By Meredith Bagley - In a way, Robert Bartholomew has been on the run his whole life. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at a young age, Bartholomew struggled in traditional classroom settings and was nearly forced to leave his middle school for a special education program. He was chased from two Boy Scout troops after leaders complained about his high-energy behavior, and his teachers doubted he'd make through one year of high school. But Howard Collier saw something different. Collier noticed Bartholomew in the hallways at Roosevelt High School during freshman orientation and asked him to run cross country. "He looked at me like I was crazy," Collier said, "but he came out and tried it."
Collier might have questioned his own sanity the next day, when 5-foot-3, 140-pound Bartholomew, sporting a long ponytail and glasses, got lost on the team's first warmup run. "He's a bundle of energy," the third-year coach said. "He is always, always talking."
The gamble has paid off, though, for both Collier and Bartholomew, and not just on the cross country trails. Bartholomew has a 3.8 grade-point average, has fully integrated into regular classes at Roosevelt and is closing in on earning his Eagle Scout award. "If it wasn't for sports, I probably wouldn't be in school," the slender Bartholomew acknowledged before a rainy Roughriders practice. "It's a way for me to get all my energy off."
Bartholomew is running fast, too, and Collier expects him to qualify for the State meet. "Bart," as his teammates call him, is the second-fastest Roosevelt runner behind fellow junior Bjorn Frederickson. After struggling his first year because of diet and fitness problems, Bartholomew cut seven minutes from his 3.1-mile race time last season, and this year has clocked a 15:55. That puts Bartholomew on pace for a top-10 finish among 4A runners. "I can't believe it, it's amazing," Collier exclaimed. "Last year, he finished sixth in J.V. for Kingco, and this year he's my second varsity runner. Running has changed his life."
Hal Johnston, Roosevelt's director of special education, said that though there is no clinical proof that athletics help ADHD students, Bartholomew has proved the plan has merit. "There's a lot of controversy, but yes, for most of the kids I deal with, sports have been very beneficial," Johnston said. "For any condition, sports gives self-confidence and that's a huge issue."
Look no further than Robert's mother for proof of athletics' therapeutic effect. "He's a lot happier now. Middle school was a nightmare for him – you had to behave first, then play sports, so he was never allowed," said his mom, Georgia. "And he's more motivated to do his school work because he knows he has to keep his grades up to play sports. Now he's living for running."
Bartholomew, who also swims for Roosevelt, attended the elite SPU running camp on Whidbey Island this summer and wants to help the school win its first league title. Roosevelt finished sixth in Kingco last year but is currently in first place. His individual accomplishments are not lost on him, and Bartholomew aspires to be a role model for other ADHD students. "If people ask me if they should try running, I'll tell them to," he said. "Or maybe another sport, because not everyone is a runner."
Georgia Bartholomew has relished watching her son improve his social skills, and even teases him that girls talk to him more now that he's running fast. "I call him my social butterfly," she laughed. "(Running) has been great for him; a lot of people only have bad contact with (ADHD) kids."
Robert's illness still requires him to take medication, though only during school hours. On race days, Bartholomew works to manage his high-energy tendencies with the demands of long-distance running. "Before races, I get pretty tensed up; it kind of drives Coach crazy," Bartholomew said. "But when the race starts, I try to take some deep breaths and focus on my second mile."
Bartholomew and Collier have turned one potential ADHD obstacle into a pre-race ritual. "Howard ties (Robert's) shoes before every race," Georgia Bartholomew explained. "Robert can't do it – he gets too nervous."
Bartholomew's teammates chuckle about his high-energy style, but let Robert be himself without judgment or criticism. After all, if Roosevelt is to bring home a Kingco title, it will need Bartholomew's speed. But beyond winning and losing, the team knows running has a higher importance for Bartholomew. "We're sort of all he has," sophomore runner Eric Sorensen said. "We're like his family, and he cares about it a lot."
This article "Running into his future. Roosevelt Runner turns hyperactivity into success" by Meredith Bagley was published in the Wednesday, October 11, 2000, edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Run The Planet would like to thank Meredith Bagley for her precious cooperation.