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Autism is on the verge of becoming an epidemic. Perhaps it is an epidemic.

It affects 1 in 68 children nationwide, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 70 million people across the world have this neuro-developmental condition, which effects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

The website Global Autism Project calls it “one of the fastest growing neurological conditions in the world.”

Tim Buckley, a young man from the Mon Valley, is among those 70 million who are dealing with autism. He also is a powerful inspiration for his father, Chris, a devoted runner who is putting his best feet forward for the sake of Tim and others who are afflicted.

Chris Buckley participates in distance running events to raise money for the national Organization for Autism Research. He is part of OAR’s official running team and has completed the Pittsburgh and Boston marathons.

On Friday and Saturday, he will compete in a new and grueling endeavor. Buckley is part of an eight-member team – four women, four men – called Autism Runs, which will tackle the inaugural GAP Trail Relay, an event spanning more than 150 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage, from Cumberland, Md., to Pittsburgh. There are 24 sections along the trail, with each team member covering 22 to 25 miles.

Buckley and teammates Adam Resosky, Mike Melvin, Greg Hymes, Stephanie Beisheim, Stacey Falk, Sarah Lee-Faulkner and Vanessa Aron will run to raise money for OAR, which does research on this perplexing condition.

About 10 years ago, Buckley, senior communications representative for Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, was a much larger person. Then he began running and ended up losing 100 pounds. He has since completed 24 half- and full marathons, and continues to ramble for a cause.

Buckley and his Autism Runs teammates, of course, are not the only individuals who raise money through running. But they are representative of the growing numbers who compete for viable causes, like autism research, which seems to be never ending.

Tim Buckley is verbal, but communicates mostly through sign language. He likes to swim and ride horses and is involved with his church. And he motivates his father.

“My wife and I decided early on he wouldn’t miss out on anything,” Chris Buckley told the Observer-Reporter’s Natalie Reid Miller.

“No matter where I run, I know at the end of every race, he’s at the finish line, waiting for me.”

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