Fifteen-year-old Chris Furches is an accomplished motocross racer indoors and out. At the age of 10, Chris got his first ATV. It was a gift from his grandparents and it was obvious he was a natural talent on it. A year later he saw his first MX race and asked if he could try racing. On August 23, 2010 Chris lined up for his first race. He raced the rest of the season, finishing 5th in points and that same year his parents bought him his first race quad, an Apex 90. It was obvious to his parents that Chris loved racing. The new sport brought a lot of great things to their lives, and some new challenges. This freshman in high school, hailing from Tennessee’s oldest town, is a typical teenager in many ways and atypical in one very certain way. Chris has Asperger syndrome, a type of autism.
“We knew something wasn’t right with Chris at a young age,” said Stephanie Furches, Chris’ mom. “We went to many doctors through the years, but really no definitive answers. He was slow to speak, and if he did, it was difficult to understand him. He would run out in front of cars or do something dangerous from the frustration of the communication barrier he had. He had terrible fits, he had digestive issues, and he had many sensory issues such as foods, clothing, sounds, and such,” she explained. “Through the years he would not make eye contact with anyone, he had a lot of difficulty focusing, trouble with social skills, was very easily picked on or bullied and he stayed to himself. As parents we pushed to find help and get him early intervention. We did speech therapy, occupational therapy, early pre-school for children with special needs, IEP’s, special education classes, and such,” she added.
But nothing has been quite like the therapy quad racing has provided to Chris. He used to be extremely sensitive to sound, wearing ear plugs or wearing his helmet to reduce the noise, even when not on his quad. Now he doesn’t need those supports. He can be at the track without needing something to reduce the noise at all times. He used tohave meltdowns at the gate if something went wrong – meltdowns that would fit a kid of a much younger age. However, he is dealing with change in routine better both on and off the track now. He has overcome a sensitivity to mud, wetness, cold and heat. He previously had trouble communicating verbally and understanding verbal communication, but watching his riding on a GoPro has improved his skills both while speaking and while on the quad. He can now talk with his parents about racing instead of being shown. He has boosted his vocabulary with racing terminology. ATV racing is truly Chris’ therapy.
When Chris gets off the bike his brain functions better. He speaks better and is able to express himself more clearly. His appetite is better when he’s been racing. He sleeps more soundly after having raced. He had to learn to make decisions for himself on the track, and that has transferred to his home life. Along with Aspergers, Chris also has ADHD, and racing has helped him focus.
“When it’s time for Chris to race, he becomes this focused, determined, strong, mature beyond-his-years young man,” Furches said. He is all business when he hits the gate. As his parents, we never get tired of watching his transformation!” And transform he has. While Chris still struggles to make eye contact, he has improved his social skills and has been able to blend in with the other kids at the track almost seamlessly. This is a huge accomplishment for Chris – to play, look, feel and race like other kids. “There is just not enough room to explain truly how ATV motocross has changed our son,” Furches said. “We all cannot imagine what we would have done without it! It’s mind boggling how it has improved his life and daily living skills.”
Chris is not only a racer, but he is an accomplished racer at the beginning of what is hopefully many years of racing therapy. He won his first championship in 2013 and he has a total of 3 MX ATV Youth class championships. He won the 2014 Suzuki Top Gun Showdown in the ATV Youth Class and at the national level he placed 6th overall in the 90 Automatic Sr 12-15 class and 7th overall in the 90 CVT 8-15 class for 2014. This is his last year on those bikes as he will age out of those classes and move to a big bike for 2016 with sponsors and funds permitting. Chris has set a goal to get in the Top 5 in 2015. He is currently the points leader in the Indoor MX. He won it last year and his goal is to repeat. Chris has overcome so much in order to race and be successful, Furches said. “The championships are a big deal.” But even though they were hard earned for a kid who is challenged every day by things we take for granted, Chris is humble. And kind. And thoughtful. And he and his family are on a mission bigger than themselves.
Seattleite transplanted to Eastern Oregon, Megan Brown is an ATV enthusiast who got involved with racing in 2004. She lives with her husband and son, and enjoys riding ATVs, photography, art, mountain biking, and writing.
This article was featured in Issue 29 – Finding New Ways to Thrive