Ashton not slowing down

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ashton McCormick, 20, of Chesapeake, has kept busy by racing all year, and he shows no signs of slowing down, thanks to help from a longtime friend.

McCormick, who has autism, has participated in more than 15 different races in 2019, according to his mother Jennifer McCormick. He’s accomplished the majority of these races seated in his specialized race chair, although he did put one race under his belt this year on his own two feet.

His latest finish was at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. on Oct. 27. His buddy Jonathan Gajewski, 21, pushed his race chair through what Jennifer McCormick described as a rain-soaked event, for the most part.

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She said that the marathoners got rained on for the first 17 or 18 miles. Fortunately, the weather didn’t bother Ashton.

“Ashton is not bothered by the rain, which is good,” Jennifer McCormick said. “He likes the rain, to be honest. I think for him it was just another adventure.”

It was another exciting adventure for “Team Pretzel Hands,” a name given after McCormick’s love of Rold Gold Tiny Twists pretzels, which he often enjoys while he’s tucked under his blanket during races.

He even managed to enjoy them while soaking wet during the Marine Corps Marathon.

“Believe or not he was eating the pretzels. Even in the rain, he didn’t care,” McCormick said.

Ashton and Jonathan will team up once again for the Naval Special Operations Foundation Memorial 5K this Saturday, which will be the eighth race the two have participated in together in this year.

Jonathan, a volunteer firefighter in Harrisonburg who’s taking classes at James Madison University, is like a brother to Ashton.

“They adore each other,” McCormick said. “They text and snapchat back and forth almost every day, (and) they send each other the silliest looking pictures.”

Jonathan was there to see Ashton sprint through a race himself at the 15th annual Surfers Healing 5K run/walk on Aug. 17 at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Surfers Healing was founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz, whose son, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old.

“Running with Ashton is something I always look forward to,” Jonathan wrote in an email. “It brings so much joy to my life, and I think he enjoys it too.”

McCormick explained how running with Ashton is an exciting venture. He’ll sprint for 50 to 100 yards, then walk, then sprint once again.

“It’s super exciting. It’s not a slow sprint — it’s like a six-minute-mile-pace sprint,” she said.

Instead of his favorite pretzels, Ashton fed off the positive energy of the crowd alongside his buddy Jonathan. McCormick described the whole event as the “Disney World for autistic families.”

“It’s like Disney world for families with autism. There’s acceptance (and) there’s no judgment,” McCormick said. “He could have a meltdown, and no one on that stretch of oceanfront is going to care, because we’re all families that experience similar things.”

Ashton also got to enjoy getting on a surfboard at the event. It’s the one time of year that Ashton surfs, McCormick said, when volunteers take him and other participants past the big waves, let them get on their boards and surf into the beach.

“There’s no shortage of hands, if need be,” McCormick said about the volunteers at the Surfers Healing event. “I’ve seen five, six people help a kid get up on a board before.”

Visit for more information on the Navy Special Operations Memorial 5K.