One of 2016's most compelling Paralympic competitors is Michael 'Mikey' Brannigan, a 19 year-old runner diagnosed with autism. He recently ran the mile in an astounding 3 minutes and 57 seconds - showing that Paralympic athletes are in no way inferior in terms of determination and competitiveness.

"I love to work hard and have fun. And just beat my personal best and keep improving to that next level," Mikey says.

While on the track, Mikey is able to concentrate on the repetition of movement and focus internally on his body with each moment. Everything outside himself drifts away - and he finds peace.

As a young boy, Mikey couldn't contain his love for running, and would often careen around at full speed in the house - sometimes to the point of injury. At age 7, Mikey's father enrolled him in a running program called Rolling Thunder for children with special needs. The organized group activity calmed Mikey, and brought focus and purpose to his running.

His coaches and teammates have taught him how to pace himself; to have the energy he needs when it is time to finish a race. And finish he has.

Brannigan has been winning races and shattering records since the start. In the 7th grade, he broke the 5 minute mile for the first time; a feat not often accomplished by someone of that age. In 2014, he became Long Island Northport Public High School's first ever national champion. At the Molloy Stanner Games in 2015, Mikey ran 2 miles in 9:09.77 - setting the US record. This time planted his name firmly in the ranks of the running world.

When asked if being autistic makes him a better runner, he thoughtfully responded, "A better person."

If you think that Mikey Brannigan is satisfied with just making the USA Paralympic Team, you couldn't be further from the truth. Mikey is out to win the gold. Along with his coach, Mikey also has a plan in place of joining the US Olympic Team in 2024, and winning gold for his country on the world's largest stage.

A 17 year-old Brannigan told NBC of the Olympics, "I had a dream-- a day dream of them," he says. "Wearing my USA jersey, and representing my country… and the whole nation… a whole America watching me."

Two years later, he is about to live his dream.

The Paralympics start September 7th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

By Patrick Kelly.