Former MSU Basketball player Anthony Ianni on his Relentless Tour

In the midst of an all-out full-fledged tour of the state of Michigan to share his message on autism awareness and anti-bullying, to say Anthony Ianni is busy these days would be an understatement.

Ianni, who suffered from pervasive developmental disorder (a type of autism) as a child and was also a target of bullying, overcame those obstacles to become a walk-on basketball player at Michigan State University, where he graduated with a degree in sociology in 2012.

Ever since his days at Michigan State came to an end though, Ianni has now turned his focus upon helping people as both a public and motivational speaker, where he has now pledged to visit 659 schools in one year, leaving behind his message on anti-bullying and autism awareness along the way.

Ianni delivering his message to families at the ASD Family Support Group meeting at Heartwood School in Mason, Michigan back in March before the tour began. (Photo by David Harns)

Ianni delivering his message to families at the ASD Family Support Group meeting at Heartwood School in Mason, Michigan back in March before the tour began. (Photo by David Harns)

The idea to visit 659 schools in one year is all part of Ianni’s Relentless Tour, which began on Oct. 17 in Lansing, and according to Ianni, was thought of after two weeks of working with his PR team.

“We had a meeting and they approached me with the idea of the tour and I just sat there thinking to myself that this will work,” Ianni said.

And as for the planning of the tour, Ianni admits that was certainly a part of this whole ordeal that was difficult in the beginning…but not for long.

“We then reached out to some schools to tell them what we were doing and get them in the books,” Ianni said. “After the press event to launch the tour we didn’t do the calling, the schools were calling us which made things a lot easier for me and my team.”

However, according to Ianni, the tour wouldn’t be possible without the help of his sponsors to help him get this project off the ground. According to Relentless Tour’s Website, someone can become one of these sponsors by paying $88 to join the Relentless Club, helping to fund Ianni’s mission as well as having the chance at various other opportunities.

“We had to get the sponsors set in stone first,” Ianni said. “Without them the tour probably isn’t going to happen.”

And that brings Ianni to where he is today, traveling all over the place and speaking out against bullying and raising awareness for autism.

To get an idea on just how busy Ianni has been though, take a four-day period in mid-November for example. According to Ianni, mixed in with his state-wide tour, his speaking engagements took him from Greensboro, N.C. on Wednesday and Thursday all the way to Windsor, Canada on Friday, and Milwaukee, Wis. that Saturday.

“I will travel back home (from Milwaukee) Sunday morning,” Ianni said before the busy week began. “Then next Tuesday I will be stopping at Flat Rock High School before I enjoy a few days off during Thanksgiving week. So I’m a busy guy these days, but I don’t mind it at all because I love doing what I do.”

And amidst all this travel, Ianni acknowledges the fact that his schedule has, at times, gotten a bit hectic.

“There already have been times where I’m doing more than one school a day or even more than one presentation a day,” Ianni said. “When I was in Traverse City end of October I did six speaking engagements in less than 24 hours, it may have been exhausting but like in basketball I just keep feeding off of adrenaline.“

And while Ianni travels from school to school, speaking at event after event, he leaves behind a message of hope and inspiration wherever he goes.

According to Kristin DeLeeuw, an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) teacher at Flatrock High school, after hearing Ianni’s story, she felt it was important to bring him in and have him share his message with the kids, especially it being the first year of having the ASD program at the high school.

“Part of the reason I wanted to bring Anthony in was that I wanted to give an example of somebody who has autism who is very successful and was able to persevere,” DeLeeuw said. “I thought it was important for him to come out to the school and be able to learn from him for my students as well as the general population of the building…And the students really enjoyed having him here, a lot of them were saying his story was inspirational.”

In addition to his speaking engagements, in recognition for the work he’s been doing over the past year or so, Ianni was nominated as a finalist for the Detroit Pistons Game Changer of the year award.

According to the Detroit Pistons Website, the award goes to people who are making a difference in their communities through service, leadership or volunteering. Contestants were nominated by fellow community members, family or friends and the winner of the award would receive a 2013 Chrysler 300C.

And after a voting period that lasted well over a month, in the end, Ianni ended up a close second.

However, despite losing out on the car, Ianni took the loss in stride and was just grateful for all the support he received along the way.

“An award doesn’t define who I am or what I do,” Ianni said. “It’s me that defines myself and the work that I do.”

“The support throughout the whole contest was just incredible,” he said. “I’m just so blessed to know that I have a lot of people in my corner and who love me for who I am and what I do. I wouldn’t trade the support I have now for a Chrysler 300C at all. The support I have today and I had throughout the contest is so much better than any award or fancy car.”

And while Ianni continues on with his state-wide tour, no matter how exhausting or busy it may get at times, he knows that what he’s doing will be more than worth it in the end, bringing up the point that he wants to take the tour nation-wide, as well write an autobiography of his story sometime in the near future.

“It may be tiring on some days, but this will be the kind of thing that will give people hope, inspiration and awareness for autism as well as anti-bullying,” Ianni said.