Melanie Roach can bear a lot—twice her own 117 pounds actually, a feat she showed off at the Beijing Olympics. (She finished sixth in her weight class.) But Roach, 33, struggles with a much more challenging load at home. Three years ago her son, Drew, now 6, was diagnosed with autism. “I started thinking he would never go to college, get married, or hold a job,” she remembers. “My heart was so sad.”
But today, life is easier. After $25,000 worth of therapy at the University of Washington Autism Center, Drews vocabulary and comprehension have improved. Roach and her husband, Dan, a Washington State congressman, have learned the skills for communicating with him and are now able to cope with nights when Drew runs around for three hours, opening and slamming doors, a common issue with autistic kids.
Roach also has two other healthy children and a gymnastics business with nearly 500 students. She tries not to dwell on the challenges: “Ive stopped worrying so much about fixing Drew and started enjoying him for who he is.”