Hey guys, I’m Zach Veach and I’m 16 years old. For those of you who don’t know me, I am a race car driver for Andretti Autosport, Michael Andretti’s team. I’m a part of INDYCAR’s “Mazda Road to Indy” developmental system with a goal of racing in the Indy 500 in just a few short years. Racing has always been a dream of mine ever since I can remember. I’ve accomplished a lot in a race car, but what I’m most proud about is having the opportunity to help people, especially kids my age, who are just trying to follow their dreams like me!
I’ve encountered and have had to overcome a lot of obstacles in my life, just as most other people and kids my age have had to do. Beyond the racetrack, I’ve had some experience with being bullied. In the eighth grade, I was just eighty pounds and I stood under five feet tall, so you might say I had a target on my back for bullies. Day in and day out I would be laughed at, pushed around, and taunted. One particular experience that stuck with me came right after I achieved third place in a national championship race in Indianapolis.
When a driver ranks in the top three of a particular championship, in addition to a trophy, you also get a special hat. I was really proud of my hat and as soon as I got back to school I wanted to wear it along with my racing shoes and the event t-shirt that I begged my dad to stop and get for me. Well, in the lunchroom that day, one of the football players snatched the hat right off my head and threw it in the trash. That wasn’t enough to satisfy him, so he went a step further and poured milk on it! At the time I was pretty frustrated. I felt angry and alone
Kids who are being bullied should try to remember these four recommendations from the CDC:
- Don’t go it alone. Young people should tell a trusted adult (teacher, parent, coach, etc.) if they are being bullied or know of someone else being bullied. Adults can help the student cope with the experience and work with the student to find a solution.
- Victims aren’t alone. Although victims of bullying may feel like they are the only ones being picked on, the reality is that a lot of kids are bullied. Victims also have other students, their family, and their teachers who can help.
- Help is available. Many schools have prevention programs and policies in place to help and protect kids. These approaches often work to create a school where everyone sees bullying as not acceptable. For example, bystanders would intervene when they see bullying and say “hey, that behavior isn’t cool here.” Teachers also learn how to respond appropriately when it does occur.
- Bullying is not acceptable. Many people falsely believe that bullying is just part of growing up and something we must all experience during our childhood. In reality, bullying can interfere with our school work and hurt the way we feel about ourselves. It is something we must not accept and something we must prevent.
With these things in mind, and with the support of my parents, teachers, and friends, I remained strong and true to who I am. I also used the discouragement from the bully as motivation to do better the next time I was confronted and to follow my dream to prove them wrong. The following weekend I raced in another championship race, and this time, I placed first and received another hat. The next day, the bully got ahold of the new hat too, although this time, I gave it to him voluntarily. I even autographed it for him! That was a proud moment for me. It was an action that spoke louder than any words I could’ve said to him. Now, I am not saying that everyone can (or that you even should) stand up to a bully. If you or someone around you is being bullied, tell someone you trust.
The CDC has also outlined some things that educators, parents, and coaches can do to prevent bullying. They can:
- Improve supervision of students in areas where bullying frequently occurs, in bathrooms, cafeterias, and hallways.
- Use school rules and behavior management techniques in the classroom and throughout the school to detect and address bullying, providing consequences for bullying
- Have a whole school anti-bullying policy, and enforce that policy consistently
- Promote cooperation among different professionals and between school staff and parents
Though I’ve had some experience with bullies, being a race car driver at Andretti Autosport, alongside racing greats like Michael and Mario Andretti and even Danica Patrick, I’m really only in the “teen world” part-time. Having time with adults in the racing world gives me the opportunity to reflect on my life as a kid and learn from the adults around me. Recently, I recognized this and I decided to write a book called 99 Things Teens Wish They Knew Before Turning 16 and I’ve even had the opportunity to go on The Today Show to talk about it. The book takes on issues that kids deal with on a daily basis, including dating, homework, and especially bullying. I used my life’s experiences, combined with what I’ve learned from those around me, to create a concise how-to guide for kids my own age.
Bullying is no joke. It is something I take very seriously. If you feel bullied or mistreated, and think you have no place to turn, know that you are not alone and there is hope. Remain strong and true to yourself. Reach out to someone you trust, ask for help, and remember that bullying is just not acceptable.
*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of Zach Veach, and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of CDC. Any products or companies named in this blog are for informational purposes only, and do not imply endorsement by CDC.
Understanding Bullying, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA 2011.
Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA 2011.
StopBullying.gov, Department of Health & Human Services in partnership with the Department of Education and Department of Justice.
Educational Forum on Adolescent Health: Youth Bullying, American Medical Association. Chicago, IL, 2002.
Bullying Prevention is Crime Prevention, a report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Washington, DC, 2003