Marino and Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland once again partnered as de facto masters of ceremonies, watching more than 17,000 people show up for the walk. They were there to show support in helping increase awareness and raise money to find a cure and better treatments for those afflicted with autism. At last year’s inaugural WalkAbout, an estimated 9,000 people participated on what was a chilly morning.
“It’s something that I’m very proud of and I also want to thank Jeff and Rachel Ireland for being a part of this and the Miami Dolphins for letting us come out here to Sun Life Stadium and be a part of the great facility here and use it to help raise money and awareness throughout South Florida,” Marino said. “This thing has been a really big success and it looks like we’re going to raise over $500,000 dollars (the walk actually raised $700,000) and maybe a lot more than that. So that’s our preliminary figure, which to me is just unbelievable, so it’s a special day for all of us.”
It’s been 21 years since Marino’s son Michael was diagnosed with autism and he has been at the forefront of the fight to help other families ever since. Michael, 23, has begun a musical career as DJ One-Tre, a disc jockey spinning the hits with a familiar flair. His moniker is meant to honor his father, whose No. 13 jersey was retired by the Dolphins, and he kept the beat going inside the stadium after the walk up on stage.
Ireland’s 16-year-old twin daughters, Haley and Hannah, also are highly functional after having been diagnosed at a very young age. Both he and Marino emphasized the importance of being able to catch the signs early.
“Early intervention is important with this disease and I think we’re diagnosing it a lot earlier than maybe we were 15 or 20 years ago,” Ireland said. “I think where the awareness has come into play is just the diagnosis and making sure that these organizations that are represented in this great walk have the tools to teach these children because every case is different.
“These organizations have the specialty and the skill to put your child in the right direction, whether it be rehab or therapy to get them the right help that they need, and the families. If you’re raising a special needs child it’s tough on the families so there’s support there as well.”
In addition to the Dan Marino Foundation, which has raised over $28 million since its inception in 1992, proceeds from the event will benefit the Autism Societies of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, the UM-NSU CARD (Center for Autism & Related Disabilities) and the FAU-CARD. There were also 300 area schools participating, with 25 percent of the money raised by their teams going to support special needs programming in their respective schools.
Current and former Dolphins players also showed up to lend their support, including
“This is such a great cause and just to be a part of it and be asked to come, I love to be at these things and support it,” Long said. “The turnout is unbelievable and just for this many people to come out and support this, it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Marino remembers when his son was first diagnosed having to look up autism in the encyclopedia because he had no idea what it was. After Michael was diagnosed at the University of Miami he was enrolled at the Baudhuin Oral preschool on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Davie. At that time there were maybe eight families in the “Mommy And Me” programs covering all of Broward County.
Since then, Marino has seen the treatments come a long way and the establishment of more specialized schools to accommodate autistic children. But he and Ireland know a lot more can still be done, which is how this WalkAbout came about.
“From my standpoint because Michael’s 23-years-old now I’m not on the cutting edge of exactly what’s going on on a daily basis with kids that are 2 to 4 or 5-years-old,” Marino said. “The early intervention thing goes back to even with my son Michael and other families that I know, that’s the key thing. It helped 20 years ago and I’m sure it’s the same today because you get in there and you find out what direction the child needs. Some need more occupational therapy and more speech therapy and there are a lot of different ways to help children. I think the key is finding out early and making that decision that we’re going to do whatever it takes to help.”