Chris was a precious and sweet baby but as he grew we noticed he was not like other toddlers. He had terrible fits, was quiet, withdrawn from others, and did not seem to understand things children his age should. He was very slow to speak and if he did it was very difficult to know what he was saying, he had digestive problems, he showed sensitivity issues with certain sounds, food, clothing, and there were many more issues that concerned us. Yet he quickly learned to crawl and in no time took off walking. As he grew he could run, play, climb, swim, and more with the best of them but he still was quiet, withdrawn from social scenes, experienced heightened sensitivity especially to noises, he was a very picky eater, the sensitivity issues continued, he was easily bullied, and he had a lot of difficulty understanding the world around him. After years of special education, speech, occupational therapy, IEPs, evaluations, all sorts of testing, and more he was diagnosed at the age of 9 with Autism (the Apserger's type). This was hard to hear yet for us as parents there was some relief because we finally knew what we were facing and what his condition was called.
Chris has always been athletic and active. We tried all types of sports like, football, soccer, t-ball, baseball, and basketball. But due to his Autism and other mental challenges he would find himself left on the bench or the coaches would not want to take the time to work with him. This was more harmful than beneficial to Chris and it really hurt his confidence and self-esteem. In 2009 Chris’ grandparents purchased an ATV for him and he loved it! As parents we were worried about how he would do and his safety, but he immediately showed natural talent and good riding techniques.
In August of 2010 Chris asked if he could try racing. We took him out to our local practice track where he demonstrated the ability to handle himself, his mini quad, and he enjoyed it. On August 23, 2010 he raced his first motocross event on his 70cc Panther with other built 90cc mini racing quads. Chris truly enjoyed himself and loved the sport immediately. He raced every event from there on out in that series and placed 5th overall. With each race that season we noticed a slight change occurring in Chris. His autistic tendencies where more controlled, he felt better, and his daily living skills improved. Little by little, race after race, he improved with little to no backwards progression. Chris had many obstacles to overcome so he could race. If you've ever been to a motocross event it's loud and as a racer it can be very dirty, hot or cold, wearing full protective gear, and there are many things going on at once. Due to his Autism he was very sensitive to loud sounds and didn’t like the feeling of wet mud. Anytime he was around his mini quad or at the track he had earplugs in or his helmet on to help muffle the sounds and he wore rain gear to keep wet mud off as much as possible. This helped him to learn to adapt to the loud noises of the tracks and to deal with the uncomfortable feeling of dirt and mud.
At the end of the 2010 season his little ATV was no longer suited for racing or his level of riding. On November 4, 2010 we gave him a 2008 APEX 90cc MXR Pro mini racing quad. He was timid on the new machine for a couple of months as it was louder, faster, and bigger. After he learned to trust his bike and got comfortable he began blossom as a mini quad racer. With each race he was learning to trust himself, to focus, and make routine decisions for himself on the track. His socialization skills improved, he was learning to push himself out of his comfort zone, he would eat better the day of the race, and he also rested better at night after riding or racing his quad. His sport, ATV Motocross truly became therapeutic for him and was taking him to a new level in life!
Chris had trouble if his race routine changed, which in motocross can happen at any time. Mechanical issues would upset him, and simple tasks such as just holding up his hand to signal the race staff there was an issue while on his quad at the gate proved to be too much for him. Anything out of the normal routine would send him into a meltdown. He had a tough time understanding verbal instructions. His comprehension even to this day is at a much lower level than his age. We found that using drawings or showing him on the bike what to do or not to do helped him greatly. He watched videos of ATV racing in general or recorded video of himself racing to help refine his skills. We found he improved greatly with the use of a GOPRO camera mounted on his helmet. After each race or practice we would watch the video together seeing his point of view. This little camera made a huge difference in how we assisted Chris improve as a racer. He has come a long way since that first race in August of 2010. We have watched him grow, learn, and blossom over the years through racing.
Nowadays the track atmosphere is where Chris lights up. He talks to others, is ok if his routine is interrupted, he has learned that hard work and dedication is the key to being good at something. We can now explain and critique his racing techniques verbally, he becomes extremely focused and mature beyond his years when he heads to the start gates, and he is able to communicate well with others. He does continue to struggle with eye contact asking questions and being introduced into new elements of any kind. Chris eats and feels better, his self-confidence and self-esteem is the greatest it's ever been. His cognitive thinking is still weak, but it has improved greatly thanks to racing. He is rarely bothered by loud sounds and his sensitivity with clothing and wet muddy conditions is nonexistent.
Racing has allowed Chris to travel to 19 US states, including Texas, New York, Washington, DC, to name a few and visit places like Niagara Falls, Lake Michigan, the 9/11 museum, the Statue of Liberty, the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Texarkana, and many more great places. He has met numerous people from around the world, and it has introduced him to many different cultures.
Chris still has his tough days at home and on the track. As he’s transitioned into an adult his emotions boil over at times on the track because he’s very passionate about racing and competitive. He is learning to keep them in check as we all must do.
Chris has remained healthy for the most part since he started racing in 2010 until June of 2017 when he had a wreck at a National race located at Sunset Ridge MX in Walnut, IL. that fractured his right shoulder and damaged the nerves surrounding his right scapula causing it to droop. With therapy and time, he has made a complete recovery. It took him time to overcome some fears from that, but he’s proved to himself and others that he’s stronger mentally and physically than he’s ever been! The 2019 race season will be his fourth year on his 450R quad as he’s looking forward to moving up to the “B” class and chasing his tenth championship.
Chris during his third race in August of 2010. Photo Credit: Timothy Keller Photography