A Journey Through Epilepsy: Chase Rief Charges Toward A Career In Racing
16 year old Chase Rief and co-driver Robert Strauch; Colorado Off Road Extreme in Deer Trail Colorado
Chase Rief is a 16 year old teenager. A typical teenager who, like many teen boys, loves racing. However, unlike most teenage boys, Chase is actually pursuing a career in the world of racing. Wait, you say, that isn't unusual, many teenage boys (and girls) pursue racing in one form or another. Some of those pursuits might be in BMX, karting, dirt bikes, drag racing, flat track racing, or road racing (and by road racing we don't mean finding a street in your local town and challenging the guy with the pieced together Honda on a back road or revving your engine at a stop light hoping that the guy next to you will get the hint). Nope, not the type of racing. We, of course, are referring to legal racing, which is what Rief is tenaciously pursuing. So, what makes Rief different from other teens around the world who desire a career in racing? Rief suffers from epilepsy. Pursuing a career in racing can be difficult enough for a healthy person. Getting into racing with an ongoing illness or condition can sometimes be impossible.
Bottom left to right: Drew Keefe and Kira Gipson. Top left to right: Ken Rief, Chase Rief and Ray Robinson.
Team photo at 2017 CHCA Lands End International Hill Climb.
The journey for the Rief family began back in 2012 when teachers from his former school would tell his parents that he wasn't paying attention and was doing a lot of daydreaming. His parents, Ken and Tammy Rief, took him in to get evaluated by professionals who then diagnosed Chase with Attention Deficit Disorder. Doctors put him on a well-known medication for ADHD. That's when everything began going downhill. Chase began hallucinating, getting nose bleeds, and encountering heart rhythm problems. He was in and out of the emergency room a couple times per week. Chase's health continued to decline. But what was really affecting him, but not yet diagnosed, were "absence seizures" similar to petit mal seizures wherein a person basically blanks out for seconds at a time. "The brain stops processing and just freezes up similar to a slow computer," explained Chase's father, Ken Rief, "and he was dealing with it all the time. It was happening morning, noon and night, along with nose bleeds. We have a dog named Martini and for about a year and a half he kept detecting something and knew something was going on with Chase. Every time Chase had what we called an 'episode', because the doctors were still refusing to diagnose him with epilepsy, the dog would key in on him before an episode began. We got kind of annoyed with the dog because the he wouldn't leave Chase's side. Every time Chase had a nose bleed Martini would be right there." Chase's health continued to decline. He began suffering from a long list of approximately twenty other issues such as high blood pressure, headaches, loss of appetite, over excitement, chest pain, involuntary quivering, joint pain, stomach pain, and throwing up. For every issue Chase suffered from doctors prescribed more pills. Ultimately Chase ended up in a wheelchair for three months. To add insult to injury, his parents were told by professionals that Chase was basically going crazy and most of his issues were all in his head. They recommended he be admitted into a state mental hospital for a 72 hour evaluation. That's when Chase's parents, who still suspected epilepsy, demanded specific tests be performed to pinpoint an accurate diagnosis. Then in January 2015, while waiting for one of those tests to be performed, Chase collapsed in the family kitchen and was rushed to Children's Hospital in Aurora, CO. He was unable to feel his legs, and his vitals were erratic. He ended up having two grand mal seizures in front of the attending nurse. He was immediately admitted and stayed for five days in the neurological unit. The doctors there determined that Chase was suffering toxicity brought on by the ADHD medication he had been taking. After leaving the hospital, they immediately scheduled an appointment with his neurologist and were able to finally have more specific tests performed. A week later, they received the confirmation of what they had suspected all along, Chase had epilepsy, not ADHD. Now they knew what they were dealing with. Their intuition had been right all along. The challenge and nightmare of getting a correct diagnosis seemed to be over. But little did they realize they were about to embark on a whole different set of challenges in helping their son deal with a lifelong condition and helping him fulfill his dream of racing. After his correct diagnosis, the doctors wanted to put Chase on medication for epilepsy. But after his past life-threatening experiences, Chase refused to take more prescribed medication. That's when his neurologist recommended CBD oil (Cannabidiol oil). After doing some research, his parents had found that CBD oil may be able to help their son. The medication is not psychoactive and does not make a person high. His neurologist was on board and willing to be the first signature on his medical marijuana license. In the state of Colorado a minor needs two medical doctors to sign the license. "We do micro dosing with Chase," said Ken Rief. "When we first started this process there was really no open info about kids using CBD oil. It was really frowned upon and we had child protective services trying to step in and charge us. We were able to educate them and after observing Chase they backed off. My wife and I had been online watching these underground Facebook pages of parents trying to figure out how to give their kids the right dosage illegally. There are so many different kinds and levels of epilepsy. It literally comes down to the fact that one dose does not fit all."
Chase Ried and co-driver Robert Strauch at Colorado Off-Road Extreme.
Fast forward two years and it seems Chase is beating the odds. He's been seizure free for over two years. He's a long way from his life in a wheelchair and is walking and running and has even worked the past two summers. He obtained his drivers license last June and has been a co-driver for Ray Robinson (Too High Customs) in two rally events, Continental Divide Hill Climb in Monarch, CO, and Lands End Hill Climb in Grand Junction, CO. They finished 2nd in the Super Stock Truck Class at Monarch, and third in their class at Lands End. Chase then switched seats and drove a 700 hp truck in the Colorado Off Road Extreme (C.O.R.E) event in Deer Trail, CO. This was his first experience behind the wheel of a race car and, along with co-driver Robert Strauch, they crossed the finish line in 2nd place. Chase obviously has the desire to race and shown that he also has the talent. He's working hard toward his goal of racing in the 2018 CHCA (Colorado Hill Climb Association) and possibly racing in a few other clubs or series. He also plans to do ice racing in a quad next season in the Harry Roamers Motorcycle Club. "A 16 year old kid with epilepsy using a schedule-one substance, CBD oil, and racing in a pretty extreme form of racing is just unheard of," said Ken Rief. "Some people were really against it at first and didn't think it was right to give a teenager medical marijuana. Those things just didn't go together. Gradually, most of the CHCA racers have come around because Chase has been going to the races with us since he was a baby. They know his story." When it comes to an attitude of overcoming physical limitations and pushing forward to achieve goals and dreams, the family gives inspirational credit to other racers who are "differently abled" such as Mario Bonfante and the late Travis Tollette. Travis was the first quadriplegic driver to race in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2012. He drove a Polaris RZR XP built by John Stallworth. Chase is a normal kid, who wants to do epic things with his life. He and his family want to educate the public about the benefits of medical marijuana, letting them know that with the right medications, healthy diet, positive mindset, and a solid support system a person can overcome huge obstacles. Ken and Tammy will continue to jump through the necessary hoops in order to help their son succeed in racing.