Hanging on the wall in the Reagans’ basement gym is a blown-up picture, taken four years ago, of the family at the Minneapolis Life Time Fitness Triathlon finish line.
Peg and Brian huddle around four of their five kids — Kelly, Jack, Patrick and Ned — sweaty but smiling after competing in the grueling race.
The notable absence is the literal center of the family, middle child Jimmy, whose regressive-onset autism kept him from joining in the fun.
This year, Jimmy won’t be sidelined.
While the rest of his family will participate for the 10th year, 21-year-old Jimmy will compete in his first triathlon Saturday. With the assistance of his mom biking, family friend Laura Drake swimming, and his helper Josh Harrod and the rest of the Reagan contingent walking, he hopefully will cross the finish line together with his family.
“For us, getting up early in the morning and having him stay back always didn’t resonate very well,” Peg said. “I really wanted him to be able to participate. So I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. How we could do it, how we could include him, and it happened to work this year.”
The closest Jimmy came to the triathlon was wearing the old T-shirts for painting. Most are now splattered with various colors — much like the living room carpet where Jimmy has his studio.
While his family may be athletically inclined, Jimmy inherited the artistic gene. His paintings have been displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as well as across the country and the world. He sells his work, as well as scarves and ties printed with his patterns, making him the successful entrepreneur of the family.
“He’s made more money than any of the kids so far,” 19-year-old Patrick said.
Even though art has helped his son find his place in the world, Brian said he is glad Jimmy can finally be included in a family tradition.
“We’re a very close family, and I think Jimmy has been a catalyst for that,” Brian said.
“He makes us all better people. … You see parts of the world that you just would never see if all of your kids were normal. And it’s a beautiful thing.”
Jimmy developed normally as a child and was even ahead developmentally before losing all language capabilities. When he became chronically ill, doctors diagnosed the illness at age 2. The health-care challenges eventually led to Jimmy being home-schooled after eighth grade, which is when a tutor suggested art as a way to visually teach him geography.
His art career skyrocketed from there, and Jimmy has continued to exceed expectations. Doctors told his mom he never would ski and probably would need to be institutionalized by age 10. He did ski with his family, and he still happily lives at home, doing word searches on the couch while urging his mom to scratch his head with a nudge to her shoulder.
“He always wants to be included,” Peg said. “And I think that’s a misnomer sometimes for people in the spectrum that they don’t want to be included. I think it’s just the opposite.”
Drake has known the Reagans since she was born and, as a former collegiate swimmer, hopes to start Jimmy’s relay off right. While there is friendly competition among the family, Drake said the real goal is just to have fun.
“The day’s not about what we go or where we finish,” Drake said. “It’s about doing it … as a family. Doing it all together. Being there with Jimmy when he crosses the finish line.”
And the Reagans will do something more to commemorate the milestone than just add another souvenir T-shirt to Jimmy’s painting smocks.
They’re retaking that family portrait at the finish line. And this time, Jimmy is sure to be at the center.
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