-drawn stick figures stencilled on the white and black T-shirt are so revealing. In an instant, you’re introduced to the happy, achieving side of Tommy Des Brisay, a charming yet complex character trapped by autism, but temporarily set free by his athleticism.
The nine drawings reflect the interests of the handsome 21-year-old, a longtime social media addict and lover of all things Disney, especially the movies, which have helped him with speech development and his interactive skills.
The rudimentary creations on Tommy’s T-shirt show him running, paddling, skiing, biking, hugging his third guide dog, Adel, riding, singing, dancing and cheering. Anchored on the bottom of the shirt is his website address: autismmeansfriendship.com.
Three years ago, Tommy asked his mother, MaryAnn Given: “What is autism?” He was curious, having heard the word used so much in conversation. She deflected the question and asked for his definition. He thought and said: “Autism is friendship.” In his case, he makes a good case for that definition.
Technically, autism is a complex disorder of brain development, affecting communication skills and interaction with others. As a result, Tommy has difficulty speaking and understanding, recognizing faces and alerting people about injuries. He can be unpredictable, frustrated, anxious and needs one-on-one attention all the time. However, judging by Tommy’s more than 1,000 Facebook friends, Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club teammates who embrace him as one of them on and off the track, and thousands of people he has run with in road races, there’s a lot to be said for autism means friendship.
No wonder stick-figure Tommy is smiling and happy in every one of the characters he drew for his T-shirt, especially the first one.
It shows him running. For someone who needs constant attention, has been known to require long, unscheduled marathon walks late at night and calls himself the First Fastest Runner in the World, can he ever run quickly and successfully.
During six years on the Ottawa road-racing scene, Des Brisay has been a regular medallist. In the past three years, he has developed into an overall race champion not once, but seven times. He’s also a national champion in paddling and a world champion in dragon boat racing.
Ever since his introduction to running on a trail in Kanata at age 14 with his father, Peter, a national cross-country ski team member in the 1980s, the then 190-pound Tommy has dedicated himself to training and running, making it part of his obsessive compulsive disorder routine.
When the start gun sounds to begin a race, he goes and goes and goes. Noted for his square-shouldered and arm pumping running style, he follows a fast, consistent and never-tiring pace. There’s a happy look on his face as he conquers each kilometre. At the end, he’s looks as refreshed as when he started. What he doesn’t fully understand is strategy: when to increase speed, how long to stay with other runners or to sprint.
“He’s running blind, but he’s not blind,” Peter Des Brisay says about Tommy’s one-dimensional approach. Over time, Tommy has become a more complete runner, just as his communication skills have significantly improved. Three years ago, he was unable to answer a reporter’s questions, but now he can express himself during a more lucid interview. Tommy was diagnosed with autism at 2½ years of age and was non-verbal until seven, but he could read and type words before he could speak.
During Ottawa-area road races, he has been known to giggle as he passes tiring racers, not out of disrespect for them, but rather reflecting his own inner happiness. As he methodically motors along, he’ll tell his bicycle-riding father, who serves as his guide, that he’s creating Disney-type stories in his mind.
That’s natural. At home, he has dictated several hundred stories to his mother, written many and had them secured in numerous binders. Most, if not all, have a Disney character theme. Tommy fell in love with Disney and animation ever since his family’s first visit to Orlando, Florida, in 2009.
Tommy, who graduated from the Ottawa Technical Secondary School autism program in 2012 and now is observing and taking notes in a University of Ottawa physical geography class, plans to finish a productive road racing season by running the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon on Nov. 9, but there could be a problem. His father hasn’t been cleared to ride the course and serve as his guide. The search for a fast guide runner to shadow Tommy hasn’t been successful. Tommy set a personal-best half-marathon time of one hour 14 minutes 58.9 seconds on Sept. 22, when he placed fifth in the Canada Army Run. He also finished fifth in the 2010 Army Run in 1:18:04.9. In both cases, he won his age category, adding to an extensive collection of medals, ribbons and plaques.
On Thanksgiving Monday, Tommy won the Chelsea Challenge 10-kilometre race in 34:40. It was his third overall road-race victory of the season, the others being the Day Before Mother’s Day Half Marathon five-kilometre test and the Wakefield Covered Bridge Run 10-kilometre race. So why has Tommy been able to score at least seven career first-place finishes, three seconds, six thirds and three fourthor fifth-place results since Canada Day 2008? “Because I am energetic,” states Tommy, who this season also was second in the Glen Tay Block Race at Perth in 53:11 for 15 kilometres, and third in the Xerox 10-kilometre race through the Arboretum in 35:22.2. “I don’t seem to get tired. I’m fast and I’m getting faster. I enjoy all the training and I want to be the first fastest runner in the world. I give 1-0-0 (100 per cent).”
While Peter has served as Tommy’s competitive race guide, his mother has chronicled his active life, producing hundreds of You-Tube videos and writing a blog on his website. Tommy’s You Tube channel, which is youtube.com/user/lookyus, surpassed one million views in July. “Tommy is inspiring and breaking peoples’ misconceptions about what (autistic) people can and can’t do,” she says. “He works hard to be an athlete.”
“What’s perfect for him is anything athletic,” Peter says.
Tommy tried to qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London in the T20 (intellectual disability) class, but he was unable to meet the fast qualifying time criteria for his category’s only race, the 1,500 metres. On the heels of winning the 1,500-metre T20 gold medal in this year’s Canadian track and field championships at Moncton, he hopes to represent Canada in the 2016 Paralympics at Rio de Janeiro.
Even if he can’t make the grade on the track, maybe he’ll reach the Games on the water, with canoe/kayak making its Paralympic debut at Rio in 2016. Tommy, who competes for the Rideau Canoe Club, won the men’s T20 open 200-metre kayak solo race gold medal in the 2011 and 2012 Canadian canoe and kayak championships and was second this season. Running and paddling are only two of his activities, though. He’s involved in therapeutic riding, rock climbing, swimming, tandem-bike cycling, cooking and cross-country skiing, even qualifying for the Ontario high school championships in that sport three times. “He’s driven by his own agenda,” Given says. “He loved to climb and he ran full tilt. He was born to be arunner.”
Martin Cleary’s High Achievers column appears bi-weekly on Wednesdays. If you know an athlete, coach, team or builder you consider a high achiever, contact Martin at email@example.com.
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Tommy in the blogosphere
A viewer in Australia wrote this about Tommy. Thanks, Kiara, that was super sweet.
Jan 25, 2012
During the Rick Hansen Relay, Tommy met CTV’s Carol Anne Meehan and Leanne Cusak. Soon, Carolyn Waldo called, interested in featuring Tommy as Athlete of the Week! In this interview, Tommy reconfirms his wish to be the first fastest runner in the world. Tommy recently became a Paralympian…Canada’s first track athlete in the T20 (Intellectual Disability) category!
Tommy Des Brisay’s exciting day as a Medal Bearer in the Rick Hansen Relay in Ottawa, October 2011.
Tommy was nominated by his teacher, Anne Villeneuve, as a Rick Hansen difference maker. Thanks, Anne 🙂