Ontario teen with autism is go-kart racing sensation, teaches others about acceptance
TORONTO — Austin Riley has autism, and although he can’t tie his shoe laces or cut up his food, he soars on the go-kart track.
Austin is a champion well known in go-kart racing circles with a unique story.
It was his father Jason who got him started in go-kart racing a few years ago as a way for Austin to get some focus and to feel a sense of purpose. It worked.
“Well there’s nobody around me to … tell me what to do and stuff. I can just go out there and do it,” he told Global News.
Austin has raced in a number of tournaments, making the podium almost every time.
He has become an inspiration to other drivers who are in awe that he has autism yet can teach them a few pointers when it comes to picking up speed on the track. Austin also has fans across the country.
It was his fame on the go-kart track that sparked an idea to teach others about autism.
WATCH: Austin Riley is one of the top Go-Kart drivers in North America and this is the final stretch of his Racing with Autism Tour for the past 85 days. Holly Alexandruk reports.
In school, Austin was often bullied and many times he refused to go back to school, too afraid of what he might have to face.
Today that has all changed.
In 2015, Austin and his father embarked on a North American tour that involved hitting several race circuits and visiting a number of schools.
The purpose was to make his mark on the track and in the classroom.
In just a few weeks, Austin inspired thousands of students to embrace their strengths and build on their weaknesses — Austin said autism is one of his strengths.
“Because I like people to know who I am and what I do,” he said, adding that many people told him it was the “best presentation ever.”
His father Jason is in awe of the response.
“I think we ended up doing 27 presentations at various schools, elementary schools, junior high, high schools, even one university,” he said.
“I think the final total was around 20,000 students that we impacted. It was an amazing, amazing time. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, maybe will ever do.”
Jason said the students attach themselves to Austin during his presentations and “become” him when hearing his story.
“When you see the presentation finish, nine times out of 10, all the kids get up and give Austin a standing ovation,” he said.
“Then you have a 45 minute lineup for autographs that you know an Indie car driver or Nascar driver would love to have.”
Austin is now in Australia, touring schools for eight weeks, taking his message down under in hopes of breaking down stereotypes and barriers so many with autism face everyday.
But the journey could be coming to an end.
Austin’s parents have put everything into his racing and into his touring, but the money is running out.
“Everything my wife and I make right now goes towards keeping him in a go-kart. We’ve kind of run out of things to sell,” Jason said.
“It’s painful that the window is closing on that opportunity and I don’t know how to open it.”
Austin’s father is hoping someone will be willing to sponsor his son to keep him on the track, and to keep his message alive.
“I knew he was going to do something special at some point, but I never knew what that was,” he said.
“I’m just glad that I am able to stand up in a school in front of 600 to 800 kids and tell everybody how proud I am of my son.
“A few years ago I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that. He has changed me, he’s changed my perception of what autism is all about and I wouldn’t have him any other way than he is.”
Check out Austin’s website here racingwithautism.com
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