I am 40 years old and I live in Louisville Kentucky. I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley in California. I am the middle of five children.
I was mute yet I could read at the age of two. Later, I was diagnosed with autism. My mum was given an photocopied pamphlet telling her how stark my future might be. But she knew better.
I did not have ABA. I did had speech therapy. I was mainstreamed throughout the years. I managed to be in Advanced Placement classes in high school and graduated 16 out of 432.
My story really began in May 1985, when I watched the Kentucky Derby for the first time. And I would follow the horse races daily. If you were to see the documents the disability center have of me, it will say that I read the horse race pages often.
At the same time, I got into Christian doctrine. The Catholic parish in my town refused to catechise me. My family was very angry. Joined an Assembly of God church in high school. Unable to speak in tongues.
A Lutheran university in Orange County got word of my SATs and good grades. Got a generous scholarship. Joined the Lutheran church. Decided to be a theologian so I went to its seminary in Indiana.
During one of its conferences, I met a widower who was a semi-retired pastor. We fell in love and got married in May 2003. Two weeks later, I got my Masters. I studied to be a deaconess. On 9 May 2005, the director refused to give me an internship due to my autism. I entered the dark night of the soul for eleven years. It affected my living and my marriage.
I took on merchandising jobs to make ends meet. It turned out I can do that very well. I would get assignments in Ohio and the northern part of Indiana.
In 2014, my husband developed vascular dementia. One year later, he was at the nursing home. During that time, I would watch the horse races, eating bar food at the off-track facility. That was when I heard that they will have a job fair. Went there. Got hired that moment.
My bosses knew that I have autism. And because of that, they gave me jobs that helped the business. And right after the 2016 Kentucky Derby ended, I knew that the dark night of the soul was ending. During Preakness week, the bosses were impressed with my ability to handicap horses that I had a huge job promotion. I even had a weekly contest. Later, I would be a clerk, processing bets for patrons.
I think the biggest change happened in February 2017, when I visited Old Friends Farm near Lexington. The tour guide introduced me to a grey-white horse named Silver Charm. He won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in 1997. He looked at me and he kissed my forehead. That moment overshadowed the dark moments of my past, as if he was telling me that I am not a reject but a child of God, worthy of love.
It was then I realised that I must leave the painful shadows of living in Fort Wayne and move to Kentucky. I knew my husband would die very soon, so I thought, I will take a job with a division of Churchill Downs in Louisville Kentucky. Found the corporate website, applied one late night, and in the morning I got a call for an interview. I got the job. Shortly after, my husband died. I buried him and threw myself into work.
I was still struggling with mental illness related to 2005. I thought, I need a healthy church. I found an Anglican church and attended services there. Wow! It was full of peace and acceptance. I was confirmed as a member in November 2018. And I get to help out as an acolyte during worship.
At the same time, my job was getting hard to manage as the work conditions were not beneficial for me. It was not Churchill Downs’ fault. It was the workplace environment was very intense with network monitoring, watching all various events on several televisions in an enclosed room with 5 cubicles in a row. Each cubicle had three monitors. And we were to troubleshoot the problems various racetracks and betting facilities were having with their betting kiosks and terminals. And it was a far cry from what I truly wanted: hands on work with racetrack matters.
My boss took me aside and asked me if I was truly happy. I told him “no.” And that was when I knew that I was much more happier in the blue/gray collar retail professions.
My friend at the convenience store said: why don’t you work with us? So I applied one day in April 2019 and the next day I was hired. Left Churchill on good terms. Went directly to training. My new bosses were impressed on how fast I got the knack of the register and my duties as a gas station clerk. My mental health greatly improved. And I get to enjoy horse racing a lot more. I visit the horse farms and meet champion horses. I am a volunteer at the Kentucky Derby Museum. I especially help out with their yearly Autism Night. The Museum implemented my ideas for a successful event and many children on the Spectrum really enjoyed their visit.
My current project is to develop an Autistic-friendly career programme throughout Kentucky. One of the gubernatorial candidates is keenly interested in that and invited me to email them and their staff for information. Also, a few people from a corporation met me and was really really excited about ways to make Autistic employment more accessible.
So that is the story so far. I really hope that my plans are not vapor but manifested in the physical world. If the history of the Derby mentions Silver Charm years from now, I really hope that one day he will be credited for his part in my life. Thank you for reading.