Battling the pain after running for 28 hours, and amid the sound of tired feet thrashing around in the Arizona dirt, soft, soothing music finally pushed through the horizon.
The sights and sounds of cheers from family, coaches and supporters grew closer and louder with every step. The finish line, which was once 100 miles away, was right in front of him.
A roaring little human tunnel of victory greeted Bates as he crossed the finish line and established himself as an ultramarathon runner.
“I saw the finish line and people made a tunnel with their arms for me to run. I also saw my cousins with their signs. It’s really exciting,” Bates told CNN, reflecting on his achievement.
Diagnosed with autism at the age of four, the 20-year-old American completed the Coldwater Rumble 100 mile Ultramarathon earlier this year, becoming the youngest finisher in the history of the race, at 19.
Completing the 20-mile loop over rough terrain five times is a feat in itself, but Bates finished 38th overall out of 99 starters in just over 28 hours – and it’s worth noting that 33 runners didn’t ended.
This feat makes Bates a seasoned ultra-runner, but he and his family are just beginning their journey into the world of ultramarathon.
“it seemed different”
Bates was a member of the cross country team in high school but, after graduating in May 2021, he surprised his family with a new goal.
“On graduation night, he comes up to us and says, ‘Hey, I want to run a 100-mile race before I turn 20,’ which is about eight months after that. And I I thought, oh, that’s a lot,” his mother, Rana, tells CNN World Sport’s Patrick Snell.
Of his decision to run 100 miles, Bates says, “I saw people’s courses and then I thought they were really cool and interesting, and it felt different from other races. I wanted to try to do that.”
Neither he nor his parents had any previous experience preparing for the task at hand, but his father, Brian, found ways to help, which really made it a family affair.
“We’re looking for trails for him. We’ll go ahead as a family and hike a trail to make sure he’s safe,” Rana says.
As well as finding leads, they read books together, organize all his nutrition, and make sure their son has the right gear – like the watch he wears for long distances so they can keep up with him and get away from it all. make sure he’s safe and on the right track.
Rana and Brian even helped with training schedules before finding more experienced ultramarathon runners, like mentor John Hendrix and coach Nickademus de la Rosa.
Thanks to the expertise of Hendrix and De la Rosa, the young American prepared by competing in shorter distances and managed to fight his way up to the 100 miles in a short time.
Rather than having her autism as the reason for making the goal unattainable, her mother explained how it could have helped her stay focused.
“With autism, there’s this hyper-focus and when they focus on something they love and want to do, it takes them so much further than maybe what I can accomplish,” explains- she.
“It’s really important that they are treated as individuals. That we can watch them and hear what their dreams are, what their hopes are for their lives.
“If we listen to our kids and allow them to do what they want to do and be a support for them, you’ll be so surprised where they end up.”
For Bates, he has achieved goals and distances that were once just dreams. As he continues to train for more challenges, he’s taken to social media to help him capture his journey along the way. In doing so, he’s been embraced by runners everywhere, but Rana says that’s not the only way social media has helped.
“It’s helped Zach realize that what he does is special and what he does inspires people and that’s what helps Zack want to continue to be involved with social media because he thinks it’s worth it. worth going out of his way to do something uncomfortable for himself, what social media is a little uncomfortable for him, if it will help someone else to do something hard and achieve your dreams.”
“I’ve had dreams all my life, things that I wanted to do. This trip kind of gave me the courage to go ahead and do some of the things that really excited me and made me happy. gave me the courage to take some initial steps,” adds Rana.
“Having him in our family is just a light and I’m just inspired by the light he is to everyone he comes in contact with.”
He has already scheduled several races of different distances this year, but when asked about his next big ambition, Bates is aiming for bigger goals.
“I’ve seen the Cocodona 250. It’s like a 250 mile race that I’ve thought about before. It might be a while before I try to do that race. It’s not only 250 miles, but also [close to] 50,000 feet above sea level!”
With the support of Rana, Brian and the rest of the family, it’s like nothing is impossible when it comes to Zach Bates. No matter where life’s next path takes him.