An Aspie Photographer at the Special Olympic World Games 2015

An Aspie Photographer at the Special Olympic World Games 2015

When Specialneeds.com correspondent Robin Flutterby Borakove; someone I recently met at a photoshoot, asked me in early 2015 if I wanted to join her to cover the Special Olympic World Games as a media photographer for Specialneeds.com, I did not take but half a second to say, “YES!”  I knew I wanted to be a part of and contribute to what was to come because my own life had been, and still was being impacted by the same “special gifts” as some of those that would be competing in the games; both my adult son Joshua and I have Asperger’s Syndrome.  But little did I know that my simple “yes” would propel me into something so momentous and life-altering that it would forever impact my life in a profound way and leave me with so many memories and experiences to reminisce over for years to come.

I initially started out assisting Robin in promoting the Special Olympic World Games via a Circle of Inclusion campaign.  We would respond to a variety of locations throughout Southern California where Robin would share the news of the upcoming World Games and I would take photos of people in the “Circle of Inclusion” [a cloth circle containing a variety of colors that represented the colors from the various flags of the numerous participating countries] to show their support for the athletes.  Our goal was to achieve 5,000 Circle of Inclusion photos in support of the Special Olympic World Games athletes.  Not only did I drive two hours one way nearly every weekend for over two months to join Robin in the pursuit of this goal, I photographed family, friends, neighbors, and even took my “Circle of Inclusion” on a short vacation with me to the Northwest where I took several hundred more photos, including of the flight attendants and pilots of the flights I took, the car rental agents, and the family members I visited and their co-workers and neighbors.  I was determined to meet this goal of 5,000 images and even “dragged” my girlfriend Christina LaScala into our campaign, which eventually led to her becoming our valuable assistant before she even realized it: we became “Team Aspie + C”.  Our campaign continued into the week before the start of the games where I attended several Law Enforcement Torch Runs to continue our goal of 5,000 Circle of Inclusion photos; my weekend long drive then became a daily task.  Even though I managed to gather several hundred more photos by the start of the games, we fell short of 5,000 Circle of Inclusion photos but it was not for a lack of trying; to date I had taken over 1200 Circle of Inclusion photos at the cost of countless hours of organizing, filing, and uploading them for sharing on Specialneeds.com and in an album I created on my Facebook photography page especially for the Circle of Inclusion photos I took.

 

Swapping HatsNow that the first stage of my involvement with the games was over; the Circle of Inclusion campaign, I only had a “moment” to contemplate my leap into what I learned was reportedly going to be the largest humanitarian event in Los Angeles since 1984 with nearly 200 participating countries and over 5,000 athletes.  At the thought of this, I became overwhelmed, excited, awed, humbled and a host of other emotions that flooded my mind on the days before the start of the games.  I asked myself why me, a photographer who was still fairly new to the professional world of photography with little contacts and not widely known, was blessed with this once in a lifetime opportunity to cover an event of such magnitude as a media photographer for Specialneeds.com when so many others I felt more qualified coveted the position.  I felt the overpowering obligation and the responsibility to fulfill this role the best that I could and to not disappoint those that entrusted me with it; I did not want to let anyone down nor to have them wish they would have chosen another photographer for the task at hand.  I realized then was no turning back from the magnitude of what was to come.

 

I knew the games and surrounding events would present me the rare opportunity to capture and share the very essence of life: joy, triumph, happiness, and a host of other emotional images to touch one’s very soul -- one of my main aspirations along my photographic journey in creating images that stirs one’s soul and evokes emotions from deep within.  I also welcomed the opportunity to contribute and to be a part of something so close to my heart and soul, insofar, that I carried a photograph of my Aspie son Joshua around my neck next to my World Games media credentials throughout the nine days of the World Games, sharing his “photographic” presence with those around me.

And so it began, at a “running start” on the first day -- the opening ceremonies.  I remember walking into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum feeling nervous and anxious among the masses of people, but once I found my spot on the coliseum floor among my fellow media, I settled into my comforting role of “photographer” and shot for over 5 hours non-stop; I got “lost” in my pursuit of photographically capturing all that was to be seen, felt, and experienced.  By the end of the evening, I found myself physically exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed from experiencing, and being able to photograph, such a historic and wonderful event -- I broke down in tears when the full impact of the evening “hit me” after stepping out of my “photographer” mode.  I felt truly blessed beyond words.

 

Bananas

Over the next nine long days from early morning to sundown, Robin and I attended a minimum of several events a day where I would spend my time capturing visions of triumph, determination, exertion, glee, and much more in the effort to share and preserve all that was to be shared.  Then every evening, I would sift through hundreds of images to choose a few of the best to post-process and compliment the articles Robin would write of the day’s events, to be published on the Specialneeds.com.  This was quite the difficult task because, as another photographer name Kansas Johnson so correctly stated to us recently, trying to choose your favorite image was like trying to pick your favorite child.  I painstakingly managed to accomplish the task every evening, being left with regret I could not share more; I so much yearned to display my images from the day in an effort to share in what I saw, felt, and experienced to the very depths of my emotions.  This daily task of mine continued throughout the remainder of the games, with very little sleep and barely any time to eat, in my effort to present the most precious, heart-warming, and memorable images to be shared with all those that would look upon them.  On occasion, I would have to take a pause in my photography of the events because my emotions would momentarily get the best of me; the sheer willpower, courage, and unadulterated joy of the athletes I witnessed not only caused this to happen deep within me, but caused my eyes to “leak”, temporarily preventing me from looking through my viewfinder.  This was a constant “problem” for me throughout the games but one I do not regret or make excuses for.

I finished covering the Special Olympic World Games mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted but with such a deep sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to do so.  Upon reflection of what, and to whom, helped me and led me to this point, I thought about many things and many people.  I thought about the thousands of dollars I spent over the previous years on my photography equipment, workshops, and education as an investment in my photography future as to assist me in creating images from what I saw of the world and of those around me.  I thought about the numerous hours spent discouraging over the images I saw come out of my camera as compared to the “vision”  of what I wanted, what I “needed”, my camera to produce.  After much soul-searching, and more times of self-doubt than I care to admit, I come to realize my “vision” was there and that is was just my technically skills and lack of experience that needed work and would take time to improve.  If there was ever a single event to put a photographer such as me to the test and to help him gain such experience, the Special Olympic World Games was it…I evolved into a media photographer virtually “overnight” via what comes to mind as a “Trial by Fire.” 

But aside from all else and more importantly, I would not have had the honor, privilege, and blessing to have covered the Special Olympic World Games LA2015 for Specialneeds.com without the support, love, and assistance…and most importantly, patience for an Aspie like me, from many people in my life, both past and present.  From dear family and friends to those people I met along the way who offered advice and guidance, to those who expressed “belief in me” in what I so much desired for myself as a photographer, and to those who had a direct impact or some influence in my involvement in the World Games. 

 

 

There were many, too many to list here; you know who you are, but I am compelled to share some of them here.  To begin with, there was one photographer instrumental in my ever involving photographic journey for the two years prior to the games.  His name was Roberto Cerini and many of times, Roberto and I would team up to conduct photo shoots in our mutual desire to improve our craft.  I found in Roberto’s work a wonderful ability to capture the essence of a model’s beauty that inspired me and when my self-confidence waned at times, he most pointedly told me I had the “vision” but lacked the technical experience that would come with time and hard work and for me to “not give up.”  Boy am I glad I listened to him!  I am thankful to Robin Flutterby Borakove for “seeing within me” what I had to offer to this endeavor and “opened the door” for my involvement by her invitation to me to join her; she had over 50 photographers “pounding at her door” to join her as a SpecialNeeds.com photographer but she chose me -- I will forever be humbled and grateful for her choice.  I am grateful to the talented photographer Kansas Johnson from Kansas City Photography for her wonderful behind the scenes images of some of our work leading up to the games and of the opening ceremonies, in addition to her valuable input on some of my work.  I am grateful to all the staff at Specialneeds.com involved in showcasing the work of Robin and I: Branndon Coelho who uploaded all of Circle of Inclusion photos to a special page on Specialneeds.com for all to see, Mary Van Doren who handled all of the graphics, page layout, etc. in this special edition magazine, webmaster Flora Lazaro who insured the various articles written by Robin with my images were published on SpecialNeeds.com in a most beautiful and timely fashion, and to the publisher of SpecialNeeds.com Merry Potter who made this all happen -- I will get to you in a moment!

 

 

And most dear to my heart is the wonderful Christina LaScala, who put the +C into “Team Aspie +C”, who had no idea what she was getting into when she met me many months ago, lest she may have had 2nd thoughts… it is not easy dating an “Aspie” obsessed with photography, LOL.  But for me personally, Christina was my “ear”, my “sounding board”, for the times of my self-doubt and fear that I may not live up to what was expected of me and for the times I was emotionally exhausted to the point fleeting and momentarily thoughts would pass through my mind of wanting to “escape” and run away.  Christina was my support system and helped me “keep going” by reminding me the reason I accepted Robin’s offer into this journey and of her and other’s faith in me and my abilities that led me to this point.  Christina’s faith both in me and more importantly, in God, was unwavering and many times, she would reassure me in my times of sadness and self-doubt to, “Trust in God for he has a plan for you and it will all work out.” Christina is one who puts others before herself by her sweet, selfless, and caring nature and I was no exception.

And last, but certainly not least, I owe a debt of gratitude to Merry Potter, the editor of Specialneeds.com and publisher of Family Magazines who is ultimately responsible for me being here.  For she could have declined to approve me as a Specialneeds.com photographer due to my lack of experience, but instead she expressed to me upon seeing some of my work, a belief in me and my “vision” of what I desired to capture.  How cool is that…the publisher of a major well-respected magazine expressing belief in me!  Merry expressed encouragement, belief, and just as important with someone like me, patience, in my endeavor of photographically memorializing the games from what I saw and felt.  As time went on while photographing the games, I found myself not only striving for the best images to share with the world, but the best images I could capture for Merry as well as I so much wanted to live up to her expectations of me and did want to disappoint her, for she deserved the best of my efforts.  Merry, I hope what is seen among these pages gives a glimpse of my efforts, dedication, and hard work to produce images most worthy.

To sum it all up after all is said and done, I was left with memories and images that will forevermore exist within my heart, soul, and mind.  I can only hope that in some way and in some measure that some of my images I captured will “touch” and “move” the viewers of them in the same profound way I have been touched by the various people I had the pleasure of meeting throughout this journey.  I believe though that my images will never come close to “moving” people in the same way and to such depths that the courageous athletes of the Special Olympic Games I had the pleasure and honor of watching, meeting, and photographing moved me…many a times to tears of joy and happiness for them.  I can only hope that my images comes even a little close to visually preserving and honoring them and what they stood for in the way they so much deserve and earned as an example to all!

Now for me, I continue on my pursuit and journey towards the level and type of photography I so much desire from within to share with the world, made much richer by my recent experiences.  And if I never achieve what I photographically envision for myself, it will not be from a lack of heart and determination and either way, the journey will be filled with so much beauty, experience, and adventure!

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Written by: Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography) See other articles by Fred Neil Bommer II (Freddie B. of Freddie B. Photography)
About the Author:

Born Fred Neil Bommer II, I grew up in Northern California and, immediately after graduating from high school, went into the Marine Corps where I served for nearly seven years.  Upon exiting active duty, I went into law enforcement and during the early part of my career, remained in the Marine Corps Reserves and was activated for service in the “Iraqi Freedom” conflict in 2003.  Seven months later, I returned to my life back in the states and to my career where I currently find myself within shouting distance of retirement.

For as long as I can remember, I felt different from most others and had difficulty fitting in; I humorously refer to myself as socially inept.  Because of my deficient social skills, I am often labeled and judged by those not knowing the real me as "anti-social", "not a team player", "standoffish", and "unsociable" -- labels I had difficulty explaining away.

Then in December of 2014, I discovered my adult son, Joshua, was suspected of having Asperger's Syndrome.  In an effort to understand my son more, I began reading about this condition and the mystery about myself, which has plagued me my entire life, began to unravel and become clear.  In July 2015, after months of procrastination and indecision, I sought out an evaluation by a specialist and received my confirmation -- I was an "Aspie", a term used by many to refer to someone with Asperger's Syndrome.

In spite of my life’s challenges and struggles, I discovered an "escape" early on in my life: photography.  I began taking photos at an early age as a way to "capture" a moment in time that I cherished and desired to preserve.  I discovered in photography the means to "speak" through my images and to express myself in a way I had difficulty otherwise.  Whether it was a beautiful outdoor scene, the essence of a person’s personality, or the antics of an animal - photography became a way to express my inner thoughts, and a way to capture my “vision” to share with those around me.

So when I began contemplating my retirement from law enforcement several years ago, I decided to pursue a more active role in my photography, with the intent of turning my love and passion into a full-time endeavor.  Once I began along this journey, I discovered I found my “calling” for what I refer to as my soon to arrive “second lifetime.”

 Webpage: www.freddiebphotography.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/freddiebphotography

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