Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Life on the Other Side of the Wall Year in Review for 2013

My goodness! That's all I can say as I think back on this year I've had. If you were to have told me I'd have reached the number of people that I did this year back on December 31st, 2012 I'd have laughed at you, but here I am. 2013 was an incredible year for sure and as always I end my year with a year in review. This may be lengthy but I don't so much write this for you as I do myself.

January started the with promise of what looked to be a relationship but my blogs early on in January, which were written in semi-code, showed that in didn't turn out the way I thought it would. Other things that happened was that I got to present at a conference in San Antonio which was an awesome experience and I decided to do a presentation in Vancouver for the following month.

February came and with it some major changes in my life. On my 30th birthday (yikes, I'm 30?!) I closed on a place of my own and took a big step in life as I became a homeowner. This was a good move as I went from being nearly 40 minutes from my dad to now about seven. A few days after moving I went to Vancouver and had some amazing experiences there. I got to present at a school and a classroom there and the response gave me a lot of confidence. Also, I went curling for the first time of my life which I don't think I can relay to you on just how big of a thrill this was for me. Ever since I saw the sport played at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano I had yearned to slide some truly heavy stones on ice. Was it fun? Oh yes! So much so I think I need to figure out how to get back to Vancouver to give some more presentations (and go curling again!)

Another unique thing I got to do was go boating with Rob and his dad. I had never gone boating before and I actually have a small phobia of the open water, but nonetheless I went and at one point in time everyone decided to put their lives in my hands when I was given control of the boat. See the expression on my face? That's the look of, "Oh my! We're about to die!" Thankfully, and obviously, we didn't and we went up to an island on the northwest part of Vancouver and had a lunch in this most scenic of places. While Vancouver is this bustling metropolis, this coffee house that served food was one of the most relaxing places I've ever been to and I look forward to the day I can go back there.

Everything changed when I got back as there became trouble at home. When I first moved into my place it sounded as if the neighbors didn't exist. I'm not in a standalone house but rather a condo and I never knew I had neighbors until one morning, before the sun came up, I heard noise. For the next couple months I didn't sleep all that well when I was at home and as the months progressed I (thankfully) spent little time at home and to give you an update the guy with the noise moved out and I hope that place stays on the market for a very long time (is that rude to hope for?).

Looking at my calendar and blog not all that much happened in March. I did speak at several schools and the responses there were amazing. Other than that my blogs, and my calendar journal were bland due in part to my lack of sleep.

My life, and year, accelerated at a fever pitch in April with presentations across the state as well as a few in Arizona. Racing season started and once again I served as chief starter for the USAC .25 Generation Next series as well as the SKUSA Pro Tour. I did have a close call at a race in Tucson as coming to the finish a couple cars came together and as this photo shows I got rather lucky that I am fast on my feet.

April was the busiest month I've ever had without being on an official national tour as I was gone 28 of the 30 days! I worked 3 races (Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque) but I also managed to speak to over 1,000 people!

In May I lived out a dream. The month started with several presentations to schools; some big and some small. It was a long wait until May 13th, though, as on that day I got to serve as the honorary starter for that day's practice for the Indianapolis 500. Was I excited? Most certainly; it's hard to wait for a day that one has waited for forever. It was an honor and even more so that the Speedway wrote this amazing article about me. I do have this photo to the right to remember the day by but I also have this video.

One thing I never mentioned was just how nervous I was and how much anticipation there was from when the car the car exited the pits to the time he came off of turn four and approached the stand I was in. It felt like forever and I had the words of Tom Hansing, who is one of the Indycar starters as well as a USAC starter I have worked with many times in my head, as he shouted down from the actual flagstand, "Hey Aaron, don't drop it! And by the way have fun!" As the car came though my body went into the state I go into when I flag which is a state without thought and I gave one of my best artistic greens ever. (The video before the green is myself explaining where my first flag stand was and I add it because it's a big part of who I am.)

My last presentation of the 2012-2013 school season was in Shelbina, Missouri on the 15th of May and from then on I had a streak of races. Nashville was first then it was time for the week of the Indy 500 which all events concerned with the Indy 500 were great; the support race had this amazing 4 wide finish and the Indy 500 had 64 lead changes. I didn't return home after the race as the following week the USAC crew and I headed to Pennsylvania to work a race (and eat at the Tic-Toc Diner many times) and from there we spent a couple days in New York City. From there we worked a race in Syracuse, New York where the weather was cold and rainy but somehow we managed to get the races in.

Later in June one of the worst experiences I've had in recent memory occurred. For most people this probably would have been a non-event but to this day I still have emotions over this. I have utilized this event in presentations at schools when I'm asked about bullying. True, this might not have been a traditional bullying episode, but I think my reaction was the same as I have never felt smaller, or more irrelevant in my life. I use these emotions as motivation to keep going when I get tired because this is a prime example of the need for autism awareness and understanding.

The day after that awful golf experience my nephew, sister, and I drove to my mom's in Rapid City, South Dakota. This was supposed to be a vacation but I spent more time on my blog and thinking than I did anything else. I wrote a more in-depth look at the events that happened on the golf course and I had a unique situation happen at a hardware store.

This event was random, but further shows the need of my job. My sister and I stopped by a store's "customer appreciation day" and got some food. The manager was serving and he saw my "TouchPoint Autism Services" shirt and asked where we were located. He thought this was local to Rapid City and I explained that we're in Missouri to which he sighed greatly and gave me the story of his grandson and how the schools simply don't understand. Before this I had an idea in my head that I thought was to grand and big to pull off, but after hearing that I decided to let a few people know about it and I don't want to share what this is, yet, but hopefully we can pull this off in 2014 and if we can I can almost guarantee that it would be difficult to do something that will have a bigger impact in the autism field than this.

In July it was back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the USAC .25 Battle at the Brickyard and it didn't take long before an incident on track struck the flagstand and knocked me off my feet. It hurt, but after a rest I was back on the stand. I wasn't going to let a little bruising stop me from flagging at the world's greatest race course.

The day after the race I drove to Memphis to present at a conference and the day after that I had a presentation which saw my total number of people spoken to eclipse 25,000. And adding to the major life milestones the day after 25,000 I had my first date with my current girlfriend. It was an extremely hot day in Saint Louis but we had an outdoor picnic dinner on Art Hill and then saw Le Miserables at the The Muny. It was a fun evening and we've been seeing each other ever since.

The day after the date I had one of the more annoying travel experiences I've ever had and then one of the more difficult flagging weekends in terms of endurance as the SKUSA Summernats had heat hitting as high as 105.

On July 30th I gave my 400th presentation and I still can't believe I've given that many and soon I will be hitting 500!

August was routine, at least by my standards, and I had two races and several presentations.

The first half of September was mundane and then the pace in my life hit 200%. For the 2nd time in the year I got struck in the stand while flagging which once again bruised me and I missed my first race day ever.

I had a presentation the following week and I felt my phone vibrate during it. When the presentation was over I got the news that my former colleague, and friend, had passed away. On a flight to a race in Lancaster, CA I wrote that dedication.

 I worked my first street race in Lancaster, CA and one of the SKUSA staff got one of the best pictures of myself in action ever. That race weekend was very special for myself because I would be going straight from that race to the start of a nationwide speaking tour speaking to students across the country.

It wasn't an easy return trip home with travel delays followed up by cancelled flights and I knew things were going to be odd when I was greeted with a french horn player at my gate in LAX. I snapped this photo with my phone because it was just so out of place; I mean, I guess when you gotta play you gotta play but hearing a french horn at an airport terminal is something I thought I would never experience.

After the french horn episode I flew to Dallas where my flight to Saint Louis got cancelled. This all was red-eye stuff and I was exhausted and my flight was rescheduled to five hours later so I ended up taking a nap on the floor. Eventually the rising sun woke me up as the heat from the window magnified it and this was one of the oddest experiences I've had. I was in the midst of a dream and when I awoke I had no idea where I was. I looked out across the tarmac at the rising sun and as I gathered my bearings I finally realized that I was about to embark on a journey I'd remember forever and be talking to thousands of people in the upcoming month. And indeed, the following day I was in Fort Wayne and spoke to over 1,000 people.

The entire month of October went by in a blur; it truly did. There were so many moments and t
here's no way I can, in this post, give this justice. By month's end I spoke to over 7,500 people and I gave my largest presentation ever with over 1,500 people at once. There was one moment that will stick above all others and I will share that in a future blog post.

On November 1st I returned home from my national tour and the next day I saw the movie Captain Phillips and the flashbacks I had were devastating. Just the other day, when talking about it, the feelings came back again. I'm happy this happened, however, because so often I'm asked questions from parents about the difficulties there are to "move on" from events and this experience will allow me to better answer these questions in the future.

While my official national tour was over the presentations were just as furious and in one day, on November 12th, I spoke to 1,600 people. The following day I gave my first television interview in quite some time and from there I went to KTRS to have a radio interview that was actually livestreamed on the Internet.

After the barrage of presentations it was time for my yearly trek to Vegas and the SKUSA Supernats. Truly, this event plays host to my favorite five days of the year, but this year the weather was the big story with records amount of rain and chilly conditions in the midst of a strong wind. It was certainly  the most difficult five days of my life and was a true test of my strength, but I survived and come Sunday the weather turned good and it was a memorable experience and one that us workers, and racers, will not soon forget.

From Vegas I went with my dad to my aunt's outside Washington D.C. and I don't really remember much of that trip as I slept most of the time. December came and with it news that I am receiving the first "Youth Leadership Award" from the state of Missouri's Governor's Council on Disabilities. I also gave a few more presentations bringing my final number to 148 (previous high was around 110!) and a total number of people spoken to of 18,593 with the previous record of 11,323!)

Near the end of December I witnessed a scary moment at a race that involved Tom Hansing. I wrote about my experience working with him all the way back in this 2010 post, It was this experience that led me down the path of becoming USAC's national .25 flagman so I owe a lot to him, and more than I'll probably ever know, which made watching this all the worse. I will say, as bad as it looks, he was taken to the hospital for a checkup but he was back in the flagstand the following day.

So that was my 2013. It seems each and every year I talk about how there's no way to out do the previous year and year each that comes gets bigger and bigger so if that's so I am afraid to ask how big 2014 will be. I have some visions, and some hopes to makes things better for those on the autism spectrum and I'm also anxious to, somehow, try and top my numbers for 2013. I may have become exhausted near the end of the year, but it was worth it and I look forward to traveling here, there, and  everywhere spreading understanding of the autism spectrum. Thanks for being a reader of my blog, I truly appreciate it, and I hope everyone has a great new year. See you all in 2014!


  1. In Aaron's book, Finding Kansas, is the following sentence:

    “I’ve wanted to race since I was five years old.
    That’s plan A for my life. There is no plan B.”

    What you have just read is an example of how God can re-create "Plan B" into "Plan A." And let me be the first to tell you that, like Aaron, I could never have imagined the new "Plan A!"

    I didn't see very much of Aaron in 2013, but I think we talked on the phone everyday. Words don't exist to describe the joy, excitement, anticipation, etc. of seeing Aaron's life turn from one of depression, feelings of failure, and a deep hopelessness into what you have just read. I hear from people who have read Aaron's book and/or heard him speak that he and his message are the most amazing things they've ever experienced. If this came from one person I would be suspicious, but I have heard it from a multitude.

    I could say I am proud of him, but that would be trite. It would be more apt to express it this way: The creator of the universe has blessed me with the privilege of being the father of an amazing young man who is changing lives, if not the world.

    Aaron, may God give you safe travels, suffering to refine you like gold, and blessings beyond your imagination in 2014.

  2. Well, I've spent about half of this past year with Aaron via this blog and have learned a LOT about people on the Autism spectrum. Frankly, I've probably learned more from him and his blog than I have actually working here at the Easter Seals Midwest Autism Services. I learned how to talk, how to act and I learned how to be an awesome Santa at a couple of Christmas functions.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what happens this coming year and hope to see much more of him around the office perhaps.

  3. I know that your purpose in life is what you are doing-educating the world! May you continue on your journey and may the journey be one of joy for you and those that hear your message. Thank you!