As a 17-year-old racecar driver competing in the Star Mazda Championship series for Andretti Autosport under the INDYCAR banner, I'm truly humbled for the opportunity to share my experiences as a young aspiring professional athlete.
Seeing Eli Manning take the MVP trophy in Indianapolis and lead his team to win this year's Super Bowl was another triumphant moment for those of us aspiring professional athletes.
There are thousands of kids just like me out there trying to follow their own dream and believe me, I know what a struggle it can be to keep on track and focused, with the finish line in mind. It doesn't help that there is always someone on the sideline's who says you can't do it, you're too little, too young, too inexperienced, etc. I've heard it all and I'm sure you have too.
While writing my first book, 99 Things Teens Wish The Knew Before Turning 16, was a great opportunity to share a variety of challenges facing us all, two items specifically stand out from
the rest: distracted driving and bullying.
As a certified licensed racecar driver, naturally, I understand the importance of driving safely. Safety should be every driver's first priority--staying focused behind the wheel is critical. As a driver, I feel strongly that I have an obligation to help others understand the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Put down your cell phones--and get my phone app, urTXT!
I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't overcome bullying. In the eighth grade, I was laughed at and pushed around, probably because I was so small (80 pounds and under 5 ft tall). One particular experience that stuck with me came right after I got third place in a national championship race in Indianapolis. In racing, if you place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, in addition to a trophy, you also get an event hat. I was really proud of my hat and as soon as I got back to school I wanted to wear it along with my racing shoes and the event t-shirt that I begged my dad to stop and get for me. Well, in the lunchroom that day, one of the football players took the hat right off my head and threw it in the trash. That wasn't enough to satisfy him, so he went a step further and poured milk on it! At the time I was pretty frustrated. I felt angry and alone
I used the discouragement from the bully as motivation to do better the next time I was confronted and to follow my dream to prove them wrong. The following weekend I raced in another championship race, and this time, I placed first and received another hat. The next day, the bully got ahold of the new hat too, although this time, I gave it to him voluntarily. I even autographed it for him! That was a proud moment for me. It was an action that spoke louder than any words I could've said to him. Now, I am not saying that everyone can (or that you even should) stand up to a bully. If you or someone around you is being bullied, tell someone you trust.