Bill whips his car off the ramp and enters into the school’s busy parking lot; he quickly pulls into a space. It is around 7:25 a.m. He exits his vehicle and nonchalantly walks to the employee entrance.
Me: “Good Morning Bill”
Bill: “Good Morning Mrs. Cain
Me: “How are you?”
Bill: His face brightens with a warm smile, “I’m good!”
We enter the building and head toward the supervisor’s office to sign in on the daily sheets. After initialing next to our names on the sheets, we exchange well wishes for the day and move on in opposite directions.
Why am I writing about seemingly ordinary exchanges between me and a colleague? Because Bill is anything but ordinary; he’s quite an incredible guy who just might stir you enough for you to reflect on your personal and/or professional life.
Born at the Jersey Shore 39 years ago, Bill arrived in this world kicking and screaming like most newborns. However, Bill’s life has been extraordinary. He was born with two legs, two feet, but no arms. His birth defect is thought to be linked to Afrin Nasal Spray. Bill has one sister that is five years older. She was born without any birth defects.
Immediately after giving birth, typically a mom seek reassurance from the doctor that her baby is okay and instinctively count fingers and toes to make sure that all other faculties are in order. Can you imagine the shock and disbelief his mother experienced? I can. My daughter was born with amniotic band syndrome. She has grown up to be a witty, beautiful, and confident young woman.
Bill is a normal, self-sufficient adult living a productive life. In 1997, he earned a B.S. degree in Geology. He is now employed as a science teacher in the same urban high school where I work. Over the years, Bill taught himself how to swim, to ski, and to play soccer. He was also a pinch runner for a local baseball team. His passion for soccer lead him to coach soccer in his community for nearly 10 years and to work as assistant soccer coach for our high school soccer team.
He did not use his physical challenges as an excuse to limit himself. I love it!
Here I am with all of my limbs; know how to swim, but fear deep waters in the worst way. Every time I attempt to swim through the deep end of my pool, I freeze up and doggie paddle to the side and hold on to the ledge with one hand while I paddle through the deep end with the other hand. My heart races as if I ran 10 miles. I now realize how ridiculous my actions are. This summer when I swim in my pool and hesitate to swim through the deep end, I will think of Bill and push myself right through it.
For a few years now, I watched Bill, drive into the parking lot, enter the building, sign in and simply go about his every day routine… which appears to be effortlessly. I often tell my children, that sometimes parents make being an adult seem to be easier than it really is. In Bill’s case, the situation is probably the same.
His feet function as a substitute for his arms. He styles his hair, shaves; types, read, and can do just about everything that you or I can do. Prosthesis is something Bill never wanted. His parents tried to make him use them, but he resisted and does just fine without them. He says prosthesis are awkward and difficult to maneuver.
For the longest time, I desperately want to get to know Bill and to hear his story. Finally, one day I found the courage to approach him and asked if we could talk—I told Bill about my blog and that I wanted to write about him. Graciously, he agreed.
Anyway, each time I see Bill, I am amazed. I am enthused by his courage, his will, his energy, and most of all, his positive attitude. It is difficult to imagine the emotional, physical, psychological challenges that he’s gone through to progress to his current place in life.
Seeing Bill daily and thinking about him helps me to maintain my appetite and eagerness to worker harder to carry out my personal and professional goals. It’s hard to explain, but seeing him makes me question myself.
Am I being the best person that I can be? Am I pushing myself hard enough? In what area in my life do I lack confidence? How can I be better? Honestly, I never thought that someone whom I haven’t spent a great deal of time with, would affect me this way.
Bill was blessed with two incredibly loving parents Smart parents who nurtured him and figured out the best way to raise him. They figured out how to help him to evolve into the man that he is today; a man with an “I can do it” attitude.
Due to his physical challenges, he started his schooling at a special service pre-school. When it was time to start Kindergarten, his parents fought (with the help of an attorney) for his right to attend public school. Bill was the first disabled student in Atlantic County to gain admittance to a public school. The feat opened the doors for others.
Because he was learning how to use his legs and feet to perform daily tasks, his parents required him to wear a helmet (for his own safety). Was he teased in school? “No more than the average kid.” Amazing right? It would have been easy for Bill to feel as though he was teased because of his physical condition, yet he did not. Attitude is everything!
I was curious about how his students respond to him in the classroom … A supervisor commented, “You have the wow factor!” When students first walk into Bill’s classroom and see him, they are surprised and curious. However, once the school year settles in and they realize that he can hold his own and is the same as other teachers, they can move beyond the initial shock.
I sincerely hope that his mere presence and optimism in the classroom is contagious and motivates students to try to to do their very best.
What’s next for Bill? While continuing his career in education, his next goal is to obtain a Master’s degree in Special Education.
The next time you feel as though you can’t do something, I urge you to think of Bill. As the saying goes, “Whether you think you can or not, you are right.”
Bill’s advice to others,
“If there’s something that you want, go for it. Try hard. You may not achieve your goal, but you can get as close to it as possible.”
I am grateful to Bill for sharing his story with me and for allowing me to share his story with you.
Thank you Bill! Enjoy your summer break!