I somewhat mentioned this post was coming on my Facebook page as I was reflecting back to ten years ago. As I've mentioned many, many times, the time after my diagnosis was not good. I got my Asperger diagnosis in December of 2003 and hope was not a word I'd ever use to describe my outlook on life. There was a major event that occurred in 2004 that started the path towards that direction though.
Since 1995 I had in one form or another been an official for the Saint Louis Karting Association (SLKA) in the capacity of being either the assistant starter (1995-1997) to the chief starter (1998-2008) and even to race director for the last three years of my association. In 2004 a new race director came on board and asked if I wanted to also flag practice. The club never had had an official flagger in practice but the club was experiencing extreme growth and practice now needed to be regulated.
This was great news because I had just been looking forward to working 10 days of the year, but now this number was doubled. At this point in time I had no job, no positive outlook on life except for these 20 days of the year; and look forward I did! With the race season approaching I could hardly contain my excitement as this was about the only thing in life I had any anticipation for.
A strange thing happened on the first day of practice as the race director did not show up. The board didn't really know what to do and in the end they told me I was running practice. all the previous years I never had been in a position to make calls outside of stopping the race in case of injury but now I was making the practice schedule, as well as enforcing safety rules on practice day.
All of this was such an odd twist of timing as I was at my lowest point I had ever been and now I was being thrust into a position of authority and one to ensure the safety of those at the event. At the time I couldn't know just how important this was, but now looking back this was nothing short of saving my being. For those of you that don't know, the first thing I read on the internet about Asperger's stated that those with it will, "never have a job, never have friends, and will never be happy" and yet, on those 10 weekends, I did have a job, I did have the club as friends, and I was in a state of complete happiness. I now know I was in the highest of all Kansases, but at the time I was unaware of this.
The race season went on and I felt more and more comfortable in the position of being in charge on practice day's. Even when the race director would show up he'd turn the reigns over to me. But, as the season was coming to a close, and the final race was of the year came, I had a near breakdown.
I remember the last race of 2004 as if it were yesterday. The practice day was amazing and the race day was one of dread. With each race that was completed it marked another race closer to the end. And for me it was very much like the end because what laid upon that next day was one back of hopelessness. I was blind and couldn't see that the road was being paved in front of me and that the experience I was getting then would translate into all the places I'm flagging now (and presenting as the confidence I acquired from flagging allowed [and still allows] me to present) and instead I saw that the next day, and all the days thereafter, would be filled with loneliness, hopelessness, and a life lived in a dark void.
When the final checkered flew on that day I had to fight back tears because I thought that was it and there would be no more flagging ever again. I stayed at the track parked in my car until the sun went down trying to savor every single second of what the season had been. It's hard to have 345 days of the year lived in a state of hopelessness and have 20 days of the year where everything felt perfect and my diagnosis didn't matter. That was where I was, however, and despite my fears that I would never flag again when 2005 rolled around I would be back with my flags in hand and once again all days of the year were either days I flagged or days I looked forward to flagging. It's amazing how times change because if we went back 10 years I never would have envisioned any of the events in my life playing out the way they did, and I'm sure the race director had no idea what type of impact the simple fact of putting me in charge on the practice days would have, but here I am and I'm grateful the I was given just the chance and that chance has proved to be amazing.