Bull’s-eyes Aren’t Found on the Sidelines

Michael Bortolotto is an award-winning author, speaker, and entrepreneur. At 16-months-old, Michael was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but since then he has graduated from university and gone on to deliver more than 6,000 presentations all over North America. He is scheduled to be our plenary speaker a tour Building Inclusive Communities conference once that event has been rescheduled.

We look forward to hearing from him in person. Until then, here is a story that Michael wrote about an early experience with sports that shows how having the right attitude brings people together. There’s a time in our lives when we and ourselves standing on the sidelines watching the action and saying to ourselves, “I’m just as capable as all the other players out there.” It’s at this point that we start initiating the proper steps to move from being an observer to being a contributing participant who is a successful game changer. Unfortunately, there are many people who never get to make the crossover from standing on the sidelines to the playing eld because different members of our society put up obstacles which prevent them. I once stood on the sideline where poor attitudes, discrimination, and lack of understanding of cerebral palsy have blocked my own crossover. My first opportunity to participate, as a real player, came when I was in grade eight. I had started high school and was trying to and a way to t in at my new school. One morning, I found myself on the soccer eld watching the other boys play football. It soon became clear that the two teams were not evenly matched. One team seemed to score almost at will. As I watched the game, I wondered if one team was waiting for more players. Suddenly, one of the player’s shouted to me, “Can you play football? We need one more to make the game fair.” “Sure,” I called back and the boy replied, “Good! You’re going to be the wide receiver, let’s play!” Suddenly, I was in the game, but for how long I wondered. Little did they know about my secret, playing wide-receiver was an impossible position for me to play.

Having Cerebral Palsy meant I couldn’t make my arms and hands catch the football. Once they found out I couldn’t catch the ball, I was sure they’d boot me on the field and my life would slide back to being a spectator on the sidelines. On the very first play I ran down the eld, past the defence, and into an open spot. The quarterback saw me standing alone and threw a quick pass right at me. I raised my arms and hands to catch the ball and my worries became reality as I dropped the ball. Soon all boys surrounded me, and to my surprise, they wanted to know my secret to running and zig-zagging so fast. That’s when I heard someone shout, “Hey, if Michael could catch the football, he’d be unstoppable and the best wide receiver in the game. That’s when they began brainstorming new ideas to get me to catch the football. This was amazing, for the first time in my life, people were looking beyond my disability and focusing on how they could access my unique and eective abilities to win the game.

While thinking of techniques, they came up with some really crazy ideas, which would use my unique running ability and compensate for my trouble catching the ball. The idea they decided to use was for me to become a human bulls-eye. This meant running down the eld, stopping, and then turning towards the quarterback, and letting him hit me with the football, “Bulls-eye”! This sounded like a really painful and dangerous idea to me. We decided right away to try the idea. They told me to run down the eld twenty- five yards, stop, turn around, and don’t move. So that’s exactly whatI did and sure enough it worked without a problem, but just as I’d thought, the ball hurt when it hit me. Over the next three week every time we played football I was unstoppable! Unfortunately, although I loved playing in the game, I knew I couldn’t continue because of the pain and bruising thatI was experiencing.

One morning, I secretly decided to change my technique and without saying anything, I tried a new Kung-fu style stance to catch the ball. The idea was to protect my chest from being further hurt by the football hitting it. When the ball came towards me, I moved my hands in circles to try to keep the ball from hitting my chest, and that’s when I accidentally caught the ball! All the players on both teams stopped and stood in silence over what just happened. One boy yelled, “You said you can’t catch a football and I just watched you do it.” Another boy asked me, “How did I do that?” and I replied, “I don’t know!”.

The quarterback told me to stand ten yards away from everyone, and he started throwing the ball to me andI kept catching it. The more I caught the ball, the bigger the smiles on the boys’ faces became. Finally, one boy yelled, “Bulls-eye! Wexed him.” Over the years, I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out why and how my hands were able to catch that ball. The conclusion is quite simple: when we open our minds and focus on empowering people who are different by collaborating with them, we all benefit from hitting the bulls-eye, and enabling someone’s unique talents, skills, and abilities.

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