Going the distance
Going the distance

When Righetti High School cross country runner Matthew Pearson/s teammates want to motivate him during a race, they need only shout two words to him.

CSuper Mario!C

Pearson said, BI love to play Super Mario,C and the video games character has been a good motivating tool for Pearson.

The junior has dealt with his autism well enough to navigate cross country courses ranging from three miles to five kilometers without a guide.

Righetti coach Luis Escobar coached another runner with autism, Antonio Ortiz. Escobar was near the course every time Ortiz ran in order to guide the youngster. When Pearson first came out for the cross country program, BI didn/t think he could do it,C said Escobar.

BI thought he/d get lost on the course. I thought he/d need a guide. But Matthew has finished every race navigating the course on his own.

BYou tell him something once, and he/s got it. He/s locked in.C

The coach uses the same motivating technique for Pearson as his runners do.

BI tell him, >You have to be like Super Mario. You have to run through walls, jump over fences./C

Escobar and Matthew/s mother, Sandy, said the youngster was motivated to run because of his older sister Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Pearson is a senior at St. Joseph. She is a member of a St. Joseph varsity that just missed a spot in the CIF State Cross Country Meet last year.

BMy parents thought it would be a good idea for Matthew to come out for cross country,C Elizabeth Pearson said. BThey thought running was something we could do together and it would give him a chance to meet, and interact with, more people.C

Escobar said Matthew Pearson is as dedicated a runner as any in his program. BHe comes to every practice,C the veteran coach said.

He runs track too, but, BI like cross country best because of all the dirt, the grass,C said Matthew. BCross country is awesome.C

Matthew spoke awhile after he had finished the three-mile course at Biddle Park in Arroyo Grande. Pearson finished toward the back of the pack, but ahead of several other runners.

The course was minus the Brown Beast, a hill that, with uphill and down, took up about a mile-and-a-half. Roads are being built on that hill now, so no more Brown Beast at the Big Ditch Invitational.

That suited Matthew Pearson. BI like courses that are flat so you can run fast,C he said.

Little brother particularly impressed big sister during the Bull Canyon Run in the off-season earlier this year.

BShe/d said she would slow down so they could run together,C Sandy Pearson said.

BWhen they got home, Elizabeth said, >Oh my gosh mom, I had to fight to keep up with him!/C

Elizabeth Pearson said, BI figured I would slow down for him so we could run together.

She chuckled. BI wanted to walk at one point, but Matthew came up beside me and said, >Come on, Elizabeth, we/ve got to keep running./ I was, like, >OK, fine./C

Escobar and Sandy Pearson said that when Matthew is competing he can simply be just too nice.

BHe likes to wave to people he knows when he/s running,C said Escobar.

Besides, BHe didn/t want to pass anybody because he was afraid it might hurt their feelings,C said Sandy Pearson. BIt was so cute.C

Escobar said, BI had to tell him it was OK to pass people.C

The gregarious Ortiz was voted Righetti/s Homecoming King his senior year. Escobar said Matthew Bis more in a box.C

Still, BHe/s an interesting cat,C Matthew/s coach said.

Elizabeth Pearson said, BRunning cross country has been really good for him. He/s friends with everyone on the team. Someone I work with at Spencer/s is on the team, and he said runners on the team visit him in class.C

He may wave, he may be reluctant to pass people, but that doesn/t mean Matthew doesn/t have a competitive streak.

Righetti has a two-year ban in place from scheduling St. Joseph, stemming from a dispute over St. Joseph/s refusal to move from the Los Padres League to the PAC-7 in football. Before that, the schools were across-the-street rivals.

When they met, BI would tell my sister that her school/s going down,C Matthew Pearson said.

October 22, 2008