Everyday Heroes…

July 13, 2011

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Autism is a tough thing to get warm and fuzzy about.  Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore all of our kids, especially the one named Jeff who calls me Mom.  It is the added challenges, medical issues, and struggles they face everyday that I have a hard time with.  I truly wish their burdens were less and their shining moments came more frequently.  They are the hardest working folks I know, these kids.  They are my everyday heroes.

There have been several silver linings that autism has brought to my life.  Portia Iverson from Cure Autism Now noted two good things about autism and I have stolen these observations from her:

  1. The special needs pass (front of the line pass) at Disneyland!
  2. The amazing folks I have met (caring families, clinicians, and community members)

Jeff stopped using the special needs pass at Disneyland several years ago.  How I miss that pass – especially on hot summer days like today!

But while the pass is now history, the amazing folks I have met along the journey – the true Everyday Heroes – are not.  These heroes include parents, siblings, family members, clinicians, physicians and student peers out there every day making a difference for people living with autism.

This list also includes some of the best people I have ever met - friends whose families are not personally affected by autism but whose hearts have been touched by the cause.  We have volunteers that regularly work in the TACA office helping with day to day efforts.  While we don’t pay them –their value to us is beyond measure.

We also have friends that use their own networks and resources to create wonderful events for TACA – events that help raise awareness and much needed funds to further our mission.  That happened recently when we got a call from Ryan & Paige Getzlaf.  They did an amazing thing – they reached out to US because they wanted to help TACA help families.

Ryan is a really big deal in the hockey world yet Ryan and his wife Paige are some of the nicest people I have met on this journey.   Ryan just happens to be the Captain of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and an Olympic Gold medal winner!  He is a great guy with a big heart. His cousin in Canada is affected by autism and Ryan wanted to show his support for autism and his little cousin by supporting TACA.

Ryan and Paige worked for months (despite Paige giving birth to their adorable son Ryder in February) to pull together sponsors, golfers and many of their famous friends for one glorious June weekend at the Pelican Hill golf course in Newport Coast.  This is not just any course people – it is one of the best and most beautiful in the country!

Most of the people attending the two day event came because of Ryan and Paige.  Both had done interviews and pre-event press to get folks interested in our cause.  The amount of hours these two put in and the resources they pulled together were monumental.

Because of their efforts - their event gathered countless new friends to the TACA community!  Almost everyone we met during this weekend knew someone affected by autism and they wanted to know how to help.  I love moments like this.  The autism community needs every ounce of help we can get and to have such a celebrated champion as Ryan Getzlaf support TACA is huge!

I marvel at the fact that these busy folks didn’t need to help.  They could have skipped all those planning meetings and late night phone calls, and simply kept their precious alone time to themselves, especially with a new baby.  I don’t have the words to adequately express my gratitude and appreciation for helping give TACA such a fantastic platform and such a fun event.

And boy did Jeff have fun on Sunday.  He got to putt using a hockey stick (which he professed to be much easier than a regular putter).  He got to drive a golf cart for the first time – he drove all over the course, greeting golfers and giving them a few pointers!   I hope Pelican Hill does not have video of our golf cart antics because we had a lot of mother-son giggles that day.

I don’t know what Jeff thinks about TACA or understands about my role as its founder.  I know he knows it’s my job and I am gone a lot because of it.  But on this particular day, he made the rounds at the golf course like a non-profit pro.  He thanked golfers and supporters for ’helping his mom help TACA help families’ - a mouthful for sure, but  Jeff’s heartfelt and exact words.  Not bad for a kid we were told would never speak or have emotions.

So here is my third silver lining – the one TACA has given Jeff.  Because of great people like Ryan and Paige Getzlaf, because of great companies like Oakley and Jack FM, and countless other friends of TACA, Jeff and I have a collection of one-of-a-kind experiences.  We have met amazing people, have hung backstage with famous athletes and rock stars, and have been provided special opportunities - all because people were willing to give back to a cause that touched their heart.

He knew to hug those chicks. Nice.

Social cues from the base of the brain do not require discrete trial methods. 

– quote from a TACA dad after seeing this photo of Jeff with the Ducks Power Girls

A perfect example - that’s Jeff treasuring a special moment with the Ducks Power Girls.   If a picture paints a thousand words, who wants to guess what my teenage boy is thinking right now!

Jeff wasn’t intimidated by this gorgeous group.  He knew exactly what to do in this situation.  He went up, introduced himself and laid his smoothest pick up line on one of the beautiful ladies.  Jeff says to the lucky lady “How much does a polar bear weigh?”  Like most people, she answered “I don’t know. “  Jeff replies, with perfect timing “Enough to break the ice.  Hi my name is Jeff!”

The ladies squealed and instantly hugged Jeff.  Several times that day, Jeff asked to go back and say hi to his girlfriends.  And we did.  I got to say – Jeff had a little swagger in his step that day.

And maybe that’s the best silver lining of all.  That there are people who go out of their way to show that our kids have value, to recognize autism and the brave kids who live with it every day.  Guys like Ryan Getzlaf, the captain of a professional hockey team, and his teammate Corey Perry who just days earlier was recognized as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, yet delayed the huge media blitz to come support TACA.  That means everything to our kids and to our TACA families.  Yep, Autism is a tough thing to get warm and fuzzy about, but our new TACA friends?   That’s a piece of cake!