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Autism campaigner and racer joins Gombeys

  • Austin Riley, autism campaigner, enjoys an impromptu dance with the Evolution Gombeys (Photograph by Jason Riley)
  • Austin Riley, autism campaigner, enjoys an impromptu dance with the Evolution Gombeys (Photograph by Jason Riley)

Embraced by Bermuda’s Gombeys, international teen racer and autism campaigner Austin Riley has been left with something more to smile about after his last trip to the island.

“It’s all about family for us,” explained Reginna Paynter of the Gombey Evolution Troupe. “We welcome anybody — the more, the merrier.”

The occasion was the Bermuda Karting Club’s Dockyard Grand Prix, in partnership with Bermuda Autism Support and Education.

Canadian racer Austin, who turned 18 yesterday, travels the world spreading awareness for autism and ADHD, as well as racing go-karts.

The Evolution Gombeys, whose captain Bilal Binns also raced that day, got an impromptu role from Austin during their dance — to the elation of Austin’s father, Jason Riley.

“It was priceless,” Mr Riley told The Royal Gazette from their home in Canada, calling it “one of the most inspiring things of our week”, as his son rested down his banner and joined the dance.

Austin “struggles for acceptance”, he said, but did something “incredibly spontaneous — and the Gombeys welcomed him with open arms”.

“People cheered him on. He was having the time of his life. I was surprised he had any energy left for the finals. It was something we’re going to remember.”

It was Austin’s second visit to Bermuda as he travels the world sharing his story.

The video of his Gombey dance has since swept social media. Austin’s reception at local schools has been especially profound, his father said.

“We speak at schools and try to inspire the kids there to be brave and follow their dreams,” Mr Riley added.

Autism or not, many are all too familiar with the feeling of not belonging, of not quite fitting in, and “just trying to keep their heads down”, he said.

“Unfortunately for Austin, being unable to fit in is part of his life. If Austin can do it, with autism, ADHD and fine motor problems, anyone can do it.”