Sheckler Elementary students shown anything is possible
“When you believe in you, you can live your dreams.”
— Lloyd Bachrach
Sheckler Elementary School students got to look at the world a little differently during a special assembly Oct. 3. Paralympian Lloyd Bachrach, from Chicago, presented his Yes, You Can program for the students.
Bachrach was born with a congenital bone deficiency that left his legs unusually small. As he explained to the students, with his artificial legs, he stands 5 feet 8 inches; without them, he is under 4 feet tall. At no point in his life did Bachrach let this stop him from doing anything he wanted.
“In life, we all have challenges,” he told the students.
He emphasized the important thing is how you handle the challenges that come your way.
Bachrach explained to the students different ways people could get a disability, including an accident, illness or simply being born with it like he was.
Bachrach then shared his story with the students. He reported that after his birth, the doctor told his mother that the bones in his legs were too small and that he would never be able to walk. According to Bachrach, the doctor recommended his mother lock him away in an institution. This news was met with outcries from the students. Bachrach quickly explained his parents sought a second opinion immediately.
“A disability that affects his legs doesn’t affect his brain. Bring Lloyd home and give him a chance,” the second doctor told his parents.
This doctor explained Bachrach would simply find different ways to do things to compensate for his disability.
They brought him home and, sure enough, he found a way. He spent his first few years in a cast covering his entire bottom half. He said this made crawling difficult, so he pulled himself along with just his arms. Even after the casts were removed, Bachrach used his arms to help him walk and to go up and down stairs. His parents noticed his arms were getting stronger and figured building up those muscles would only help him in life. They were right.
At age 3, Bachrach started swim lessons and swam for most of his life. He is currently a certified SCUBA diver.
Bachrach detailed his time in school and some of the “dream makers” who helped him along the way. The first was his school principal, who allowed him to attend public school at a time when those with disabilities were usually sent to a special school. Another was his gym teacher, who encouraged Bachrach to get into sports. These figures never saw his disability as a limitation and encouraged Bachrach to do more than was expected from someone in his position.
“I could overcome my disability and my obstacle in life by doing sports,” Bachrach told the students.
He played second base in Little League Baseball and discovered gymnastics when he got to high school.
After winning medals in gymnastics and finishing fifth in the state of Illinois during his senior year, Bachrach wanted more. Since he only competed in three of the six gymnastics events, he could not go on to compete at the Olympics. That was when he heard about the Paralympic Games.
The Paralympic Games is a major international multisport event involving athletes with a range of disabilities. These disabilities can include limb deficiency, impaired muscle power or range of movement or vision or intellectual impairment, as well as a long list of others.
Unfortunately for Bachrach, gymnastics was not one of the events offered, but this did not stop him. As he had his entire life, Bachrach looked upon this as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This was an opportunity to grow and excel in another area. He decided on sitting volleyball. In this sport, athletes sit and slide across the floor while playing. Sitting volleyball uses a smaller court and lower net, and the game is notably faster than standing volleyball. Bachrach competed in the 1996 Paralympic Games.
To demonstrate this sport for the students, Bachrach asked Principal Eric Dauberman and school counselor Kirsten DeMatto to assist him. They all sat on the floor and played a little game of sitting volleyball. The students were able to see how difficult the game is and got a good laugh watching their principal and counselor sliding around on the floor.
Bachrach mentioned that around the time he went to high school, he got his artificial legs. He took the time to show off his legs to the students and how they offer him more control when walking. After explaining how his fake legs work, Bachrach showed off his real legs. This involved a demonstration of running, dancing and even some gymnastics moves. These were met with a roar of applause from the students.
Bachrach challenged the students to think differently. He told them he does not like the word handicapped and prefers not to use the word disabled. Bachrach’s term of choice is “differently abled.” He explained to the students he is still able to do things, he just does them in a different way.
“Don’t we all do things our own special way? There isn’t one single way of doing things,” he said.
Bachrach shared his five keys to success with the students. They are build high self esteem, have a positive attitude, set goals, persevere and take care of your health. He emphasized one’s health is not only physical health, but also mental health.
“When you can be a friend to someone, take a chance,” he said.
Bachrach encouraged all the students to think differently when they meet people now. He urged them not to judge someone based on their appearance or abilities, but rather to take time to get to know who they are.
Bachrach made sure to emphasize to the students that they are all unique and have their own gifts and special abilities. He told them he believes in them and knows they can do great things if they believe in themselves.
“The only limitations we have are the limitations we place on ourselves,” he said.