Step Up champ raises autism awareness
In 2003, Matt Buyten rolled up to his first X Games Step Up competition with one goal in mind, gold. Nine years, with a hand full of gold medals, Buyten will roll up to that same line this year with a bigger goal in mind. Buyten will be "stepping up" for Autism.
Matt Buyten has joined forces with Jeremy Riesenberg and The Autism MX Project to raise awareness for autism. Together they have designed limited edition Matt-Buyten X Games T-shirts available now for purchase.
The two aren't stopping there, Buyten's Step Up bike will be designed similar to the shirt for the event and all plastics will be auctioned off after the event. Like the shirt, all proceeds will go to Elijah Riesenberg Autism Awareness and Action Project.
We caught up with the man behind the scenes, Jeremy Riesenberg to learn more about the wonderful cause.
ESPN.com: Jeremy, for starters who are you and what do you do for the program?
Riesenberg: My name is Jeremy Riesenberg; I am a former professional motocross rider and current father of a child [Elijah] on the autism spectrum. I am a good friend of Matt Buyten's and help him with his sponsorships and marketing.
Each April, I am very active in fundraising efforts during world autism awareness month and during those efforts this year, Matt approached me with the idea of doing a blue step up bike to raise autism awareness. The idea took off from there, and now we have a T-shirt fundraiser and we are also working with Mathew Dalton and his organization, The Autism MX Project, to promote their efforts as well.
You mentioned The Autism MX Project, what exactly do they do?
The Autism MX Project is an awesome project! Basically Mathew Dalton's passion for motocross and wanting to give children on the autism spectrum a chance to enjoy the sport launched the Autism MX Project and things have taken off from there. They are very active in awareness efforts and also with their day camps, they give children with autism a chance to experience the sport in a positive, supervised environment.
It has to be exciting to work with a guy like Matt Buyten to raise awareness thru X Games. Tell us a little bit about what you guys and Matt have planned for X-Games.
We have some awesome things planned. First of all, we are doing a T-shirt fundraiser with all the proceeds going to the Elijah Riesenberg Autism Awareness and Action Project, which benefits local and national programs for those with autism. Then at the event, Matt will be riding a blue and gunmetal chrome bike to raise autism awareness [blue and the puzzle piece are known symbols for autism awareness] as well as wearing custom Autism MX Alpinestars boots with the autism puzzle piece on them. Lastly, after X Games, Matt will be autographing the blue plastic and we will auction it off on eBay for to raise even more money.
How did the foundation end up working with Matt?
Matt has always been a close family friend and stayed up to date with Elijah's journey with autism. When he had the opportunity to take the message to autism awareness to the huge stage that is the ESPN X Games, he approached me with the idea and things took off from there!
I have seen the shirt and the theme had a lot to do with Elijah, can you tell us a little more about who he is ...
Elijah Riesenberg is my oldest son. A little over two years ago, Elijah was diagnosed with autism, and my wife, Melissa, and I made the commitment to not only provide the best life for Elijah and our youngest child, Ryder, who is Elijah's biggest fan, but also to do our best to advocate for all children with autism to raise awareness and make a difference. We started the Elijah Riesenberg Autism Awareness and Action Project [ERAAAP] shortly thereafter, and things just took off from there.
We do the Iowa Walk Now for Autism Speaks Walk each June in Des Moines, where we had the largest walk team last year with 53 supporters. We also do a yearly fundraising walk and dinner in Storm Lake, with the support of several local organizations.
All proceeds from our fundraisers go back into local and national programs that provide direct support for children with autism. We are so excited to be working with Matt Buyten, and have the ability to take our message for autism awareness to a global stage through ESPN at the X Games. Matt is going to bring the message to so many people, and it will make a huge difference.
It all is a bit overwhelming to think about, how it's all come so far in a short amount of time. My wife and I always knew Elijah was going to inspire a change in the world, but we had no idea it would come this early in his life and to be at this magnitude. It all comes down to having a great support team of family and friends working together to make the world a better place for those with autism. We can't thank everyone involved enough!
Where can people donate?
They can go online to the T-shirt fundraiser, or if someone would like to make a donation, they can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If people can't donate, what else can they do?
Tell their friend and family to tune in to the X Games, or just find out more about autism at autismspeaks.org. Knowledge is power and to learn more about autism, is to understand more about autism, is to become more accepting of those with autism. One in 88 children are diagnosed with autism, so we are in the midst of an epidemic. Every little bit helps!