After 6 or 7 miles of running, muscles are burning, feet are sore and breathing is heavy.

But as Ryan Rueff approaches the end of his training sessions, there’s always a little bit left. That’s the best part of running.

“The very end, that last kick is my favorite,” he said.

Running has turned into a life-changing experience for Ryan. The 12-year-old Center Grove area resident was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, and running has helped him better control his behavior while giving him clear goals to work towards.

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Ryan will be one of 17 representatives running the state’s bicentennial torch into downtown Franklin today.

He had been nominated by surprise by a family friend, and didn’t find out he had been chosen for the honor until he was getting ready for a training run in late June.

Going through the mail, he and his parents Rob and Wendy Rueff saw the letter from the governor’s office.

“I thought it might be something very special,” he said. “But I didn’t know what it was.”

Ryan started running with his father in 2015 as a way to help control his emotions and behavior.

He was an energetic and active kid, but had difficulty finding outlets for it. When it was warm outside, he could go in the family’s backyard and swing for hours.

“But when it got cold, he’d just come inside and run around the kitchen here, all around the first floor,” Rob Rueff said.

Often times, the Rueffs woke up to the sound of Ryan’s feet thumping as he ran back and forth from the kitchen to the bathroom.

He was home-schooled, but his mom, Wendy Rueff, often found that he struggled to get through that schoolwork.

His parents tried to find him an activity that would allow Ryan to better control his behavior. Organized team sports were difficult, due to Ryan’s struggles with social interaction.

But Rob Rueff was an avid long-distance runner, who had picked up the activity as a way to stay in shape when his recreational basketball leagued finished. When he suggested that his son join him for a few miles, Ryan got excited to the point that he hugged his dad.

“I told him like I would tell anyone I would ‘coach’ I wanted a full commitment from him,” Rob Rueff wrote in his blog. “If we were going to do this together he had to listen to me.”

They took their first run together on a March evening. They kept a good pace, and broke the distance into segments — run for a little bit, then walk. They went through the streets of their neighborhood, and Ryan seemed to enjoy himself.

“He’s been running with me ever since,” Rob Rueff said.

After nearly two months of training runs, Rob and Ryan Rueff focused on a new goal. They were going to run a half-marathon at the Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, an annual September event.

During the next five months, they ran 443 miles together in training. They completed 5K practice runs, and slowly worked up to half-marathon distance.

They set a realistic goal for themselves, to finish in 2 hours, 15 minutes. They also reached for an ultimate goal — completing the 13.1-mile course in 2 hours.

When the crossed the finish line, they had done the race in 2 hours, 6 minutes.

When he was done, he said he felt one thing: “Happy.”

Since that initial Mill Race half-marathon, Rob and Ryan Rueff have finished the 500 Festival Mini Marathon in May. They plan to run the Mill Race event again Saturday, making for a busy but rewarding weekend when combined with the bicentennial run.

“It’s going to be special,” Ryan said.

If you go

Johnson County Bicentennial Festival

When: 5 to 10 p.m. today

Where: Downtown Franklin

What: In recognition of the state’s bicentennial torch relay reaching the county, local officials have organized a community-wide party.

Features:

An appearance by the Indiana Bicentennial Experience, a traveling interactive historical display

Historical booths representing the county, different towns and cities, the county library and Johnson Memorial Health

A beer and wine garden

Food vendors

Classic car show

Music by the Franklin Community Band and Tastes Like Chicken

Cost: Free

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.