A film spotlights an autistic runner

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A film spotlights an autistic runner

The story of a young autistic marathoner has been made into a film, which premiered Monday. The film is titled “Mal-a-thon” because Bae Hyeong-jin, 22, has the mental capacity of a five-year-old child and misspelled his favorite hobby, the marathon, as mal-a-thon.
Park Mi-gyeong, 46, Mr. Bae’s mother, related a story about the difficulty of dealing with his condition. She said a few years ago her son became thirsty after finishing a marathon and walked toward a stand to get a drink.
Mr. Bae accidentally hit a man’s eyeglasses and walked away without apologizing. The man began shouting at Mr. Bae, so Ms. Park ran toward him and said the boy had a disability and apologized to him. “If I had not said this, I don’t know what would have happened,” Ms. Park said.
As a parent of an autistic child, Ms. Park has encountered numerous unpleasant experiences like this one.
Mr. Bae has a normal appearance, and whenever he acts strangely other people think that he is rude and stare at him, she said.
In explaining why she agreed to the movie, she said, “If Hyeong-jin’s story were adapted into a movie and many people came to understand [autism] better, I thought that people like Hyeong-jin would be more accepted.”
To make the film, director Jeong Yoon-chul spent time at Ms. Park’s home over the last two years, and ran marathons and traveled with Mr. Bae. Mr. Jeong also had many conversations with Cho Seung-woo, who plays Mr. Bae in the film, and Kim Mi-sook, who stars as his mother.
Though it is difficult to interact with an autistic person, hearing his mother speak about the film, Mr. Bae said, “I like Director Jeong.” Speaking of Mr. Cho, Bae also said, “Brother is good to me.”
“I think the biggest reward from making the film was that Hyeong-jin became able to open up and befriend new people,” Ms. Park said. “As a result, he became closer to the world.”
Every day was like a war for Ms. Park in raising her son, she said.
“I didn’t want people to label him as a child who couldn’t do anything,” she added.
When Mr. Bae was 10 years old, she read books on how to train an autistic child and taught him all kinds of sports, including running, swimming and hiking. She hoped that his condition would improve with exercise.
Mr. Bae had physical strength and an aptitude for sports. After several challenges, he finished the full course of the 2001 Chuncheon Marathon in the exceptional time of 2 hours, 57 minutes and 7 seconds.
The following year, he also took part in a triathlon.
Recently, Mr. Bae took another step closer to the world. He goes to work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to assemble parts for a device used to tune guitars.
“Some people said I was brutal to make my son run a marathon,” Ms. Park said. “But watching him take small steps was the only hope for us after all these years.”

by Shin Ye-ri
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