Autistic Michigan teen tackles triathlons

Danielle Portteus
The Monroe News

Temperance — Jake Bockey of Temperance doesn’t speak much, but he has built confidence with athletics.

James Bockey and his son, Jake, take a jog in Temperance, wearing their 3 Disciplined Racing jerseys.

With every stroke of his arms, pedal of the bicycle and repetitive motion in footfall, Jacob Bockey accomplishes tasks some never would imagine.

The 18-year-old completed three sprint triathlons last year. He hopes to accomplish more this year.

The athletic feats aren’t necessarily surprising on paper, but ask his parents, Julie and James (Shawn) Bockey of Temperance. They understand just how impressive these accomplishments are for their son.

Jake is autistic. He doesn’t speak much. He struggles with anxiety.

“Jake is incredibly energetic, and reeling in his energy had become a bit difficult,” James Bockey said.

Jake Bockey show off one of three medals he has earned participating in triathlons. The Bockeys have become the race ambassadors for 3 Disciplined Racing.

Julie Bockey, 42, a nurse, has participated in triathlons for more than a decade. About six years ago, James Bockey, 43, joined in. The pair have completed dozens of distance races, including a half-Ironman.

The couple’s oldest son, Christian, 21, is non-verbal. He was diagnosed with autism when he was 2. At 3, Jake also was diagnosed.

The Bockeys met while serving in the Air Force. They moved to Michigan after James took a job with the Internal Revenue Service.

A few years ago, the couple signed Jake up for a few road races to see if he would be interested.

“We first tried to get Jake in fun runs and 5ks,” Julie said. “But it was hard for him to focus. He sometimes would fixate on something off course and turn his attention away from running.”

A student in the moderate cognitive impairment room at Mason High School, Jake gets intensive home-based therapy. Getting him in the pool was part of the therapy.

Early last year, Jake began swimming at the Francis Family YMCA in Temperance. Now, he swims while his parents swim training laps nearby.

Jake Bockey swims his laps at the Francis Family YMCA as his mother Julie Bockey looks on while swimming her laps, in Temperance, Mich.

Last summer, the Bockeys entered Jake into three sprint triathlons sponsored by Michigan-based 3 Disciplines Racing. The couple knew the company sponsored a dad, Rick, and his daughter, Maddy, who has cerebral palsy.

“One small conversation a few years ago with Rick created a friendship of trust and understanding that we could approach 3-D and throw out the idea of Jake racing,” Julie said. “This was by far a pivotal moment and then a bond of two dads (formed) who really get why they do this sport and the joy they have of doing this with their kids.”

The Bockeys asked the race director if Jake could compete and he didn’t hesitate.

At first, James was concerned about competing with his son.

“I wasn’t sure if he would be able to swim, but he did it and made the transition from the pool to the open water,” he said.

For the super sprint, the pair swims 250 meters in open water followed by a 6-mile bike ride and 1-mile run. By comparison, Olympic triathlons, in which the parents have competed, are a 1,500-meter swim, nearly 25-mile bike ride and a 10k run. Jake swims and runs with his dad by his side. The men ride a tandem bicycle during the cycling portion of the races. “He loves it,” James said. “He gets excited to go and keep going.”