Steamboat mountain biker guides teammate with autism, epilepsy |

Steamboat mountain biker guides teammate with autism, epilepsy

From left, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club mountain bike team members Colten Casavecchia and Aaron Peterson prepare for practice outside of the Howelsen Hill Lodge on Monday, Sept. 23.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colten Casavecchia doesn’t talk much.

At least, that’s what his mom Jennifer says. Teammate and friend Aaron Peterson says otherwise.

Aaron has gotten close with Colten over the past month as Aaron has accompanied Colton on mountain bike races as part of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

Colten has autism, so he isn’t the most vocal communicator. To a stranger, he might whisper one-word answers, if he answers at all. But to Aaron, who he’s grown familiar with, he’s apparently talkative.

“Getting to know him, he does talk quite a bit on the trail when I prompt him,” Aaron said.

Aaron, who decided he’d rather train with the team than race, is there just in case Colten has a seizure on the trail, as he also suffers from epilepsy.

SSWSC Cycling Director Blair Seymour initiated the pairing, knowing that Colten needed someone on the course with him, and Aaron didn’t want to compete this season.

Aaron obliged. He said he didn’t even realize his new riding partner had autism at first.

“Aaron’s got a great heart. He has no judgment with Colten,” Jennifer Casavecchia said. “When I walked into school, they were eating lunch together. He’s kind of taken him under his wing and guided him.”

Biking with a group of his peers has already revealed positive impacts on Colten.

“He’s more awake,” Jennifer said. “He definitely struggles because he has epilepsy, and he’s medicated, but I think mountain biking has brought his endorphins up, and he is more awake.”

Autism often comes with difficulty communicating or reading social cues, but Jennifer said Colten is great at making eye contact but just takes longer to let people know how he’s feeling.

Even as they’ve gotten closer, sometimes Colten offers Aaron nothing more than a smile. Colten also dazes out frequently, but Aaron takes no offense.

“I have ADD (attention deficit disorder),” Aaron said. “I don’t space off as much, but it does happen. I do space off; I do blank stuff. I see that in him, and I can kind of relate to him in that aspect.”

Aaron isn’t Colten’s only supporter, though. As Colten wheeled across the Howelsen Lodge parking lot and toward the team for practice, his teammates shouted his name.

“His peers are good to him, believe it or not,” Jennifer said. “They are very encouraging. He doesn’t respond to them. Maybe they think he doesn’t like them, but they’re good to him.”

When Colten finishes near the end of the freshmen boys mountain bike race, his teammates are there at the finish, cheering him on.

“It feels good,” Colten said of the support.

The cheers were even louder on Sunday, Sept. 22, at Granby as Colten finished the third race of the season in 167th place out of 172 riders.

During his first race with the team, back on Aug. 25 in Frisco, Colten completed just one of the two laps, taking pride in that and refusing to get back on the bike despite encouragement. On his home course on Emerald Mountain on Sept. 8, the freshman rider completed both laps for the first time.

Aaron was already riding a bit behind Colten at Granby when Aaron paused to help an injured rider. Colten was moving so fast, Aaron said he had to cut the course to catch up with him.

“It’s a good thing I can’t catch up,” Aaron said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned from him — how to pace myself.”

If Colten completes two laps at the next race in Eagle, he could potentially go to state at Durango on Oct. 19.

“I don’t have a goal,” Colten said, offering nothing more than a nervous laugh when asked if he feels confident completing two laps. 

One lap or two, state or not, it’s clear Colten will be cheered on by his teammates regardless.

“The thing I like the best about it is, with autism, often times it’s the social part that’s the hard part,” Seymour said. “So, making sure they’re included in that group and creating those social environments and encouraging him to interact is a really important aspect of life.”

Race No. 3 – Granby Ranch Round Up
Sunday, Sept. 22
Steamboat finishers
Varsity boys:
43. Alden Wade 2:04.10.96.
Varsity girls: 22. Eliza Fox 1:44.06.82.
Junior varsity boys: 45. Gunnar Gilbertson 1:30.13.26. 67. Jaxson Fryer 1:35.00.46. 90. Derek Pettigrew 1:39.26.72. 107. Dylan Kuntz 1:42.28.99. 141. Teale Carlsson 1:52.30.09.
Junior varsity girls: 24. Rose Epstein 1:18.44.78. 29. Elena Wittmyer 1:21.49.51.
Sophomore boys: 36. Keegan Millen 1:01.18.98. 39. Max Hamilton 1:01.46.16. 47. Colvin Vickles 1:02.41.74. 131. Damion Rhodes 1:47.55.7.
Freshman boys: 1. Caleb Haack 52:17.61. 6. Thomas Cooper 57:22.11. 92. Samuel Acosta-Pabley 1:15.36.36. 167. Colten Casavecchia 1:37.33.81.
Freshman girls: 43. Aidan Kerrigan 1:35.28.02. 48. Madeline Rochon 1:41.37.85.

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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