In the summer of 1974 a sixteen-year-old boy with autism named Lance Rice began collecting beer cans and never stopped. Beer became Lance’s passion and while most kids his age were stealing a few brews from dad’s fridge, Lance didn’t drink beer at all. He collected it and began researching brewing history. Beer cans began lining Lance’s walls and brewery stickers and brochures filled his drawers. As so many touched by autism do, Lance found his singular focus – beer.
It’s hard to imagine how Lance’s mom and dad felt. Most parents want nothing more than for their children to be safe and succeed, which is why statements from teenagers like “I’m going to be an actor” or “I’m focusing on my band” are met with sentiments like, “good for you champ… but there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ business degree.” No parent wants to see their child struggle. Lance was a teenager with autism who rarely spoke and was crippled by phobias and he finally found his passion – and it was beer? If Lance’s mom and dad worried about Lance’s future, they kept their fears at bay and encouraged Lance. They let beer be Lance’s real plan, but in their hearts they must have thought “what’s our boy ever going to do with beer cans and brewing trivia?” Yet in an era when autism was much less understood, Lance was given a life in which his autism and unique focus were accepted.
Lance dedicated the next forty years of his life to collecting brewing memorabilia and memorizing the history of beer all from his bedroom. He never left home. He never lived without his mother by his side. And he never gave up his passion for beer. Lance wasn’t a recluse but autism, social phobias and fears limited Lance’s world to his mom’s house and a few sites along his routine bike route that usually involved a trip to the library for beer books and ended at a small convenient store Lance frequented to see if new or updated beer cans had been released. Into his mid fifties, Lance’s world was this loop: bedroom. library. convenient store. bedroom. But somewhere along the way, Lance began dreaming about visiting breweries and writing his own book about American brewing history. What a beautiful dream! What an impossible dream.
Lance had never set out on his own without a parent or guardian and the energy and resources it would take to keep him safe and healthy on a lengthy trip would be incredible. To take on a brewery tour, Lance would have to face fears and phobias that limited him since childhood. Not to mention, Lance has trouble with writing and grammar and struggles to use computers even at the most basic level. With years ticking by and the odds stacked against him, Lance never gave up hope.
Then In 2013, Lance’s nephew Aaron offered to try and help Lance pursue his dream. He began sharing Lance’s story online and calling breweries to see if they would allow Lance to visit. That’s when the generosity and belief of countless incredible people, families, breweries and organizations around the world made it possible for Lance and his nephew to begin an improbable nationwide journey to visit America’s breweries. With unbelievable support and contributions from people who learned Lance’s story, Lance’s Brewery Tour began. With a small team dedicated to capturing Lance’s story and helping him travel the country, Lance’s journey took on a life of its own. The biggest breweries in America began opening their doors to Lance. Lance’s Brewery Tour, a dream forty years in the making, was a reality and it was growing beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
All told, Lance spent over two years traveling the country. He met the most influential people in American brewing and saw firsthand the history, architecture and culture of brewing that he’d loved and memorized since 1974. With breweries and people nationwide sharing Lance’s story, a movement to give hope sprung from Lance’s Brewery Tour. The beer and autism communities publicly rallied around Lance and his cause. From breweries like Sam Adams, Dogfish Head even Anheuser-Busch to charities like Autism Speaks, Lance’s story was embraced and shared around the world and the idea that Lance’s journey could help others with disabilities became a reality. In 2014, a charity called Lance’s Room was established in Lance’s honor to give back to those touched by autism and disabilities.
However, the journey took a toll and Lance’s time on the road came to an end – but for Lance and his nephew the end of an exhausting brewery tour was just the beginning. Despite countless miracles and public recognition, setbacks and heartbreaks in the years that followed 2015 put Lance’s lifelong dream at risk of never being fulfilled. For a brief moment Lance’s story was prominent in the brewing and autism communities. It was almost impossible to miss. But like most things in life, the most beautiful parts of Lance’s story are the pieces that remain unknown and untold.
While Lance’s public successes were remarkable, his true story is one of perseverance and hope – a hope that endures today. After dedicating forty years of his life to beer, Lance began pursuing his dream for the first time in his mid-fifties. Lance is now approaching sixty years old and the fulfillment of his dream is still an unknown, which is why Lance’s motto rings true now more than ever, “If you believe in yourself, have hope in yourself and never give up, dreams can come true.”
This autism awareness month, Lance’s story is a beautiful reminder of the power of acceptance, perseverance and hope. Lance’s parents supported his passion for beer forty years before it ever amounted to anything. It took Lance more than half a century to set out on his own to pursue his dream. With the finish line so close yet still unknown for Lance and the team of people that continue to quietly support him, Lance’s story is proof that some journeys are worth a lifetime.
Lance Rice’s life and journey are the subject of a soon-coming feature length documentary called Lance’s Brewery Tour. To learn more about Lance’s Autism Charity visit lancesroom.org.