For most people, running a 50K over beaten mountain paths and dirt roads would be challenging. But Andrew Bliss is not most people. Not only has Andrew, a 22-year-old Special Olympics Virginia athlete, run 10 of these ultra-marathons since his first race in 2008, but he has also completed 10 regular marathons, 20 half-marathons, and many other shorter races.
Andrew’s journey as an athlete began in 2005 when he began playing half-court basketball with Special Olympics Virginia. In 2006, soccer and track and field peaked his interest, and he started to run regularly with his family.
“It means a lot to my husband and me that Andrew loves to run,” Wendy said. “We have a lot of fun doing this as a family.”
In January 2008, Andrew decided he was ready to run his first race, the Miami Marathon. After a successful finish there, he continued to compete in race after race, and eventually won first place in the Terrapin Mountain Ultra Marathon 50K and the Trail Runner Trophy Series of North America in the 19 and under age bracket.
“The best part is just running the race, being there with others, and enjoying the outdoors,” said Andrew, whose favorite ultra-marathon races include the Great Eastern and Belmonte Endurance runs held in the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest and the Green Lakes 50K Endurance Run in Fayetteville, NY.
The worst part? It usually comes around mile 26, he says, when he tends to get a bit tired before his second wind.
“Running gives Andrew great self-confidence, a good sense of achievement, and happiness in something he loves to do,” Wendy said.
His love for the sport, however, does not come without effort. Andrew runs 6 miles at least four days a week. He says he prefers running on the streets in old town Fredericksburg, on the roads and trails of the area battlefield parks, and miles of trails at Quantico Marine Corps Base. His parents usually accompany him on his runs, and the three of them often ride mountain bikes in those areas as further training.
In addition to his astounding accomplishments in races around the country, Andrew has competed in and won several Special Olympics medals since he began competing in high school. In fact, at the 2011 Summer Games, Andrew won three medals, including first place for the running long jump.
Andrew says that going to the different places to meeting other athletes while participating in Special Olympics helped him in many ways.
“By doing that it made me not as shy as I was and I feel more confident,” he said. He also says that Special Olympics helped him feel confident enough as an athlete to begin competing in ultra-marathons. And besides the benefits to himself, Andrew says he enjoys helping, cheering, and respecting his fellow athletes when they are competing.
But whether Andrew is going for gold, racing along forest trails, or just taking a run with his family near home, Andrew’s accomplishments speak volumes. One must only glimpse into his world to see that there are no limits for him or for any person with an intellectual disability. Even more than that, Andrew’s determination and accomplishments can be lessons to everyone; he teaches that there are no barriers in life, only hurdles.