One child for every mile: Reilly runs for a cause

Linda Reilly runs for her son. Alexander, 5, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum before his second birthday. Since that time, Linda and her family have done everything in their power to keep Alexander, in her words, “as involved as possible.”

By Robert Senior

Linda Reilly runs for her hometown. Born and raised in South Philadelphia, she now lives out in Carlisle, Pa., but is returning home for her second consecutive Philadelphia Marathon. It’s also the second marathon of her life.

“I was always active, but never in a competitive way,” she said. “So a few years ago, I signed up for a 5K. It went pretty well, so I tried a 10K. Then it was the Broad Street Run. And now here I am. I guess that’s how a lot of people get into marathons.”

“So when I said I was doing another marathon this year, everyone said, ‘Oh, Philly again?’ They don’t understand. This is home. This is the marathon that goes through the whole city—my city.”

Linda Reilly runs for her son. Alexander, 5, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum before his second birthday. Since that time, Linda and her family have done everything in their power to keep Alexander, in her words, “as involved as possible.”

“He’s been in therapy, and that’s been so helpful,” said Reilly.

Alexander started kindergarten on a traditional curriculum this past fall, which the Reillys viewed as a huge triumph. “When he got on the bus that first day, that was a very special family moment,” she admitted.

Linda Reilly runs for her daughter. Eight-year-old Charlotte was there that day in September, helping as much as she could with her younger brother’s first day of school. This year, Charlotte’s decided to be part of her mom’s big day in her own way. “Last year she was there, cheering me on from the sidelines,” said Linda, “but this year, she wants to be a bigger part of it. We’ve got her signed up for the Kids’ Fun Run the day before the Marathon.”

Reilly added that one of the greatest challenges of raising a child with autism is the full family commitment it requires. As a result, she added, “Charlotte’s always sort of been on the sidelines for the things we do for her brother, and [this marathon experience] allows her to participate with everyone else.”

Linda Reilly runs for her husband. On Memorial Day, US Army Major Shane Reilly left Coraopolis, Pa. for his second deployment to the Middle East. Back in 2005, when Charlotte was a toddler he was sent to Iraq; this time it’s Kuwait.

“Last time, when he left Charlotte was just crawling—and when he got back, she walked up to him when she saw him,” Linda recalled. “Obviously, it’s a challenge for both of us, but having things like the marathon to take some of my focus off his deployment is helpful.”

Linda Reilly runs for charity. She met representatives for the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) at the Broad Street Run Expo a few years back, and has since affiliated with the group by spearheading fundraising campaigns with her running. “It’s not often you see organizations for autism affiliated with running,” she said. “I was quickly drawn to them.”

This year, OAR is a official charity of the Philadelphia Marathon, and Reilly’s fundraising efforts have grown accordingly. To date, she has raised over $3,500 for autism research through her efforts for this year’s event. A couple weekends ago, she worked as a bartender at The Hoff Spot in South Philadelphia in a separate event, raising another $800 for the cause.

Linda Reilly runs for her friends. The so-called “Reilly Regiment”—so named by Shane—consists of Linda and three friends. They’ll all be making the trek through Philadelphia on Sunday. “One of them is my friend Michelle Wolf, who I’ve known since we went to St. Maria Goretti High School together,” Linda said. “She’s running the half-marathon.”

The other two, Lauren Estilow and Lisa Georgis, are Facebook friends, and part of a runners’ group Linda joined. Both women are also members of the group and have children on the autism spectrum. “I explained what I do for OAR, and asked whether they’d be interested in joining me,” she recalled. “So we’re all running together.”

Linda Reilly runs for all children with autism. In the past, she’s run wearing a t-shirt with a picture of her family—as she likely will this year—but on Sunday, the shirt will have some additions. “I collected names from other people involved with OAR, and I will have the names of 26 children who are impacted by autism on the back of my shirt—one child for every mile.”

Finally, Linda Reilly runs for herself. By this point, you’ve probably gathered she’s not a selfish person, but raising two children with a husband deployed in the Middle East would be trying for anyone, let alone a person training for a marathon. But Linda says that running helps her to deal with stress. While she inspires so many people with her efforts, she says that they in turn motivate her during the most difficult training sessions.

“It’s not easy, getting the kids on the bus and heading out for a 10, 15, or 20-mile run,” she admitted. “But I think about Alexander and everything he’s accomplished. Autism—that’s lifelong. If he can battle that every day, I can get up and put in the miles.”

There will be 28,000 runners at Sunday’s starting line—just a fraction of the number of people represented by Linda Reilly.

Five Questions with Linda Whitmore-Reilly

What’s your goal for this year’s Marathon? “I want more people to recognize and understand autism, and advance OAR’s mission in the process. There’s an OAR team this year—55 of us. For me? I want to bring down my time a bit—last year I finished in just over five hours. I’m aiming for four hours, 30 minutes this year.”

What’s your favorite thing about the Philadelphia Marathon? “At the beginning, running downtown. The crowds are so empowering with their cheering—you feel like a rock star. Some people even cheer for you by name.”

If you brought a friend from out-of-town to go running in Philadelphia, where would you take them? “Kelly Drive, for sure. It’s iconic. One of the best things about getting involved with these events is that I’ve met people who’ve taken me out on different running trails.”

If you were to run the race with a Philadelphia celebrity: “I can’t really think of a celebrity. Really, I wish my husband was home to run with me.”

If you could change one thing about the Marathon: “I wish that route into Manayunk wasn’t so challenging. That’s probably my biggest mental hurdle—it feels like forever out there. I love running on Kelly Drive, but I could do without that loop into Manayunk!”

To learn more about the Organization for Autism research and to donate to the Reilly Regiment, visit