PLAISTOW — Each and every face lights up as Connor Breton trots past his teammates during pre-practice warm-ups.
The Timberlane High senior, dressed in his maroon and white Owls track uniform and bright green and blue sneakers, stretches before running through a set of long jumps followed by a partial lap around the track.
All along the way, friends jog by to pat Breton on the back, exchange a few words of encouragement or simply swap a joke, each leaving with a smile on their face.
“Everyone on the track team loves Connor,” said his mother, Mary Breton. “He cheers on everyone and they cheer him on. The team has accepted him as a part of the family, and it is so heartwarming. I feel like it has made a major difference in his life. I has given him so much confidence.”
For Connor Breton, who was born with autism 18 years ago, track has been more than simply a sport. Over the last six years, it has grown to become a way for him to develop connections with those around him.
“I love track and getting to run as fast as I can,” said Breton, a sprinter and long jumper. “I have met a lot of new friends at school and it makes me happy to have a lot of friends. That has made high school a lot easier and more fun.”
Since first testing track in the seventh grade, Breton has grown into a beloved member of the Owls track and cross country team and the entire Timberlane community. He was voted “Most Likely to Make Your Day” by the school and ranked in the top 15 percent academically in his senior class.
His mother believes the sport is a key reason for that growth.
“When he was a child a neurologist told me that the gap between him and other kids would widen and he would have a harder time connecting with them,” said Mary. “But through both track and cross country, I found the gap has not widened. Everyone accepts him and he loves them.”