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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#400!

A couple weeks ago I hit the milestone of 25,000 people spoken to but yesterday I hit another major milestone as I gave my 400th presentation. While I was giving it I thought back to my first bit of presentations which are not part of the 400, perhaps they should be, but thinking back to those I never could have believed everything has turned out the way it has. Anyway, what got me thinking was this; I don't believe I have ever, in any of my blog posts, explained how I became a speaker at all. It wasn't my idea at all and it all happened out of sheer chance.

In 2009, at my 2nd book signing event (this was when my book was just self-published), there was this person who was hanging around the table staring at me. He was there for at least a dozen minutes and eventually he came up to me and flat out said, "I don't think you have Asperger's! How are you interacting with these people if you do?" The question didn't trip me up and I explained my "Alias" concept in great detail along with other experiences and I also, for the first time in my life said, and I still use this line today, "if you see me outside this forum you probably wouldn't recognize me."

The conversation continued on for the rest of the book signing function between times I spoke to others, but this person was in no hurry to leave. As I was speaking to him I didn't know who he was or what his connection to anything regarding the autism spectrum was but eventually he informed me that he was a masters level teaching professor at a local university and that he had become highly interested, after speaking with me, in having me come out to speak to his class each semester. I agreed and then realized I had the least bit of knowledge on public speaking and had no idea what I just signed up for.

A couple months later my dad and I headed to the university and my dad didn't really inform me the purpose of the trip. I knew we were going to meet the professor but I didn't know this would be for a presentation. We had sort of worked on a PowerPoint but now I was being thrust into the arena and there was no turning back.

Was this first unofficial presentation any good? Compared to today I'd have to say no, but I actually don't remember the response afterwards. In fact, the two or three times I presented there are just a blur. It is such a blur I don't remember the dates of these presentations or how many people which is why I don't include them in my numbers. But here's the thing, I can get caught up in the number of presentations and whether or not those should count towards the 400, but that isn't the important aspect of this story. What is important is the fact that a professor came out to see me at a book signing after seeing the announcement in the newspaper and wanted to see who I was and what I was about.

It was such a long road to reach 400 and maybe my year's end I'll hit 500 but the long road has been filled with so many people that opened up the gate to allow me to get to the next stage of my life. Obviously there were my parents who had to listen to me go on and on about whatever topic I was into at that point in time, there were my 2nd and 4th grade teachers who thought outside the box and gave me a taste of public speaking despite the fact I had minimal interactions with my classmates, there was the man who set up a presentation at the organization that would become TouchPoint that saw me speaking about auto racing, and then there was the man mentioned in today's blog that got me in front of masters level teaching students, and of course the fact that TouchPoint took a risk and hired me on as a consultant and then full time as a speaker.

When I show up at a presentation I think there are times when those in the audience may think everything happened at all at once as if it were as easy as snapping one's fingers. Obviously, it wasn't and I try to make reference to that in that I see gains sometimes as if one were planting seeds; it takes a while for seeds to sprout. And besides that, progression in life does take time. I didn't just jump to a total of 400 presentations as it was a process. I have a spreadsheet that has each presentation with details and to reach 400 I had to have presentation #297, #198, #100, and of course it all began with #1. To get anywhere in life it is a process, or perhaps a long road and yesterday my road reached a land mark, or a major mile marker if you prefer, but the process continues on. Where will I be in three years? I've only really been doing this for a little over three years so the process drives ever forward and there's no telling, really, what lies ahead but if the first 400 are any sign there's no telling what I'll see in the next 400.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Major Change (Actually 2 Changes)

Yesterday I said good bye to a friend I had for the past 15 years. This friend went everywhere I went and was with me on trips across two different continents. It was with me when I raced and all the races I've flagged since. This friend, truly, was with me half of my life, but yesterday it was retired.

What on Earth am I talking about? No, it isn't a person but a wallet. Yeah, I've had my wallet since I was 15 and it certainly looks as if it has been through thick and thin, well, not it just looked thin as it has been long overdue for retirement. In just the past month I've had at least six comments over the course of four state about the condition of my wallet so it was most certainly time but there were two problems; one is that I hate change and secondly, where would one buy a wallet?

The change came yesterday not of my own doing but through another major change within my life. I'm rather nervous about this because the last time I was in a relationship it ended in flames with a breakup on Christmas via text message, but that was almost a decade ago and I never thought there would be a change like this, but I'm in a relationship once more and she got me a gift yesterday of a new wallet.

It was one of the more thoughtful, and needed, gifts I've ever been given. It was a sad process, that of moving over my cards and the like from the wallet that was all but falling apart (that picture doesn't give it justice on just how bad off it was) but I did in haste because, for me, in changes like this if I don't do them suddenly I'll get timid about them and second, third, and fourth guess myself. I couldn't allow myself to get sentimental during this process because I would think about all the places I'd been with it, the times I've used it, and even the times people asked, "Dude, seriously? That's your wallet?"

Driving to the office this morning I stopped at my normal stop to get a breakfast bar and an energy drink and the clerk said, "wow, nice wallet, sir" which I think he had seen my wallet in the past so perhaps this was his commending me on actually having something that looks professional.

So those are the major changes. If you've read my book, or seen my presentation, I'm sure you're much more interested in the change I just briefly mentioned (that of being the relationship) but as the relationship is new this is something I will share over time (how's that for keeping you, the reader, interested?) as there's still plenty of time to do so as well as working out the fact that I am on the road quite a bit so will this play a factor? There are so many questions with no answers at this point in time so yes, only time will tell. I do know one thing, and I've said it in so many presentations, that one has to learn from past mistakes and I know there will be no sequel to my Christmas story.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fail Set Explained

Of all the issues those on the autism have to face one of the biggest hurdles is a fail set mindset. To put simply, fail set is thinking, "since I failed the first time I should never try again because whatever is now is forever and since I failed once I will fail forever." This has always been the way I described it but then earlier today I came up with a visual example to explain this.


To explain this I'm going to use the solitaire variant of Klondike. If you don't know the game you can click on the link, but I think most people have at least of a little understanding of the game. Anyway, I've spent many a hour in real-life or on the computer playing it (remember a long time ago when you would win on the computer version and the cards would come flying and bouncing out... those were good times!) and as the cards are dealt it is always good to have a great start, like this one which I dealt out. In this example all the aces are exposed and able to be moved up and there are two kings which can be moved to the right letting the cards underneath it be unturned and there's a 2 which can be joined with the ace. All in all this is a dream start and there's a lot of potential that this game can be won.

Now how does this have anything to do with fail set? Let's take this next example:



In this example there are no moves to begin the game and there are already two kings on the left-hand side. Where as this game does have potential  if a black queen or black 10 is unveiled a person in a fail set mindset won't even try because, after all, what's the point? Since right now there are no moves there will always be no moves therefore what is the point in proceeding?

Whether it's from parents, or teachers, this is probably the #1 thing I hear in terms of areas of concern. When trying to learn a new concept in school, whether it is learning about adverbs, or going into fractions in math, or later in life navigating the work environment, fail set is a constant issue lurking around every corner. I firmly believe that this fail set is the reason as to why the unemployment rate, per this article on Forbes.com states the unemployment rate is a staggering 80%! With a fail set mindset a person with Asperger's might have already relegated her or his self to unemployment just from hearing that stat because, since it's a vast majority, what's the point in trying?

Fail set can also be created within the schools. If a person is bullied throughout their school career what motivation is there to leave the house when school is over with? Within the confines of home there aren't others to bully, and since being bullied happened that means it's always going to happen therefore why try?

Another possible creation of fail set, and this happened to me, is if we get to the workplace and we have issues. I deeply struggled with the social aspect of working; I could do the actual job just fine but when it came to interacting with my coworkers I had no idea that I seemed "standoffish" or if I "fully loathed everyone else" but I did and there was friction. The end result was often employment that lasted about 6-9 months and then the friction became too great and I would just quit on the spot. This happened four times and there wasn't a fifth job until I started working at TouchPoint.

Fail set is something that can be combatted, but understanding it is the first key. Those whose minds don't operate on that system have a very hard time understanding it which is why I got super excited when I came up with the solitaire example as a visual aid in describing it. It's difficult for me to understand how one doesn't think this way, that of if failure is done once then that is always the outcome. But yes, it can be combatted in ways. One is, in school, slowly transition into new materials and before one is truly put to the test make sure the person knows it. Secondly, and I'm so thankful I've spoken to about 7,500 students, is better understanding and awareness of those around us. Look, words hurt and if a person in constantly poked and prodded about their "quirks" and maybe even physically bullied then, under the fail set, this means this will be the reality forever. It is very easy for a person to be resigned and accept a fate of failure and not trying and be part of the 80% even before they reach the age of employment. And when it comes to the workplace, understanding of those around us is important but also trying to raise the understanding of workplace politics and etiquette (this blog post is a great example of a mistake I made.)

 I have always said and firmly believe that "understanding is the foundation for hope" and I hope this post, with the visual aid, has added just a little bit of knowledge to you about the challenges of fail set and the way our minds on the autism spectrum sometimes, unfortunately, think.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

More is Less and Less is More

I've had this blog title and concept in my head for some time now but it has been so hard to put it into words so today I'm simply trying. Will it be perfect? Probably not, but the title itself is enough once I [try to] explain the concept.

If we just look at my blogs this week, one about a gas station which means so much and also my experience with the thunderstorm at 36,000 feet this shows that, in life, things have different meanings for me. In other words, what might be a major thing for you might not register for me and what might be something that has almost as much relevance as life itself for me might be inconceivable to you.

One way this plays out is what some call an, "inappropriate attachment to objects" which I have blogged several times as well as a major chapter in my book Finding Kansas entitled, "Small Things".

A great example of this would be this; in 5th grade I nominated myself to be the kickball umpire at recess and on this one day the best kicker didn't come to the parking lot to play. I knew he was in school and this was against the routine (another thing that applies to this, for most routines can be broken, for myself routines are the law of the land) so I went to go find him and when I did, by the front door, he sort of looked up and said, "Yeah, um, my dog died this morning." too which I calmly said, "Oh. Oh, well, do you want to play kickball now?" At the time there was no registering of the words he said which if I just gave you this story with nothing else you might think I was just the most cold, callous, and heartless individual in the world, but now let me give you a counterpoint to that.

It was 2001 and Emily and I were driving up to my sister's in Indianapolis to attend the Brickyard 400. On the drive we were on I-70 and we came through this town of St. Elmo, Illinois (population 1,426 per what wikipedia says) and the first thing I noticed was that the water tower had been repainted. No big deal, right? Wrong! From 1993 to 2001 I must have been in a car through that town at least 50 times and on the water tower, under the town name, it said, "1988 I.H.S.A.A. Final Four" which meant that the team from that town made that year's state's final four in basketball. In 1988 I was only five years old so you would think this would mean nothing to me but my reaction to this change was tears. Emily thought I was kidding, but I was brought to tears as I thought about all those that were on that team and that no one, from that day forward, would know what they did.

This is a very difficult concept to explain because, on one hand, there can be this cold, and seemingly immune reaction to emotion and yet a minor change in the world can evoke an emotional response that I'm sure is impossible for others around me to understand which is why I think the line of, "more is less and less is more" fits perfectly to this because some things that would seem to be an obvious emotional reaction may get none and a change in the environment say, a business that goes out of business, or a childhood toy is lost, or a street sign is changed, or a water tower being repainted may illicit major reactions.

There are many reasons, I think, that puts this system in play. One, for sure, is the "associative memory system" in that exterior items, or places, or songs, or anything really becomes connected to a time, a place, an emotion, or a person. It's this system which everything is really tied. I originally thought it was just memories, but this is the foundation for everything really and the basis for routines. When something is lost, or changed, it creates a rift throughout the entire system and it is here when "less is more" becomes apparent. If something is sudden, and stated much like "my dog died this morning" it is hard to register. That's the only way to describe it as it takes time to register and to be processed and yeah, four hours later I realized the scope of the loss, but at the moment more was less because it was unable to be processed.

I could write on and on about this and probably would just go around in circles so I will leave this at that. One thing to remember is that things that may seem too small to be noticed, or too small to have any emotional reaction may be a major episode for us on the autism spectrum and things that should have a response may not because it just isn't able to be processed and understood at that point in time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Storms Over Kansas

For once, when I talk about Kansas, I'm talking about the literal place and not the concept that is name of my book. Anyway, yesterday I flew from Grand Junction, to Salt Lake City and then onward to Saint Louis.

The flight from Salt Lake to home took off as the sun was starting to set and I spent the first hour engrossed in a book as well as playing games on my phone. Every so often I would glance outside and see a town we were passing and each time I looked out I was amazed at how bright the moon was.

As I was continuing reading I kept being distracted by some form of light outside but each time I looked outside I saw nothing and I kept thinking that it was the moon. Eventually, as I finished a chapter, I stared out towards the world and there it was, a brilliant flash of light. "What is that?" I asked to no one but myself aloud and then there it was again. And again! It took me a minute but then I realized it was a thunderstorm and I was seeing it from above.

My book and phone became irrelevant as I witness to this fantastic light show at 36,000 feet. Later, when I landed, I looked at a radar and figured that this storm I was watching was about 100 miles away and I wish I would have had a camera to capture just how amazing the scene was as the moon was reflecting off the wings, the stars were shining brightly in the sky, and out in the distance was this constant illumination of lightning.

I had once seen a thunderstorm at eye level back on July 3rd, 2000 when I was returning home from Alaska, but I didn't remember it to be so marvelously beautiful yet somewhat disconcerting. Perhaps it was because I was just 17 and had the worst case of insomnia, but yesterday I could not take my eyes off the light show.

The minutes passed and I kept looking from the front window to the window beside me and I was somewhat annoyed at how much light was on in the cabin as there was a horrible glare. Also, in the windows because of the reflections, I could see the person in front and behind me. The person behind me, who could see me peering out the window, kept trying to give signals that she did not like me looking out the window, but what I was amazed at was NO ONE else up and down the plane had even noticed, or rather cared to see, this amazing show nature was putting on.

Maybe it was that everyone had a good book, maybe it was that they never noticed, or perhaps it was that they simply didn't care, but as I raised my head up to look forward and as I stood to look behind me I was the only one to be looking outside. How was this? How often is it that you can see a thunderstorm at eye level and see every burst of lightning? This angered me, and I truly mean it. I wanted to yell, "Um, hey everyone! How about you all turn off the lights and look out the window!"

We continued onward and what was truly amazing was that, despite the full moon and the stars, it was so hard to distinguish an outline of the storm minus when there was a burst of white light within the storm; and the bursts were frequent as there was a flash every three seconds or so spread somewhere within this storm.

Eventually the storm went out of view behind me and no one else seemed to notice. It was as if that storm was putting on a show just for me and no one else cared or noticed. That's the way life usually is for me as I pick up on things most others won't see. Of course, I miss out on a bunch of social things other people pick up naturally, but I'm amazed I was the only one that was witness to this fantastic light show and I assure you that is one flight I won't soon forget where as everyone else probably had no idea on what they missed out on.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Places

The race weekend here in Grand Junction for the SKUSA SummerNationals was a good one, but very hot. While I was here for the race there is a specific spot in town that has a great deal of meaning to me. The reason why pertains to the "associative memory system" and each time I visit this place it brings me back to all the other times I've been there. What is this place? How does it have such a mythical meaning to me? Is it a park? A museum? A bridge? Nope, it's a gas station.

"A gas station?!" you're probably wondering but yes, a gas station. For other people places are simply that, a place in space that may be a place of work, school, or a place to get what one needs. For myself places are much deeper than that as all that was experienced there becomes associated with that place. I'm sure this is something everyone has to a degree, but for myself, and others on the autism spectrum, it is much more profound.

Each time I come to or through Grand Junction I have to stop there. The very first time I did was back on October 5th, 2003 when I was driving to Las Vegas to be an instructor at the Derek Daly Racing School. This was also the gas station that I bought my 2nd ever Red Bull. So right away this place is connected to a major event of my life (the racing school, not the Red Bull) and once again I was there in July of 2011 for that year's SKUSA Summernats. A few months later when Rob and I drove to Vegas to work a USAC .25 race we stopped and of course, on last year's nationwide tour, we stopped there again. And obviously, on this trip, I stopped there a time or two (or three.)

So why does a place that may seem irrelevant to you become such a beacon for myself? I first have to describe a couple things to you. First is the fact that, as I declare in my chapter "Film Theory" in my book Finding Kansas, "Whatever happens first always has to happen." This means that routine is important, but to places that have memories tied to them it becomes deeper, bigger, and more special. More special? My memory, from having conversations with others, is different in that everything seems more current. This means that, when I walk into that gas station, it's very much like it's 2003 and I'm en route to Vegas, or it's like that moment last year when I was in the midst of a nationwide tour, or two years ago and working the SKUSA race.

Living with this associative memory system can be tiring because there isn't a thought of, "you know, I'm going to make this place mean more than others." Think of that, living a life where any thing or in this instance any place can become more than others and it all depends on the randomness of life, but when a place becomes attached to memories it is etched in stone. I don't think I could drive through this town without making a stop at this gas station.

Again, I'm sure everyone has a place like this in their life, but it probably isn't an average gas station. Most people a place like this might be a place where something a little more, say, major happened in their life. Also, a place like this would be rare in that I doubt most people have places like this that reach double digits. This gas station is just one place for me in one town. There are many others that have this same sort of meaning and each time I'm there all my memories come back, anew, and it makes everything seem more present and the passage of time is lessened.

In just a few hours I'll be on a plane and that gas station will remain there, but I can assure you that next time I'm on I-70 driving West through Colorado I will make or a stop and once again 2003, 2011, 2012, and this trip right now in 2013 will be re-experienced and everything will seem as if it's now.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Another Trip From _____

Just a quick warning: In this blog I quote a couple people that sat by me on a plane. They were rude, crude, and offensive and I'm using one of their quotes in this blog. I don't feel this is what the vast majority of society feels, but I was so offended by hearing it that I had to write about it because, even though it's offensive, it's this type of mindset that we're up against.

It was two years ago I first blogged about a "Trip From _____" and that trip was when I was headed to Grand Junction for the SKUSA Summernats. Well, two years later the Summernats are once again in Grand Junction and once again I've had an awful travel experience.

First, I'm thankful there's been no 100 gate dash as there was two years ago. Also, nothing happened directly at myself as the story from two years ago. However, this has left me just as frustrated.

So this story begins on the ride from Saint Louis to Salt Lake (I've written so many blogs from this airport!) and the two people that came to my row. I was assigned the middle but they asked if I'd want to move to the aisle because they were, "going to talk a lot." I thought nothing of this and only wished they had asked if I wanted the window.

While we were in taxi mode on the runway the chatter began. At first it was about as irrelevant, well, irrelevant to me, as possible so I put in my headphones and started to listen to music. As we climbed so too do their volume. To put simply there was no tuning this duo out and what started out as mundane, idle chatter quickly became an offensive barrage to just about anything, everything, and anyone that could be offended.

I'm not going to list everything they poked fun of or complained about, but I do want to say it was amazing that, on many subjects, they would complain about both sides of a coin. The oddest thing, outside the main point of my story which I'm getting to, they complained about were, "people who donate money to children's hospitals." What? They talked as if people donating were the root of all the world's evil.

The conversation went even further downhill when they started talking about one of their daughter's classes and autism. Yes, no subject was safe from this venom-spewing duo but autism got in their crosshairs and some quotes were, "People who think autism rates are going up are just stupid because it doesn't even exist in the first place. Parents need to just look in the mirror to find the root of their problem. It's all just make believe" Offended? I know I was.

After hearing that line I muted my music and I froze. What do I do? My job title is autism ambassador and this, right then and there, is the epitome example of a time to spread awareness and understanding. Yet I felt minimized. The way these two talked I would have been simply steamrolled as closed mindedness doesn't even begin to describe them.

I thought about it for another minute and they continued bashing schools that give assistance to those on the autism spectrum and I just began to think, "how are there people like this?" and within that question I felt defeated. I realized there was nothing I could do to change their mind and if I tried it'd just become a confrontation and as angry as I was getting if I'd have said anything and they responded with something ignorant and they then got mad at my calling them out on the highest form of ignorance they were showing I'm sure the end result would have been something that would have ended up on the news for a plane being rerouted due to a verbal shouting match or something of the sort.

These two people were right around the age of 50 but I still don't understand how anyone could not only have those views but be willing to share them with an escalated voice. For a while I almost thought this was some hidden camera prank because I can't understand how anyone could be that rude." Sure, I have said things throughout my life that were the wrong thing at the wrong time, but if I ever disagree with a point I'm never going to outright yell to the world that something is, "childish" "idiotic" or, "make believe."

I don't think I was the only one to become frustrated with this two as the row in front of me kept glancing backwards at them in disgust. While this made me feel as if I weren't totally alone I still felt as if I should do something, anything, but what would be accomplished?

So here I sit now staring out at Utah and the mountains wondering about what it all meant and what I could have done differently and the thing is, I don't think I could have. As firm as they were it would have been like trying to convince a person that red is blue. And yet, I feel as if I failed even though I'm sure it was a battle that could not have been won.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reflections on 25,000 and Staying Busy

As I blogged about yesterday, my career numbers of people spoken to reached 25,000. When I got home last night I thought long and hard about that and what it all meant. I became interested on what my thoughts were back when I started this in 2010 so I got out my calendar journal to look it up and I can 100% honestly say there is no way I ever would have thought I'd still be doing this three years later.

When I say calendar journal I do keep a journal but not in the traditional of ways. Each year I buy a calendar that one would put on a wall and each day I write what I did or how I felt. There are times I may go a week without filling in each box, but I've been doing it since 2004 and if you ever want a journal of any kind I would suggest my method. Anyway, though, my comment I put on my first police presentation was, "I did awful." The officers there disagreed, but I'm always harder on myself than I should be. On my 2nd presentation I put, "halfway decent" and by the tenth I put, "I think I might be halfway good."

A few months later TouchPoint hired me on full-time and I put, "but for how long?" and the entire month or March I was to a point of near paranoia that this wasn't going to last. In April the same thing and it wasn't until I went to the southwest region in June of 2010 that I put, "maybe this community education specialist job is something that is going to last!"

This morning I was still feeling compelled to reflect on the past so I made a breakdown of my presentations to geographic region and to what type of audience. As I went through my spreadsheet (I have every presentation I've done listed with noted) it was so neat to re-experience each one. Without my guide all my presentations sort of blend together. When I began this wasn't the case, but after 396 I don't think it can be helped, but to be able to look at the towns I've been in, and even realize the progression of my style (I had no humor in presenting when I began) I can't believe the journey it's been.

Speaking of journeys, I never mentioned how the rest of the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard went. Of course I did mention I did get clobbered in the flagstand last Wednesday and my ribs are still a bit tender, but the rest of the days, in terms of my position, went seamlessly. I think that's one of the best events I've worked as the entire staff brought our A game and at the end, after the mains on Saturday, we had victory lane where the winner of the Indy 500 celebrates. I was just spectating the ceremonies but it was so awesome to see the grins on the kids as they were given their awards in one of the most iconic places in all of motorsports.

My schedule remains busy as tomorrow morning I have a plane to ride as I head to Grand Junction, Colorado to flag the 2nd round of the SKUSA Pro Tour. As with every race I'm excited beforehand, but any time I do a SKUSA event it feels just a tad bit more special as I only do three a year with my favorite five days of the year happening at the Supernats in November.

So that's where I am at today. Next week I have a couple meetings and I have several amazing ideas I hope that I can have move forward in the near future. Whether or not they are doable is a question, but right now my brain is thinking big.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Fitting Place for 25,000!

If you've been to one of my presentation you'll know that somewhere in my intro I say, "If you would have told me four years ago that I would be a public speaker I'd have laughed at you and told you 'that is the cruelest thing you could tell me because that will never happen!'" Of course it did happen and today I'll be giving my 396th presentation and in it my total number of people spoken to will hit 25,000!

It's a big milestone day for me. I am somewhat keen on milestones (i.e. 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000 50,000 100,000...) and today marks a moment that I never thought would come. And as the title of this blog suggests, I'm hitting 25,000 at a most fitting place.

Today I'll be presenting at the Saint Louis County Police Academy for officers going through C.I.T. training. As a presenter I sort of cut my teeth at the Academy as I presented 35 times back at the start of 2010. Really, this was my first bit of work for TouchPoint as an employee so that's where I began.

Once those 35 presentations were over I thought my job would be to. In that blog I linked to, in the comments, there are two from officers that worked at the Academy and one of them, from the director, said, "You may feel this is an end of an era, but I see it as the beginning to a new chapter in your life." While that was very kind of him to put I still just didn't know if the whole presentation part of my life would be something that would stick. But, per normal, my doubts were unfounded and he knew what he was talking about because here I am.

The past three years have been a blur. I've gone back and looked at all of my maps, comments, and total stat sheet of my presentations and it's all just, well, it feels fake. To think that I have spoken to 25,000 people is something I can't comprehend. The numbers don't lie, but I don't feel as if this is real. I still feel, outside the time I am presenting, that if you told me I just wouldn't be a presenter but that I am a presenter I still feel as if that's a cruel thing to say because I don't know how I do it. I'm shy, quiet, reserved and yet, despite that all, here we are about to reach a milestone.

In the grand scheme of things I don't know if today means anything more or less than any other presentation. My whole focus hasn't been on big numbers but reaching each individual one within a group. However, at the same time, isn't 25,000 something to be proud of?

I could write about being confused as to why I've been able to present, or why so many people have seen me, but I have to head out the door to head to the Academy to give my presentation. It's been a while since I gave my police presentation but I'm sure I'll do fine. The officers there, however, will not know just how special today is. In fact, writing this paragraph has filled my eyes with tears because this number is something I just didn't think was possible. From five to nine years ago I had given up on life and yet here I am. What a journey it's been and while I reach 25,000 today I look forward to the journey towards 50,000!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I Flag

Yesterday I wrote my blog while eating breakfast at Steak n Shake before the start of the day's activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I wrote that I would elaborate on the differences between three years ago and today, but those thoughts quickly changed just 10 minutes into practice once I got to the crash.

The moments before practice began were rather picturesque but then, for the 3rd time in 17 months, I was involved in a crash that found its way to the stand I was in. Once again it was just a fluke deal, however the impact, as with the other two, was severe and knocked me forward and I almost came out of the stand before recoiling backwards and landing awkwardly on my side. Thankfully, unlike the other two incidents, this didn't require a trip to the hospital. However, trackside medical staff did check me over, and asked a bunch of questions to check for a concussion, but I was right back up on my feet. This is Indy and I wasn't going to let a little side pain get in my way, or so I thought as about 25 minutes later my muscles under my ribcage were letting me know just how hard of a shot I took so I came off the stand and went to the office. This was one of the worst walks I have even taken because, after all, this is Indy; there are no more hallowed grounds in motorsport and I get the honor of being the flagman for this USAC .25 event but my side was hurting just a little too much for me to be able to do my job as ably as is required.

After the Advil kicked in and I had a meeting with an ice pack for about 30 minutes I was back on the stand, sore, but once I had my flags flying I felt somewhat invincible (minus the time I dropped a water bottle and bent down to pick it up.) An hour or so later a thunderstorm came through and ended the day early, but I will be back in the stand tomorrow although I am not looking forward to waking up in the morning.

So the question is, why do I do this? Why do I put myself in the line of fire to display colorful flags? The answer is more than just the fact that auto racing has been my deepest passion for my entire life. The answer is more than just the fact that I have always had a dream of flagging at Indianapolis (remember, that dream came somewhat true back in May when I started a day of practice for the Indy 500) The reason I flag is well, for one I love it, but also the fact that it has allowed me to be the person I am today.

3 years ago I worked my first USAC .25 race and it was right here in Indianapolis. I think back to the flagger, person, and presenter I was back then and I don't think there is much comparison minus my style with the flags. Except for the style I was nothing compared to who I am today. A fellow USAC worker asked me three weeks ago, "Aaron, has much has flagging with USAC helped you as a person?" and I told him something along the lines that the impact is so profound that it is hard to put into words.

That first race three years ago I was timid and would not make any decision. A big part of my job is to start the race after a caution period and I do that by displaying a rolled up green flag. Three years ago I never made one call on this and I would never ask when or rather how close we were to this occurring (i.e. the track has to be cleaned and the cars need to be in the right order.) I was highly timid and had little to no confidence. This is a great parallel to how I presented as well. I had only done about 50 presentations when I began with USAC and yes, the information I gave was great, but there was no confidence in my voice, posture, or anything by that manner.

Over the months, then the year and following year I worked more and more events and I no longer had to be coached on every movement. I began to direct the flow and inquire if the lineup was good. That may not seem like much, but I've never been good at asking questions (of that kind. I was always good at asking "what if..." questions as a child. Still am actually) but I started feeling confident in more than just my ability to make the flags not just be displayed but flow with style.

It's now been, as mentioned, three years since my first USAC race and while I had flagged, and directed many races prior, it wasn't to the amount that I've done with USAC. I'll be honest and not leave out SKUSA as working their national events has been huge for me as well, but it's within all these events that I have grown as a person. Confidence is something I have always lacked, but when I'm up on a stand and interacting with drivers, handlers, parents, and fellow staff members I feel confident.

Several people have suggested that I quit flagging as, "oh you're out of town so much" or, "oh, you're always getting hurt it seems" but who would I be without it? I am 100% confident I am the speaker I am today, and the autism ambassador I am today because of the confidence flagging gives me. To be able to do a job that requires absolute perfection, and excel at it, has been life changing for me. This is why, as the sun comes up tomorrow, I will be on my way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and no matter how sore my ribs may be I will be up on that stand, flags in hand, having the absolute time of my life.

Return to Indy

There are two events I look forward to working all year and today starts one of them as the USAC .25 Generation Next Tour has their largest race of the year and it takes place within the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

The last time I talked about the Speedway I was the honorary starter for a day of practice in preparation for the Indy 500 and because of that today feels even more special as the stars of the future race it out on our temporary circuit. 

Today is just practice and I'm actually writing this on my phone at breakfast on the way to the track, but I'll write more on the event tomorrow and also compare where I am now compared to my first Battle at the Brickyard from three years ago. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

People... Nice?

It's been a busy four days! On Saturday I drove, with my sister and nephew on board, from Rapid City back home to Saint Louis. I stay busy today with a radio interview then a drive to Indy and tomorrow starts the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard (I'll post the link of where you can watch the racing sometime later this week) but what I want to talk about today is an event that occurred on Sunday.

The last time my sister and nephew were in Saint Louis it was 2001 so it obviously had been a while so we went downtown to eat at my favorite pizza place then go to the Arch. (Speaking of The Arch, that reminds me of a story we wrote for the National Park Service in regards to being on the spectrum and visiting the Arch) With the Cardinals in town parking was at a premium so my dad dropped us off and parked north of the arch leaving the three of us to eat. Afterwards we had to walk to the Arch and that is where this story picks up.

If you've been to my presentation you'll know that I mention that, in public, I am always looking down to avoid eye contact. This is my way to avoid social encounters. On the walk to the Arch, however, my sister was making normal eye contact and a very odd thing happened; people said hello in a friendly manner.

I was confused by this all because, in my mind, people that don't know each other never acknowledge each other. Yes, I know, that mindset would create a very closed off and cold world,  but since random encounters are difficult this would and eye contact is the initiator that then would mean eye contact is bad.

We walked another block and another person said, "hello" in the friendliest of manners. I stuttered in my step as I was now utterly confused as to what I was witnessing. And it got stronger as another block and another friendly, "hello." What was going on? Are people... nice?

In one of my original chapters I wrote for my book I wrote something along the lines of, "people are mean and since they are mean they are not worth knowing." Using that logic would further the concept of avoiding eye contact because eye contact is the path which leads to meeting people which, since they are mean, is a path that shouldn't be traveled. I wrote that line after a massive social disaster happened and while I don't believe, in full, that line today I still am highly timid around those I don't know. I still have that line that floats through my head; do I believe it? As I said, not in full but there's this alert that flows through my body that repeats that and often says, "be careful... be careful... people are mean... and random."

As we continued to walk I began thinking if my logic I had feeds upon itself. What I mean by that is; because I am always looking down, and probably looking as if I'm concerned or worried, those around me leave me alone or, and this is a BIG point, or they draw the same conclusion I fear the world is about me. Meaning, they see me looking down and closed off and think, "people are mean..."

We got to the Arch and I snapped this awesome photo but my mind was fully consumed in wondering if my thought on others creates that environment. Well, not exactly creates that environment but makes people as timid of me as I am of them. If this is true it is a self-repeating cycle that just gets stronger and stronger with each social disaster. I'll have to do some more thought on this, but as for the next four days I've got the biggest USAC .25 Generation Next series race to flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Hike To Remember

A major portion of my 2nd book will be events that took place five years ago this month. I did blog about it somewhat when I spoke of the time I hit a horse with my car. Anyway, part of the chapter is the fact that I, the day before I hit the horse, did the Sunday Gulch Trial hike at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

When I did that hike five years ago I was compelled to because my dad and I did it in 1998 and I wanted to revisit history, in a way. That was my only reason to do it. Lost in the fact of that was the beauty of my surroundings which meant nothing to me. Then, I hit the horse and several days later I did the hike again and realized just how amazing the world is, and beyond that, my life.

Now it's been five years since the horse incident and I don't want to give away everything from that chapter of my 2nd book (hopefully that chapter avoids the cutting room floor) but it was on that hike that I felt like life was worth living. I had way too many close counters with things that could have ended much worse and I kept asking, "Why am I still here; why am I still alive?" but it was on that hike that I felt as if I were destined for something. Remember, at that point in time my book wasn't published, I wasn't a national flagman, and I had never given a presentation.

So yes, it's been five years and since I'm visiting my mom I wanted to go on that trail hike so two days ago we went up, we being my mom, sister, nephew and I, and Sylvan Lake was just as I remembered. In fact, it was as if 1998, 2008, and today was the same day.

At the start of my hike my sister and nephew joined me on the walk around the lake which leads to the Sunday Gulch trail head. During this time my sister snapped this photo of me which normally I despise having my photo taken but with such a perfect background I decided to bear the task of having my photo taken.

We continued on and my sister wanted to see the backside of the lake so we navigated the rocks and got back down there and eventually made it to the steep rocks. This was where my sister was going to go back and sit with my mom at the lake as was my nephew, or so we all thought. Out of nowhere my 13 year old nephew said, "Can I go?" I was expecting a hike of solitude but I wasn't going to rob my nephew of such an amazing experience and I think my sister's reaction was, "Wait, you're serious? Okay. Be safe."

It was an odd feeling; this hiking with my nephew. I was just about his age when I first did that hike so I was hoping he would have the same experience as I had when I did it. I was concerned though because he, like myself at that age, wasn't the most physically active and jumping into this hike is like jumping straight to a professional level without practice.

The best part of the hike is the first 25% which is all downhill and criss-crosses a small stream. My nephew and I talked the entire time and a wide array of topics as discussed video games past, present and future as well as NASA and the Apollo program and we wondered what it would have been like to have been Michael Collins who was the 3rd member of the Apollo 11 mission and the only member to not walk on the moon and just how lonely it would have been to have remained in the CSM.

We continued walking down and eventually we made the turn which is where the hike begins to get physically difficult as walking uphill is rather tiresome. Our conversation slowed as we concentrated more on our steps on the uneven terrain as well as not wanting to waste oxygen by speaking. However, we both at random intervals would make a statement on just how awesome this being in nature completely cut off from all electronics was (unless of course there was an emergency.)

About 90 minutes in and we were both now getting rather winded but then we turned a corner and had this most amazing of views. There are a couple other points where you can see further, and a couple other places that have amazing rock formations, but after 45 minutes of walking uphill and focusing on the ground you all of a sudden of a hunch to look up and then you're greeted with this. It was here, five years ago, that I had my revelation about life, living, and that I wanted to be more. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I knew that I wasn't going to give up.

My experience at this point was almost the same this time. I've been feeling all sorts of emotions these past six months and have driven myself to exhaustion several times and each time I think that I wonder, "is it all worth it?" As I looked upon the Black Hills and breathed in the crisp air and looked around me I was able to go back five years ago to a person who had no direction, little hope, and a mangled car with no real means to get it repaired (thank you horse.) When we took a breather just a few steps past where I took that photo I smiled a smile thinking to myself that there would've been no way to describe to myself five years all that I am now.

In life we can so easily fall into a routine and I think I'm guilty of that as well. We get up, we do our work, we go home, we travel, we work, we eat, and lost in it all is what we're actually doing. There aren't many people out there blessed to have a job like mine and when it gets busy I can fall into that routine forgetting the fact that my words could quite possibly make a profound impact on a life. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but I'm out there and I'm given the stage to do so. I often forget this, but as I looked out at the landscape, and then at my nephew who was having an amazing time, I realized that the potential for tomorrow is infinite so long as we make the attempt at bettering whatever it is we're doing in life.

140 minutes after we began we saw people once again who obviously weren't on a hike and we knew we were close to the end. We went up stone staircase, made a corner, and there it was, Sylvan Lake. Victory! We made good time and we walked the shore of the lake to the gift shop where my mom and sister were waiting. They were glad to see we made it back alive (they did have some doubts on our ability. I can't blame them) and that's a moment that, for me, will stay with me for a long time. Honestly, I wanted to cry. I was able to go back and relive who I was five years ago as well as the fact that I got to give my nephew the experience of the hike. I didn't think he'd enjoy it, but he did. It was an amazing time all around; so much so that we're off once again to take on the three mile trek and I'm sure that once again, my soul will be rejuvenated.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Night on the Ranch

On the way back from Gordon to Rapid two nights ago we didn't make the trip in one day. Instead, we stopped at my mom's friend's place which is about 15 miles north of Gordon and about five miles off of any paved road and stayed the night as there's a fully furnished guesthouse.

This was a weird place for me. I've from the city and have been to more towns and cities this year than any other year and then all of a sudden I'm in a farm house miles away from anything. At first I didn't want to be there. This is vacation and I should be doing vacationy things. So why then was I in the middle of nowhere at a house with no internet (although my phone, somehow, had 4G) and no electronic games. What was this?

I started to read and it was weird that over the minutes I began to relax. Relaxing, for me, is a truly odd sensation as I don't do it all that often, but having nothing to do and nowhere to be and having all the world miles and miles away made me feel relaxed.

As the sun set the relaxing continued as the stars came out. Sure, you can see the stars in the city, but nothing can compare to the canvas that was the night sky.

All in all it was a unique experience and despite the fact that there was a HDTV in the house everything else felt like it was the time before the internet and such. This vacation I'm on hasn't felt much like one as I've spent more time thinking about blogs (I can think the golf course incident on that one) and ways to make a seismic impact in raising the level of understanding (I've got an idea, probably too bold and big, but if it were to happen, well, wow would be the only word) but for those 15 hours that I was on a ranch with the sounds of games, phones, the internet, cars, business, printers, people, and any other noise heard in an office or city, well, that truly was a vacation.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Round of Golf

Okay, I realize that as much as I've talked about golf my blog name probably should be "life on the other side of the fairway" (ha! couldn't help myself, but the way I play I'm lucky to even hit the fairway with my slice) but yesterday I had a round that was more than just a round.

Yesterday my mom, sister, nephew and I drove from Rapid City, SD to Gordon, NE. Gordon is a small town (population around 1,600) but is the town my mom is from and where my grandma lived. Each summer I looked forward to our family vacation to Gordon and on one of the summers my dad took me to the country club and I played golf on a real course for the first time.

I was always fascinated by golf as a child. If I wasn't watching a race I was watching the PGA Tour but I watched for all the wrong reasons as, while some people watch racing for the crashes, I watched golf to watch people hit the ball into the water. Oh, those were good times! Anyway, my dad always took me to the driving range and I'd hit a bucket of balls with my dad saying, "When you can hit 100 yards we'll go play." Well, in 91 or 92 I had hit 100 and my uncle and cousin were going to play at the Gordon Country Club so my dad went and I got to play too!

We played alternate shot where my uncle and nephew we are on a team and my dad and I were and we would alternate shots so first shot would be my dad, then me, then him and so on and so forth. For one reason or another my dad hit the first two shots and then my first shot ever on a golf course was a shot about 15 yards off the green. I chipped the ball, it rolled on the green with what seemed like a laser guided precision and it hit the pin and went in. My uncle exclaimed, "Beginner's luck!" and I don't think anyone has ever told me something that had more truth.

Then, in 1998, my mom and I spent a couple weeks in Gordon visiting my grandma and while out there I got a super special, "student discount" and played many times. It was the first big course I played by myself and even to this day I can recall the sense in pride as I walked the course feeling one with myself, the course, and the environment. That trip was the final time I was in Gordon while my grandma was alive and I've only been through the town three times since then.

For 15 years I have wanted to play golf there. Each time I play golf I think about where I began and it's more than just the course, but the memories tied to it. It was my uncle's sheer shock of me draining the chip, it was walking to the course from my grandma's, the time my mom ran over my foot with a golf cart on hole 9, and it was the feeling of all those family vacations that are in my memories of those summer vacations. The course may not be TPC Sawgrass, or Pebble Beach, or even Wolf Creek but in all the courses in the world there was no other place I would want to play more and yesterday I got my chance.

The picture here is from the 1st tee box and as I stepped up to tee off I was, well, it was emotional. It's not very often in life we can go back to a place that is seemingly untouched by time, but standing there, 15 years later from the last time I was there, it felt like 1991, or 1998. It was hard to think of the passage of time and that I am now 30. It was hard to think of the fact that I had not walked from my grandma's on North Cornell St. To think that quite literally I was twice the age as I was there the previous time I was there made life and time seem like a blink yet at the same time it made each moment more precious.
 
 
 
As I played time flew. It's only a 9 hole course so playing 18 means playing each hole twice and when I had finished 18 I wanted more, so I paid for another 18. I thought that, since 15 years had passed and I'm twice the age I was the previous time what if that's the norm. That would mean I'd be 60 the next time so I wanted to savor each hole, I wanted to be there as long as possible so by the end of the day I had played each hole four times.
 
I'm sure I will play at more prestigious courses over my life and I'm sure I will play at courses that have more hills, water, sand, and well, people. However, each place can't live up the place that I learned how to play. This is the course my grandma drove me to one time, this is the place that my mom once waited to pick me up as the sun was setting and it was dark but I was going to finish the final hole, this was the course I first played golf with my dad, and this is the place that I fell in love with the sport for the right reasons (not watching pros goof up and hit the ball into the water.) I can only hope that it isn't 15 years until the next time I get to tee up on hole 1, enjoy the shortness of hole 2, get frustrated by the 5th hole which is an impossible par 4, or the joy of driving the green in one on 7. Until that next time I have a new round of memories to go with all the ones previously, but I can assure you there will be a next time and when that time comes all the memories of rounds, and vacations past, will come rushing back.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Here's Why: A Breakdown of the 10th Tee

I wrote my Terror on the 10th Teebox blog just 80 minutes after it happened. With that said I'm not certain if I wrote in a way that wasn't clouded by emotions so for today I want to break down what happened and tell explain the "why's" of the situation because I don't know if I did a good enough job.

My anxiety began when I was told I had to golf with that threesome. Why was this bad? I had been enjoying a nice, lonesome round. To be introduced to three guys who were out to have a good time the way they knew how which was not my own was an instant alarm within me. I don't do well around loud people who are using off-color jokes. This alone would have been enough to make the round miserable.

The true thing I have trouble with around those types of people is that there is no predictability. How loud will they be? Will they be offended if I don't laugh at their jokes? Will they joke with me? Is it a joke? There are so many unknowns with people and even more so with three who are loud.

The downward spiral went faster when I first heard the conversation behind me about combining carts. Remember, the trio had told me they would let me play on so I already had my escape, but now I was going to be stuck with them. This made all those unknowns even realer.  This, I think, would be uncomfortable for anyone. Now, if that's your personality then you'd have been fine, but for a person like me this wasn't a good pairing. On top of that, this was coming at the halfway point. I have never been forced joined at the halfway point. It's different when it's at the start and I've done fine with those, but this was changing the rules of the game in the middle.

I sat there in the cart staring forward listening to every word spoken. My anxiety level was rising by the word as the man was now demanding that the guy in the cart by himself put his bag on mine. My mind was calculating all my possible options. I could've just slammed the gas on the cart and gone to play my ball. Oh, how I wish that would have been the what I had done. But instead, I sat there waiting and hoping.

There was still hope that nothing would happen; perhaps the guy would just leave us alone, perhaps the trio could convince the guy that they didn't know me and I didn't know them and it just wasn't a good fit. Then, I felt the thud of the guy's back on my cart. I turned around, in a state of panic, and exclaimed, "I... I have a form of autism and socializing isn't my thing." This is a major moment in this story as it is so difficult for me, and a lot of us on the spectrum, to express ourselves. For me to open up in public, to strangers, about this is rare. I may be a public speaker on the topic, but out in the general public I don't really express it all that often unless it should come up about what line of work I'm in.

When I express myself it usually is because it is my last resort; the final option. When I said it the first time I really had no idea what was going to happen and my brain had no ability to calculate what would happen if the guy protested. But, why would he protest? I explained what I had and that I was highly uncomfortable. The guys behind me, hearing I had autism, now wanted no part of me (which added to the drama) but the gasoline hit the fire when the guy said, "Look, I don't care. We don't have signs but a lot of places do that we reserve the right to pair you up and take your cart if need be."

I then repeated my first line out of shock, really, as I didn't know what to say or how to respond. That was the last answer I was expecting out of him. The problem now was that I was being painted into a corner and as I drove to Rapid City on Friday I was thinking about this a lot which is why I'm writing on this topic again. At that moment the man put me into a corner with no real way out. I had paid for golf, I had played with no others, I was now being thrust into the back nine with loud strangers that didn't want me and I didn't want them and despite all of our protests we were told that it didn't matter. What was I to do? I didn't want to play with them, but I wanted to continue to play. I expressed myself, but it fell of deaf ears.

I've said so many times that it takes a lot for us to express ourselves and when we do it is done with a great bit of gravity. To ignore it is to put us in a corner to which we see no exit. And, to ignore it and then mock it by giving a lecture and saying "We reserve the right and sometimes in life you've got to do things you do want to."

As I wrote in the original post I was really put into a "fight or flight" situation. And really, looking back, I was. The social anxiety to just go forward was too great and I really had no option to just turn around my golf cart so I did the logical thing, or the logical thing in my mind at that point in time as I quit and I was just going to walk my bag to my car and leave. Only if it would have been that easy.

The devastating blow came when the man then said, "What's so difficult?" It's somewhat ironic that another post last week, my Open Letter to the Ignorant was ran because I think, in that post, I wrote that the normal person has no idea how much strength it takes for me to just leave the door each day and when things do get difficult to minimize it, to ask it a condescending manner, "What's so difficult?" is to minimize everything that I am and to erase the person I try to be. It may have been three words but those three little words, at that moment, made me feel as inferior as I had ever felt.

I don't know what the normal person's reaction would have been, but I was overloaded beyond any of my ability to withstand so I collapsed in place. Logic was now gone; nothing was right. I couldn't go forward, I couldn't go backwards, and now I was being mocked.

After the fact, and even now, I very much am disgusted at my response of the situation. This is the trap that is so easy to fall into as I think to myself that man's exact words, "What's so difficult?" Why can't things just be easier? Shouldn't I just be able to be normal? Shouldn't I just be able to not allow things to affect me?"

So there I was, kneeling down with the trio getting out of there as if I were the plague, and the man who started everything vanished as well. I was alone; unwanted, misunderstood, and I was in a world of my own within a cold world. Then another worker showed up and asked if there was a problem to which I was no instantly able to respond.

In times of heightened emotions it isn't easy for me to simply answer the question and it took more seconds than what normally it would for me and I think he picked up on that as he then asked me, "Do you know what Asperger's Syndrome is?"

My brain is always calculating and I usually can predict, to a certain degree, what will be asked but his question was the last one I expected. I stuttered and then responded with a cold, factual, "I have it" to which he explained about his grandson. I don't think I did a good job explaining the importance of this in the original post and that was just how important it was to have someone that understood just what it was that I was feeling.

Think of it this way; if you had a major problem that other people saw, witnessed, and somewhat even mocked you for it what would be the #1 thing you'd want most? For me it is understanding. Without understanding I am what I fear I am and those questions I asked earlier about, "being normal" are louder. When there is understanding, well, no price tag can be put on that. It doesn't take much, but the fact that he was able to explain his grandson's intelligence but severe issues to anything remotely resembling confrontation made me feel just a tad bit more... human.

It wasn't so much that he said, "I understand" but he was able to back it up. So often people may say, "I understand" with no knowledge and nothing to back it up. That's almost like saying, "What's so difficult?" Yes, I didn't explain this well the first time, but that ranger's calmness and ability to explain and relate allowed me to breathe once more.

Moving forward in my life my passion for raising understanding once again has been multiplied by a level that is unmeasurable. The emotions I felt, the self-loathing and feeling of not mattering and being irrelevant were ones I will never forget and I know that what I went through is experienced by someone somewhere each and every day. It was one of the worst experiences of my life! One way or the other I'm going to find a way to get to more people and to raise understanding to more. I know I do a lot as is, but I don't think it is enough. I started on this journey just over four years ago and the first person I told what my new passion as I realized racing cars was not the career that I would be having I said, "The new race is to raise awareness..." and those words hold true. It truly is a race because if we can get the understanding out there just one day sooner, just one day then, well, maybe a person can avoid what I went through and if we can do that, we might just be able to win this race.