Have story, will travel

April 6, 2015
Next stop this Wednesday at Greenhorn Valley Library in Colorado City

I’m not the most natural public speaker, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed since publishing Full Tilt Boogie — A journey into autism, fatherhood, and an epic test of man and beast is getting out and talking to folks about the book, and about the autism epidemic, living with autism and parenting, burros and pack-burro racing. Believe it or not, there is a parallel.FTBcover200

I keep these things fairly low-key and informal, and seem to settle into a comfort zone by the time we get to the question-and-answer period, which I think is the most interesting part of my discussion. Frankly, I’m more concerned about what people want to know than what I have to say.

Recently I had the pleasure to talk to a fairly large audience at the Scottish Rites Foundation Dinner in Pueblo. What was really cool about this was having the chance to thank members of the organization for the assistance they provide children who might not otherwise receive important speech therapy services from The Children’s Hospital. My son Harrison received two of these speech scholarships at a time when it was critical in his development, and also when we could not have afforded those services.

More upcoming talks include:

  • Greenhorn Valley Library at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 8.
  • Pueblo West Library at 7 p.m. Monday April 13.
  • Westcliffe Library Book Club, 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 27.

If you’d like to host one of my talks contact me at jackassontherun@gmail.com. I’m good for groups of five to 100 in book shops, libraries, art galleries, luncheons, or wherever anyone wants to hear my story. Will do my best to promote it as well.

Reflections on World Autism Awareness Day

April 2, 2015

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Today on World Autism Awareness Day I would like to say that we all have much to learn from autistic people. Aside from the day-to-day challenges presented by parenting a child with autism — the tantrums, the noise, the frustrations — one thing I really appreciate about my son Harrison is his attitude of non-conformity.

It’s not just that he refuses to conform with many societal norms and expectations, but that he does so comfortably with no concerns for what other people think. Now this sometimes causes problems and embarrassment at school, in public places and even at home because of his difficulties sorting out impulsive behaviors from constructive ones. But that is also part of the autistic mind and something I hope improves with age.

I’m writing from the standpoint of someone who has not exactly lived a life of conformity, and perhaps I am somewhere on The Spectrum myself. I’ve never had a normal job (No, editing and writing for newspapers does not count as a normal job). I write, edit, take pictures and care for animals for a living. I’ve chosen to live in a rural mountain setting. And I’ve pursued a longtime passion for racing burros to the top of high mountain passes. But I can’t say I’ve been totally comfortable with all these choices. There’s always a nagging voice in the back of my mind asking me if I’m doing the right thing, telling me it would be safer to run with the herd. At the base of all this is some concern about what others think, fear of judgment and fear of the future. Mind chatter.

So while I have been able to make these choices I can’t say I’ve always been totally comfortable with all of them. It’s a struggle with the mind. Sometimes I question my lack of regular paycheck, reliable retirement, and the long commute to the grocery, though I know these are the prices I pay for relative freedom, doing work I value, and living in a wild setting. I can walk out my door and be running on a trail in five minutes.

Harrison on the other hand, seems totally comfortable with his choices to be himself. This often manifests in refusing to do his homework, which I sometimes view as as an avoidance behavior founded in self-preservation. What exactly is this school work preparing him for, anyway? Life in a cubicle? Instead he’s more likely to put all his energy and focus into understanding the inner workings of a door closer or learning to ride his bike. He’s comfortable with his choices because he simply lives in the present and really does not care that much about what anybody else thinks.

It makes me wonder if more of us shouldn’t be more like that. What type of world would we live in if more people paid attention to their present lives, and followed their interests and passions with reckless disregard for what other people think? Maybe today we should thank Harrison and other autistic people for helping us understand more about our own journeys, as well as theirs.

Minimal shoes vs. performance-enhancing devices

March 31, 2015

I believe in minimal footwear and if I were to live on a beach somewhere and run only recreationally, I’d probably only have two pairs of running shoes for those times when I might choose to wear any shoes at all. One would be a pair of New Balance Minimus and the other would be Luna Sandals.

But I don’t live on a beach. I live in the Rocky Mountains. And to further complicate matters, my chosen sport is pack-burro racing, which involves running long distances over rugged mountainous terrain alongside a large animal not always known for its cooperative nature.barefoot2

A few years ago in one of these races — the 28-mile World Championship up and down 13,187-foot Mosquito Pass — I watched as the first-place racer smoothly eased away from me on the descent. This eventual winner was wearing a pair of Hoka One Ones, thickly padded maximalist shoes that looked more like Moon Boots or clown shoes than running gear.

That same summer I’d also managed to bruise my forefoot badly when a rock jabbed through the soles of a pair of minimal shoes. The pain was terrible, and it seemed like I could not get in a run without finding a rock or two with that sore spot and re-injuring it. I started to look at different options. At some point out of desperation and at the suggestion of several friends I decided to try on a pair of Hokas.

At once I realized why these shoes were so popular among trail and ultra runners. They smoothed over the roughest terrain. No rocks could poke through to my feet. I likened them to the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike for off-road use.

I also quickly realized that these shoes were clearly performance-enhancing devices, allowing a person to run beyond natural capabilities and enter the danger zone where injuries happen. Were they healthy footwear? No. There are many health risks associated with wearing thick shoes like this long-term — including loss of proprioception, muscle imbalance and weakness throughout the body, increased shock (from reverberation, or bounce), and others.

In a sense these shoes were much like performance-enhancing drugs. But, unlike drugs, they were legal and other competitors were wearing them. If I wanted an equal footing I thought I should at least give them a chance. As competitive athletes many of us often make choices that improve our chances but are not necessarily healthy. Just deciding to compete in the first place is one of these choices. Training beyond requirements for health is another. Besides, my forefoot was killing me, and the increased inflammation from this injury was actually showing up in blood tests for C-reactive protein.

What would Lance do?

I now had racing fats instead of racing flats. And, in fact, the first race I ever wore them in, I won.

Another thing I quickly realized was that as soon as I was done training or racing in these shoes I wanted them off my feet — like right now.

barefootIn defense of my maximalist shoes, they did not have a huge heel-forefoot drop. They were fairly flexible, explaining why they did not tip and twist my ankles on rugged terrain. And they were so soft that they actually allowed my feet to do their own thing. In some ways it was like running in sand. They had transformed the Rocky Mountains into a beach. My forefoot even healed up without the constant strikes from rocks, and my inflammation markers returned to normal. But I remained very conflicted about using them.

So how was I to resolve this inner conflict between my natural minimalist sensibilities and my maximist racing fats?

Part of the answer was what my body had already told me — wear the fat shoes as little as possible. Run in them, then get them off my feet ASAP. And the other part of the answer was to continue doing what I had been doing — going barefoot as much as possible (see my article on barefoot therapy), choosing my workouts wearing the big shoes carefully, wearing minimal footwear to warm up and cool down, and for most of my other everyday activities like walking. By maintaining strong feet, ankles and balanced muscles through barefoot therapy and minimal footwear, my body was better able to adapt to those times I chose to wear the performance-enhancing shoes.

Along the way I also transitioned to another brand and style of maximal shoes, finding the Altra Olympus to be somewhat lower to the ground, with a zero-drop and much larger toebox.

In this manner I have adjusted to being able to wear both styles of footwear successfully, enjoying the advantages of performance-enhancing footwear for racing while also maintaining and building natural foot strength and health the rest of the time.

Maladjusted autism research syndrome

February 17, 2015

A horse is a horse, of course, of course

Last week I received from several friends a link to a story out of UC Davis headlined Newborn horses give clues to autism.” The link to the article also began appearing on social media news feeds.

Harrisonriding

Harrison riding a short-eared equine at Adams Camp.

I’m not one to overly anthropomorphize, but I’m always interested in any connection between autism and the animal world, so I clicked right on over. And there I read about researchers asserting a connection between Maladjusted Foal Syndrome and autism. I hadn’t read too far when I began to think, “This is just all wrong.”

First of all, these researchers are comparing a condition that is apparent at birth in a species that must walk within moments of being born, to an entirely different condition not apparent at birth in a completely different species in which the young do not walk until they are several months old.

This seems like comparing apples and oranges . . . to peaches and mangos.

In fact many people feel autism develops in humans much later than birth. Despite repeated “scientific” reassurances from the medical establishment and the government that vaccines do not cause autism, about half the population still believes they may play some role in its development. Many leading experts, including Temple Grandin, say the possible role of vaccines in autism warrants closer investigation. Personally, I believe the cause of autism to be rooted in some perfect storm combination of genetics, environmental triggers and multi-dose vaccinations.

Nevertheless, I read further, getting to this quote:

“There are thousands of potential causes for autism, but the one thing that all autistic children have in common is that they are detached,” said Isaac Pessah, a professor of molecular biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and a faculty member of the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Really?

Now this really sort of annoyed me, not only because it simply isn’t true, but also because quotes like this help perpetuate a stereotype. Autism affects many different children in many different ways, and detachment is not always present. Prof. Messah should meet my son Harrison. He’s not detached. And neither are many other kids on the spectrum. Autism is so much more complicated than that.

I wrote to Pat Bailey, the author of the article, and stated my concerns. I received a nice note back saying, “When Dr. Pessah used the term ‘detached,’ he did so with the full realization that it applies to a really broad spectrum, ranging from very, very slight to profound. And he certainly didn’t intend any disrespect . . .” She also mentioned that the core of this research moving forward will center on understanding neurosteroid levels in horses at birth.

I was not so much offended by the quote as I was struck by the apparent lack of understanding of autism. And, while there is research showing autistic humans displaying dysregulation of neurosteroids, there’s no evidence this has anything to do with anything that occurs at the time of birth. So once again, this horse-human connection is nebulous at best.

An MIT researcher recently predicted that at current rates half of all kids will be autistic by 2025. I’ve worked around equines — horses and donkeys — for 30 years and had never even heard of maladjusted foal syndrome. I appreciate researchers looking for clues to the autism epidemic but this really seems like a case of over-reaching to me. 

What we really need is more understanding and honesty about the real causes of autism, and also how to best help autistic people work with their behavioral challenges and reach their full human potentials. That’s where I see research into connections between animals and autistic kids to be most beneficial.

Check out my new book, Full Tilt Boogie — A journey into autism, fatherhood, and an epic test of man and beast now available on amazon.

Morning splendor

February 5, 2015

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Full Tilt Boogie Slideshow

January 14, 2015

I figure if movies can have trailers, then books can too.

http://youtu.be/cKO2tItkuv8

December 15, 2014

FTBad

Pinning the ‘tale’ on a donkey

December 2, 2014

For sure I am not the first storyteller to pin the “tale” on a donkey.

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“Jack the Burro” by Frank Seckler at Paul’s Western Wear in Taos, New Mexico.

Robert Louis Stevenson did it in the 1800s with Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Zane Grey did it with Tappan’s Burro. More recently Tim Moore wrote Travels with My Donkey and Andy Merrifeld penned The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World.

While donkeys played central roles in these books, each is about something more than the donkeys themselves. Likewise, with Full Tilt Boogie: A journey into autism, fatherhood, and an epic test of man and beast, I have framed my story with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop and the gritty sport of pack-burro racing as a theme.

But Full Tilt Boogie is really about my challenges parenting my autistic son, Harrison. It is a story of determination, love and perseverance in the face of adversity.

The book is 224 pages and includes several color photographs. It is available in both electronic form and paperback.

Pay what you want ebook

To get an ebook (pdf) that you can read on your kindle, iPad or Nook, simply send an email to jackassontherun@gmail.com and I will send it to you! You choose the price! There’s a button inside the book that will take you to a place you can easily pay for it online.

PaperbackFTBcover200

The paperback also is available directly from me for $20, including shipping. You can either “send money” using paypal to jackassontherun@gmail.com or send a check to me at 307 Centennial Dr., Westcliffe, CO 81252. Of course, send along your address so I know where to mail it.

If you prefer, Full Tilt Boogie is also available on amazon.

The book also is available at the Book Haven in Salida.

Don Con giving away music to fund new album

November 30, 2014

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1685076171/new-don-conoscenti-cd-making-music-that-matters


Taos musician Don Conoscenti, well known in Central Colorado music circles and a former San Luis Valley resident, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a new music album.
As incentive for the campaign, Don Con is giving away all of his previous music — about 10 albums — as a free music download through Dec. 31. Donations of any amount are welcome.
Known nationally for his song “The Other Side,” which became popular after the 9/11 terror attacks, and regionally for his song “Beautiful Valley” about the SLV, Conocenti’s music explores the spiritual nature of life in the mountains and deserts of Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
For more information about the music and to donate to the kickstarter program, visit www.doncon.com.

A visit to see the GEMS burros

November 7, 2014

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Finally made the trip (and it was a trip!) out to the Great Escapes Mustang Sanctuary (GEMS) where my friend Kim Zamudio is the trainer in chief and is working with wild horses and wild burros.

The sanctuary is out northeast of Kiowa.

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Kim and some of the donks she’s trained at GEMS.

Kim is an official trainer with the Platero Project, launched by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an effort to place more wild burros captured off Western rangelands into adoptive homes. She is able to take animals directly from the BLM, train them, then offer them for adoption.

There are as many as 1,300 wild donkeys that have been removed from public lands by the BLM and are being held in captivity.

Currently at GEMS 10 of these formerly feral burros are available for adoption. Kim has them trained to various degrees. Many of them are halter-trained and broke to carry pack saddles. These are about as nice a bunch of donkeys as I’ve seen.

People often ask me where they can get a burro. If you’re considering an animal for packing, pack-burro racing, a guard or companion donk, or a pet, I would encourage your to get in contact with GEMS. Not only are these burros gentled and trained, the adoption fee is extremely reasonable.

The sanctuary also has 29 mustangs, and serves as a center for education and awareness about burros and mustangs. Tours are available and donations are appreciated. Check out their website at http://greatescapesanctuary.org/.


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