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Triple-amputee cyclist urges students to overcome handicap of prejudice
ARLINGTON You may have noticed that I look a little different from the rest of you, said triple-amputee Bob Mortimer, as he spoke to the student Respect teams of the Arlington School District at the Linda M. Byrnes Performing Arts Center Sept. 25. One of my ears hangs a little lower than the other, and Im sure thats why some of you have been staring at me.
Mortimer, who had his left arm and both of his legs amputated after a drug-and alcohol-related accident in his youth, served as the opening speaker for the 2007-2008 Respect kick-off, using humor and stories of his own life to tie into the student-inspired civility campaign that ASD Superintendent Linda Byrnes explained to the audience of elementary, middle and high school students.
We call it the tipping point, said Byrnes, who pointed to the number of suspensions due to verbal and physical disrespect. Its the idea that you can create large social changes by tinkering with small details. Civility is about respect, and the only way it works is if we expect it from everyone in the school district and community. By shaping your environment in that way, it allows you to become better students.
While Mortimer was quick to joke about his missing limbs, his quips led into an account of himself as a young man who fell prey to peer pressure to consume drugs and alcohol because he lacked self-respect. This lifestyle caught up with him when he got into an auto accident on the way home from a party, and was struck by power lines from the pole that his car had struck.
Since then, Mortimer has kicked his drug and alcohol habits, married and had four children, and ridden his hand-pedaled tricycle the 206 miles between Seattle to Portland in two days, two years in a row. He plans to follow up this feat by cycling all the way to the Statue of Liberty.
Im wearing this so you wont be lying when you tell people later that you saw a guy with a handicap, said Mortimer, as he donned a baseball cap with the word handy on it. Other than the one Im wearing, I dont have a handicap. I have adjustment that Ive had to make, but so do all of you. The only handicaps any of us have are the ones we place on ourselves, that keep us from being the best that we can be.
Mortimer urged his audience not to compare themselves to others, since he believes that everyone possesses their own unique merits.
A lot of you think you dont measure up, or wish you were someone else, Mortimer said. You dont need to be like anyone else, because youre all one of a kind. Young ladies especially get told they have to be a particular size or weight, but thats marketed beauty, which is meant to keep you dissatisfied with yourselves.
At the same time, Mortimer advocated physical fitness for the young people whom he deemed the greatest generation, while categorizing prejudice as another handicap that they need to abandon.
When you see people picking on, teasing or bullying each other for any reason, whether it because of the color of their skin or even the way they talk, you need to stop it, and stop laughing at it, because everyone deserves respect and dignity, Mortimer said. Thats not the job of your parents or teachers. Thats your job, and you have to have the courage to take a stand against it.