Wilfrin to Run the Youth Invitational, but Has His Sights Set on the Five Boroughs One Day


On November 4, Wilfrin Fernandez-Cruz will be among the first runners to cross the storied TCS New York City Marathon finish line.

The 11 year old from Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is taking part in the Rising New York Road Runners Youth Invitational, a race that lets hundreds of boys and girls run the final stretch of the world-famous course before the main event begins in Staten Island.

As Wilfrin flies through Central Park, spurred on by the sound of cheering fans, his mother, Lisa, will be reminded yet again of how running has helped to change her son’s life. As a child living with autism, Wilfrin has always struggled with team sports. He tried soccer for a while, but it never really worked out. Then about three years ago, Lisa learned about NYRR’s free youth cross-country events in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Wilfrin had already started tagging along on her runs, doing a mile here and there, so Lisa decided to take a shot and sign him up.

“He took to it right away,” Lisa said, who’s been running since her early 20s. “And he was rather fast, considering he never really pushed himself before.”

She’s not kidding. Wilfrin ran that first one-mile race in an impressive 7:38. He’s since completed 13 more NYRR races, including a bunch of four-milers. This past summer, Wilfrin became a Rising New York Road Runners Youth Ambassador. The program is centered around a six-week program that teaches participants presentation skills, preparing them to speak at NYRR events.

“Giving speeches and making eye contact are things that definitely don’t come naturally to him,” added Fernandez-Cruz. “But the classes were really great. They taught them all of those things. At the end of the six weeks, he gave a speech, and he was really awesome. It was very impressive.”


Confidence Builder


Even before Wilfrin became a Youth Ambassador, Lisa found that running gave her son a lot more confidence at school. He’s started running track, and while it’s technically a team sport, he’s able to focus on his own personal goals.

He’s also began to run about a mile before school on Monday mornings, which has helped him transition more smoothly into the structured classroom environment.

“It gets him mentally in a space where he’s ready to start his day,” she added. “It was awesome when we figured that out.”

Another positive byproduct of Wilfrin’s running is that Lisa has become more active in the sport. Since January 2017, she’s run 28 NYRR races, including the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. Wilfrin is already talking about running the five boroughs one day, and in that sense, he can think of the Rising New York Road Runners Youth Invitational as a test run for future triumphs.

“He’s very excited,” she explained. “Maybe it’s because I’m so excited.”