Meet Mike Tozer, a Team Brooks athlete who broke the world record (1: 18: 10) for running a half marathon in a business suit while raising awareness and funds for autism.
When and why did you start running?
I started running competitively in my 30s, so I was quite late to the sport. My first road race was a 3 mile run along the river Charles in Boston in 2011.
I surprised myself by coming fourth! I really enjoyed the competition and doing something that kept me healthy and that I was good at.
So, I started running daily and I see it as a chance to get out into nature and de-stress.
What are your greatest athletic achievements?
Top of my list of achievements that I am proud of is setting the Guinness World Record for fastest half-marathon in a suit in 1 hour 18:10.
Secondly, my other world record, in 2020, was a significant milestone for me. As part of my virtual London marathon which I ran in Sydney around the regatta lake, I was a participant in the largest virtual marathon ever.
I am proud to share that record with 37,965 other people. Credit, too, goes to Dave, Matt and Declan who paced me that day.
What inspired you to start your business?
My sister, Sarah, was a big part of the inspiration behind Xceptional. She is an incredible person, warm and gentle, with an amazing memory. She is also autistic, and has struggled with finding and keeping a job throughout her adult life (read her full story here).
She has many skills, but the employers she has tried only saw the challenges, and missed out on the huge benefit of having her on their team.
I started to wonder: what would it be like to create a company that successfully connects autistic people with employers at scale? What would it be like to come alongside other companies to help them diversify their workplaces? From that seed of an idea Xceptional was born.
What made you decide to run in a suit?
I first saw someone else break the world record in a suit in 2016, and thought that I could beat his time. An amazing social enterprise tailor in Hong Kong called Bonham Strand sponsored me and it took me two tough attempts. See my TEDx talk for the full story!
For me, the suit is a metaphor for those thousands of autistic people who are left out of the workplace. Many of us go to work and have gone from job to job and it is hard to understand the challenges of long term unemployment.
I also run for my son. He is a delightful boy, with a great sense of humour and he lives with Fragile X Syndrome, the leading gene cause of autism. I get to watch the daily joys and challenges that come from Fragile X.
The suit holds me back in a similar way that his challenges hold him back and it is a constant reminder of him and his challenges while I am running. As the suit feels heavier the longer I run it is both a huge challenge but also a huge motivator.
What’s next for you as a runner?
As a runner, my next big race is the London marathon – I had a place in the Championship start in 2020. This is the front 300 runners, rubbing shoulders with marathon great Kipchoge among others. It would have been my first marathon outside of Australia.
Covid postponed that dream. I still got to participate in the virtual race and received a World Record for it, as mentioned earlier. But nothing beats being there in person!
I have a place in the 2021 race again, and if that is again postponed I will run the Melbourne marathon.
What’s next for your business?
We have a massive year ahead at Xceptional with our business and government customers increasing their hiring post-Covid. With few overseas migrants allowed into the country there is a huge opportunity to get more Australians into work who until now have been left out. Employers are reaching out to us with increasing frequency as they see the value and necessity of untapped talent pools like ours.
With the growth in hiring, we need to find more autistic jobseekers. We need people with skills in software development and data analytics, cyber security as well as administration skills. If you, or someone you know, has autism and an interest in technology then we’d love to hear from you.
*All images are credited to Drew Grigg