Upper Arlington News

'Special bond' motivates principal's run for Tourette's

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Barrington Elementary School Principal Jason Fine is pictured with his daughters, Amelia and Madeline, wife, Meredith, and the family dog, Molly. Fine will run a marathon at Walt Disney World in January to benefit the national Tourette Syndrome Association. He and Madeline both have the disorder.
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Watching his child struggle with the tics of Tourette syndrome was more difficult than living with the disorder himself for Jason Fine, principal at Upper Arlington's Barrington Elementary School.

Fine, 38, and his wife, Meredith, have two children -- Madeline, 10, and Amelia, 7 -- who attend Tremont Elementary School.

"Madeline and I have a special bond because we know what it is like to be unable to control our tics," he said. "As her tics have increased, I wanted to show her that when things get tough, you have to accept the challenges and work hard to overcome them."

Fine is training to run 26.2 miles in the Walt Disney World Marathon, set Jan. 12 in Orlando, to benefit the national Tourette Syndrome Association.

"I decided to run for Tourette's instead of from Tourette's soon after Madeline was diagnosed," he said. "I plan on running a 27th mile with Madeline at the conclusion of the race to embrace her in this important achievement."

People who would like to sponsor Fine and donate funds to help the association get "One Lap Closer to a Cure" may visit active.com/donate/wdw14/wdw14JFine.

Fine said Tourette syndrome is an inherited neurobiological disorder, characterized by involuntary sudden movements and vocalizations known as tics. What causes the disorder is not known, but it is estimated that one person out of 100 has a mild form of the disorder and one in 1,000 has a severe case.

Fine was Madeline's age and in fifth grade when he was diagnosed.

"I was told by the neurologist that kids like me typically don't go to college or play sports," he said. "This was incredibly difficult to hear, because sports were so important in my life and I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up."

He said his family and friends supported him in playing sports and going to college, but there were many "bumps in the road."

"I played high school basketball in a rival gym packed with opposing students wearing T-shirts that mocked Tourette syndrome," he said. "I was also kicked out of freshman college English for being a disruption to the professor's classroom."

Fine said he learned to use his neurologist's words to "fuel my desire to realize my goals ... while hopefully serving as a role model to others with limitations."

He earned a varsity letter playing football for the Ohio University Bobcats, earned two degrees, taught seventh-grade science at Jones Middle School for seven years and is in his fifth year as principal at Barrington.

Barrington music teacher Debbie Gibson said staff members will support Fine with a "virtual marathon," by teaming up to each run a portion of the 26.2 miles in Columbus.

"Since it is virtual, we will run or walk our assigned distance at some point during the day when Jason will be running," she said. "Our goal is to support Jason by letting him know that at any given point when he's running, that one of us is running with him."

Madeline's neurologist gave her a much more promising prognosis, her father said.

"Her neurologist said she will accomplish all of her hopes and dreams and that Tourette's will not take any of those things away from her," Fine said. "This was a very powerful moment for our family and we stress this point on a daily basis."

Fine said he shares coping strategies with his daughter.

"Madeline and I notice that our tics amplify with increased stress or anxiety and when we are not taking care of ourselves physically," he said.Fine often shares his story with parents who are concerned about their own children's tics or learning difficulties. He said understanding, awareness and compassion are essential.

"Many kids just need a friend to rely on who understands that they are no different than everyone else and will treat them equally," he said.

The Disney marathon will be Fine's third, but his first as a member of Team TSA. It has been six years since his last marathon, so he is busy training.

"My girls keep track of my miles each week and when I find myself unmotivated, Madeline is quick to remind me why I am training," he said. "The purpose of the race is to raise awareness for Tourette syndrome. The more knowledge we can extend about the disorder, the easier acceptance will be for those battling with Tourette's."

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