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Charlotte man runs 750 miles across the Carolinas for autism awareness

Richard Sexton's journey started in western North Carolina and wrapped up on the South Carolina coast.
Credit: Courtesy: Matt Bledsoe, Champion Autism Network
Richard Sexton runs part of his 30-day ruck for the Championing Autism Network.

SURFSIDE BEACH, S.C. — A Charlotte businessman just completed a 750-mile trek across the Carolinas, and all for a good cause.

Richard Sexton, a Charlotte marketing and furniture industry professional, is the founder of the Carolinas CAN Ruck for Autism, which directly benefits the Champion Autism Network (CAN). CAN describes him as an endurance athlete who has run marathons and ultra-marathons before. But he also has personal experience with kids; he has adopted a son from China and worked as a substitute teacher in early childhood education. His experiences in those parts of his life lead him to want to help kids with autism and their families.

He thus teamed up with CAN founder Becky Large, and created the ruck as a fundraising effort. The journey began in Hothouse, North Carolina in April, and traversed the mountains near Asheville. Sexton eventually hit Wilmington, before dropping down to Surfside Beach, South Carolina. It was there the ruck finished on Wednesday, May 26, and he was even honored by the mayor of Surfside Beach with a "Richard Sexton Day" the same day.

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Sexton, however, wasn't entirely alone on his journey. As he marathoned for 30 days, he was accompanied by "Slappy", a 25-pound slam ball tucked away in a rucksack. "Slappy", according to CAN, represents the weight carried daily by people living with autism and their families. For Sexton, that weight was very real on his journey.

“I’m so inspired by these children and families and the daily challenges they face - and overcome. There were days when I wanted to give up, when the physical and mental toll on my body was so great that it was hard for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sexton. “But I was able to persist and reminded myself that these individuals and families affected by autism can’t give up. They can’t have a day they just throw in the proverbial towel, so I pushed myself to the limit to honor them and hopefully, ultimately make a difference for them and their communities.”

Sexton's ruck has paid off for CAN; to date, more than $40,000 has been raised for the nonprofit, which seeks to build a supportive network of businesses, local nonprofits, and individuals with autism. The goal of this network? To make sure families and individuals have the necessary resources for daily life.

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Large, a businesswoman in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, founded CAN in 2012. One of her two sons is on the autism spectrum, and she says partners like Sexton help immensely in making sure these networks remain strong.

“We at Champion Autism Network are beyond grateful for Richard and his enthusiasm and willingness to put his body and mind to a seemingly impossible feat for the sake of building awareness and support for those families and individuals affected by autism,” said Becky Large. “The money raised from this extraordinary effort will help to create inclusive communities for them by connecting people with each other and the valuable resources they need. Specifically, it will go toward launching a job-matching program, hosting recreational activities for the families and connecting them to more than 200 CAN-certified businesses.”

Contact Matthew Ablon at mablon@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.