Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year of Challenges, A Year of Growth: 2011 In Review

What a year! Of all years 2011 has been by the busiest year of my life. So much happened this year that I have actually been planning this post in my mind for almost three months.

The year started in January (okay, call me captain obvious) and the first two weeks started out dull. On the 21st everything changed as I got a flat tire on the way to the office. Thinking back now I am still at a loss for how mean people were. There's rude, and then there were people on that day.

The day after the flat tire I had an MRI done in an ongoing research study on brains of those that are on the spectrum, and then that Monday I started an event that I had waited for my entire life; jury duty. This was my third go round and finally, FINALLY, instead of spending three days watching the already dried pain dry more I was selected to be on a jury. I was going to be part of the American justice system and do my duty as a citizen. As grand as my thoughts were it wasn't what I was expecting it to be. To this day I will talk about this to whoever will listen. I am still angry, and I'm still angry at myself for not being able to better orate my opinions and beliefs that everyone else on the jury was... was... I've got nothing good to say so I won't.

A sad event occurred in February as I said goodbye to my car. It was a good car and saying goodbye was much like saying goodbye to the childhood pets I had. I thought I would be sad forever, but my used Infiniti I got quickly filled the void and I have moved on.

The week that a rookie driver, Trevor Bayne, won the Daytona 500 Bejeweled Blitz came out for the Xbox 360. For the next month if I wasn't at work or giving a presentation I was living life one minute at a time on this game competing against one person at a time. The goal was #1 in the world and it took a few months of bouncing for the top 10 to about 75th, but finally I reached the pinnacle of, well, the Bejeweled world and to this day no one has topped my TruSkill rating and I remain #1.

Also in February the final papers were signed and Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger's was finalized.

The beginning of March saw my employment at TouchPoint full time for one year. Before this job I had never had a full time job and only my first part-time job at the bowling alley lasted over one year.

The 2nd weekend of March saw a dream of sorts become reality has I hopped on a plane to Phoenix. All off season I worried and worried that I would have nothing to flag. I always worry about this, but it wasn't until I was on the plane that I believed that I was, in fact, the official chief starter of the USAC Mopar .25 Generation Next series. The track in Phoenix was on South Mountain and the view from the top was amazing.

Racing, obviously, is dangerous. However, I experienced a high drama while at the race track when in Phoenix that had nothing to do with speed or cars. While moving a box I had a close encounter with a honeybee. I had never been stung and didn't know that I am actually allergic to the sting. The event stayed with me, and is still with me actually, as we just don't know when time will be up for us. Often times we think we're strong and invincible, but something as small as a bee can have catastrophic powers. Also, get stung by a bee and have issues and then one, like myself, will hear the nickname of "bumblebee" for a long time. Thankfully now my nickname within the USAC ranks has shifted to "primetime".

On March 18th my long time spent reading "Les Miserable" ended as I completed the book and the next day I got lost in Park Hills as my GPS system lived up to its reputation in getting me lost. The following week I had my first true road trip in my car as round 2 of the USAC .25 series was held in Nashville. Thankfully, there were no bees out and about, but the reason why was it was absurdly cold. I was bundled in multiple layers including a very large, tan, brown coat. Bad part about this was our race was featured on a local news station and in the video there I was like a bundled up yeti or other odd creature. "Bumblebee didn't represent today" was one of the lines I heard, jokingly I think.

March 31st saw the start of best series of events I have ever been a part of as I did the "Autism Awareness Tour of Missouri." It started in Lebanon, Missouri and as I look through my calendar journal I remember each place vividly. I will be forever grateful that TouchPoint gave me the stage and the resources to give over 20 presentations and drive over 2,500 miles across the state to spread awareness and understanding.

It was during this tour that I got my first experience of being recognized in public. It was at a small truck stop outside Mountain Grove, but that moment will live with me forever.

Good Friday, April 22nd, saw severe storms rip across Saint Louis and even hitting Lambert International Airport.

The next day I lived out a dream that I never knew I had as I threw out the 1st pitch at the Saint Louis Cardinals game against the Reds. I got this once in a lifetime chance by raising the most money in a contest for TouchPoint and the events depicted in this video will live with me forever:

The beginning of May saw me give a presentation at Concordia University Irvine and was my first presentation out of the state of Missouri or Illinois. A few days later I was working a race in San Bernadino where the dinner I now often to refer to in my presentations happened. I love debating odd manner rules and I love telling the story of this in my presentations when I remember to use this story.

I was back in the courts later in May, but this time I was not a juror but rather a presenter to the family courts. I spoke for three hours and the amount of head nods and tears I got that day told me I made a difference. That evening I was on a panel to discuss the movie Adam.

The day after that I was headed to Indianapolis for the Indianapolis 500. When I got there I was asked if I would like to help out at a USAC race at the Speedrome so I said yes and when I got there I was in shock when I was told I would be in the flagstand. The stay in the stand didn't last long as severe weather moved through and I might have drove a little fast to get away from the storm.

It took a little bit of work on my part to relive 2010's "Best Experience Ever" at the USAC Silver Crown Hoosier 100 and the Indiana State Fairgrounds, but with a little stealth action I was back assisting Tom Hansing and had a blast once again.

Two days later the Indianapolis 500 was ran and what a race it was. The ending of the race will be one of those sporting moments that live forever as rookie J.R. Hildebrand was leading on the final lap, one more turn to go, when he misjudged the line due to a slow car, got in the marbles, and conked the wall. His car still was rolling forward and it looked as if he might win with a trashed car when Dan Wheldon passed him and got his 2nd Indianapolis 500 victory.

The events just kept happening to me a few days later I was out playing golf when a series of events made two sets of old men angry at me on the golfcourse. As with the flat tire I can't believe people can get so angry so fast over the most nominal of stuff.

Thankfully, the day after angering old men, I was back in the flagstand at the Speedrome and after that night's race it was a Midnight drive to Maryland. The reason why was a .25 race in Hagerstown and at this event I got dirty. I never have been and I hope to never be this dirty again, although there is a race scheduled there in 2012, but the picture to the right says it all.

A race in Grand Junction in July tested my resolve, well, getting there tested it as I competed in the sickening game of the100 gate dash. In my flights after this event I still fear having this happen.

Once I got there the SKUSA staff had some fun as there was an overpass by the hotel that had some murals of horses so with the right angles it looked as if the horses were getting their revenge on me for an incident in 2008.

The last week in July I found out a person who proved to be important in letting me become who I am today had died. This event started a downward spiral of my emotions and the hits just came on coming.

I know I am focusing a lot on my travels but this isn't to say that the daily activities were boring. I visited many doctors and gave over 100 presentations, but those events didn't push me. In my travels I am pushed because I am out of my comfort zone and in August I was brought to a very sensory unfriendly place known as the Mongolian BBQ. I still fear that place and I have let James, the USAC .25 series director, know that if we ever eat there again I will not eat and just sit in the car.

The Monday after the BBQ debacle bowling starting. That within itself is an annual event, but this year it was filled with terror. I still don't know why what happened happened and to this day I have not said one word to the staff at the bowling alley. There is still fear and I have not spent $1 in any of the vending machines. I am still afraid. However, this gave me a look into what it is like to be bullied. My passion for my job increased that night and the next day I was speaking at a Missouri DMH conference. Due to the midnight drive and lingering shakes and fear I had from the previous night I thought my presentation was awful, but this presentation proved vital in opening a door later in the year.

The following week I was in New England area for a race and for one night I stayed at Ryan's house, whom I have mentioned several times on my blog. He even came to the race, but Hurricane Irene was obviously not a race fan and ruined the fun. Fearing the shutdown of airports I rode back in a crowded van to Indy, but that was 16 hours I would not have traded for anything.

As I look at my work on my blog, and calendar journal, I can tell I was not in my usual place. Having the multitude of events happen in such a short amount of time never let me recover from the previous one. It was a rough stretch and the only thing I remember writing in September was The Power of One which Autism Speaks ran on their Facebook page.

If having one catastrophic flat tire experience in a year wasn't enough I had a 2nd one on the last Sunday of September. The event could have been a bad one as the vehicle tried to wreck when the tire went down, but thankfully the only harm done was done by my inability to deal with the situation. At this same time I was debating on whether or not to move as I had an offer to move to a different place. I thought I was beaten and the world had won, but eventually I got my confidence back and the next week after a trip to New York City I moved into my own place.

On October 7th Rob from Vancouver came back to Saint Louis and on the 11th I had my scariest presentation to date... 5th graders! I feared and feared this and the start was rocky, but after the public speaking disaster was cleaned up the wisdom and compassion expressed by the 5th graders was astounding. Now, when I give presentations to teachers, I reference back to the knowledge and empathy that the class showed and I say, "I used to think that the game show, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, was a joke, but now I know that no one is as smart as a 5th grader as we peak in 5th grade and it's downhill from there."

The next day I was off to Jefferson City. I didn't blog about this at the time as I didn't want to brag or boasts about it, but from my presentation at the conference after the bowling alley disaster, I was invited to give my presentation to the DMH Commissioners. I had been fearing this presentation for the longest of times, but after the 5th graders this presentation wasn't as scary. I still realized the importance and honor of being able to speak to those that can make a huge difference and I don't like to boast or brag, but I was on that day. My voice was stronger and my confidence was higher. I don't know if anything came out of it, but I felt like all the people that helped me and all the stressful events of the year helped me in getting me to that place to give a presentation to the people that can make a gigantic difference. I don't know if I ever thanked them, but certainly I want to extend my thanks to them for letting my voice be heard.

The evening of the DMH presentation Rob and I headed to Las Vegas for a USAC .25 race as well as the Indycar season finale. On the way out I talked about the end of I-70 but the joy quickly disappeared. Headed out to Vegas I knew something was going to happen as I had the worst of worst feeling that something was going to happen. I didn't know what, exactly, but I let everyone who would listen to me know that turn one was going to be a hazard. It happened early in the race and I saw it happening before it did, but the end result was one of the biggest crashes seen in a long time. Three cars took flight and the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, was killed.

The two photos that are on here I took with my camera from the stands. I've been debating for a month whether or not to run these or not, but I have decided to do so because this is what happened. I write this year in review as much for you as for me as each year I buy a book version of my book so 30 years from now I am going to have each year of my blog in paper form. As much as being there hurt I don't want to forget. Dan was a tremendous racer and, well, I don't know what else to say.

From Vegas Rob and I went to my mom's in South Dakota and to be honest I don't remember much about this trip. I was reeling from witnessing that crash and I was a compass to a magnet and had no direction. Looking at my calendar I can see that I played golf at Wolf Creek, and I have the pictures to prove it, but I don't fully remember it. Because of this I'm not going to reference back because to me, those weeks after Vegas are lost.

My memories kick back in, ironically enough, back in Vegas as I went there to flag the SKUSA SuperNats. It was a five-day event and I flagged for a total of 64.5 hours, but of all the close racing I will remember the two lap salute to Dan Wheldon the most:

After Vegas it was off to Washington D.C. for Thanksgiving and my state started to turn back to the good. Good enough that my humor was coming back and one of my most popular video blogs, or posts ever, happened which was this video:

December came and I had a large amount of presentations pop up. It has been a wonderful month with talking to schools, doctors, and parents. I am thankful for all the chances to travel and to see the world because this helps me when I present. Also, with each event, I love being able to translate the difficulties I experience.

I started out by saying that 2011 was the busiest year of my life, but if my speaking schedule next month is any indication 2012 is going to be twice as intense. Will there be flat tires? I hope not. Bees? Oh, golly! I hope not.

Next year I hope to continue expressing my feelings and thoughts and I hope to reach many more people. I have big plans for April and my book launch, I don't want to share them as of now just in case the plans fall through, but 2012 is going to be huge! Thanks for being a part of my day, and the year starts anew on Sunday. Last year I ended by saying that it would be scary writing this post in 2011 just because I had no idea how many places I would see and how many people I would have touched. I can't believe the year I had and truly, I am scared to think what this post is going to look like in 2012. The journey should be exciting though and I hope you come along for the ride. See you in 2012!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderfully written article. I know EXACTLY how you feel, being the Mum of a severely Autistic 13 year many familiar feelings, & experiences that most "regular" people find totally bizarre, which is totally normal to us.
    I'm very proud of you for being such an articulate worthy ambassador.

    Sara Payne (Mum).