On Wednesday, November 28, we had an inspirational guest speaker, Michael Bortolotto, share his touching story with us. Using his experiences of growing up with Cerebral Palsy, he showed us how anything is possible as long as we are determined. He shared his ups, his downs, and most importantly his successes in life. He truly made me believe that anything is possible.
Michael was born with Cerebral Palsy which is a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions, such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. It can be caused by injuries to the brain. Most of these problems happen as the baby grows in the womb, but they can happen during the growth of the baby’s brain which can last up to two years. Michael was only affected by large and small muscle coordination and the clarity of his speech for many years — luckily he could hear and see very well. Years of physiotherapy, exercises, determination, courage, and dedication have helped him a great deal.
Michael grew up in the Sayward and Kelsey Bay area and loved having a “normal” life — fishing, hiking, biking, ice skating and chopping firewood with his family. It was not until he moved to Campbell River that he faced new challenges. Being different from the other kids, Michael was bullied all through school and found it difficult to make friends. He had trouble fitting in. Just holding a pencil was a struggle for him on the first day of school especially with all the other kids teasing him. He explained to us that, during lunch hour, he would stand at the wall and watch the other kids play together, wishing he could take part. “Go away we don’t play with idiots,” they would say to him. Even after graduating from South Gate Secondary School in 1981 and getting a diploma in both Recreation and Science from Malaspina University in 1987, he still had problems finding a job because he was disabled.
Michael eventually lived on the streets of Nanaimo. “I had twenty dollars to my name,” he said. One day he received a phone call asking him to do a speech. His first thought was, “No way would I ever do that!” Then they told him how much they would pay him — he knew then it was the best thing to do. This was the day his life turned around. He began doing more speeches, and he was on his way to a new life. He is now married and has a three year old boy that challenges him everyday.
Michael showed us that we can face our everyday challenges as long as we follow three simple words: passion, talent, and action. Passion means finding your dreams and following them, talent means finding what you’re good at and combining the two. Action means doing something about it!
He then passed a football around the gym and told us that the doctors said he would never physically be able to catch a ball but there he was, doing it. He told us as soon as he surrounded himself with positive people, he believed in himself, and practiced. He was soon able to accomplish his wishes. He has given 2,600 speeches for more than 860,000 people in Canada and the United States of America. Michael won the Paul Harris award in 2002, joined his high school’s wall of fame in 2003, was voted a top citizen of Nanaimo in 2006, and was chosen top entrepreneur with a disability in British Columbia by Community Futures and Western Canadian Diversity Corporation in 2009.
Michael is walking and living proof that you can do anything you want to as long as you set your mind to it and believe in yourself. Michael also had a message for the people of the North Island. He said, “One of the gems of this community is the schools and the kids that go here. The youth are great people. Embrace each one the best and most you can. Follow your dreams and good luck.”