Northern Michigan University's annual Uniting Neighbors in the Experience of Diversity Conference wrapped up Thursday. NMU invited a paralympian medalist to speak to a group of hundreds of fifth and sixth graders from Marquette and Alger County schools about his experiences and triumphs through adversity.
Chris Waddell has won 13 medals in his paralympic career (12 during the Winter Paralympics) in ski and wheelchair racing. He retired after the 2004 Paralympics in Athens and now often makes appearances internationally as a motivational speaker. NMU invited him to speak during the UNITED Conference, and his appearance was sponsored by Upper Peninsula Health Plan. He has actually presented in Marquette before, after he was inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame in Ishpeming.
The name of Waddell's presentation is "Nametags," a presentation he gives a couple hundred times a year. Waddell founded the non-profit One Revolution, through which he tries to get people to look beyond the nametags that limit them.
"We want to change the way that the world sees people with disabilities by highlighting our universal struggle, a variety of struggles. Some are more visible than others. Sometimes the ones that are more visible are easier to deal with. The thing is, if we acknowledge that we all have a struggle, maybe we can look beyond the struggles to see the individual and see what we can learn from the individual," said Waddell.
Much of the presentation also focused on anti-bullying, accepting and embracing diversity, and successful people throughout history that have had physical or mental disabilities.
Waddell says that if it weren't for his ski accident 20 years ago that paralyzed him from the waist down, he never would have been the best at anything.
"He's very inspiring actually, so I actually took his words to heart, and I'm very proud of what he does, and I think it's just very nice and very sweet what he does," said Faith Guizetti, a sixth grader from Bothwell Middle School.
"I learned that you can adapt to whatever happens to you, and it's not what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you," said Jack Teichman, also a sixth grader from Bothwell.
That was the central message behind Waddell's presentation.
"Our motto is really my personal motto as well. It's the idea that it's not what happens to you, it's what you do with what happens to you. Things are going to go wrong, and it's not what goes wrong, it's what you do about what goes wrong," Waddell said.
More about Waddell and his non-profit can be found here: http://www.one-revolution.com/
"One Revolution" is also the name of the documentary he made when he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro after his accident. The video can also be found on the website.