Sunday, April 18, 2010

Marc DePerno, USA team leader, wins Spirit Award

Marc DePerno, team leader for the 2010 Paralympic wheelchair curling team, has received an O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award after being nominated by James Joseph.

The O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award honors those frequently left behind the scenes. Those who ignited the spark. Encouraged the dream. Awakened the quest for glory. It honors those who will never receive a medal of their own. But instead made it possible for someone else.

Here's Jimmy's nomination letter:

They say a person's true character is best demonstrated when they sacrifice their time and resources to help those in need.

On October 15, 1987, I was working for Waste Management emptying a trash bin into my dump truck when I was struck from behind. A truck pinned me in between both vehicles.  The extensive trauma resulted in the amputation of both my legs, but my life was spared.  I was 25 years old and suddenly had no direction in life.  I spent the next 16 years working random jobs and partying with my friends. I lived a life that truly had no meaning.

In 2003, I learned of the Sitrin Success through Adaptive Recreation and Sports program in my neighborhood and contacted the program director.  I spent 15 minutes talking with Marc DePerno on the phone that day, learning about the opportunity to engage in sports such as wheelchair basketball, racing and curling.  I couldn't believe that this stranger wanted to help me. He encouraged me to come to his office immediately.  Little did I know, my life was about to change.

Initially, Marc taught me how to play wheelchair basketball and secured a grant for me to receive my own sport wheelchair.  He then assisted me with training for a local wheelchair road race and even managed to find a way to get me my own custom-fit racing wheelchair.  He introduced me to kayaking and canoeing as well.  But my most life changing experience came when he introduced me to wheelchair curling.  From the moment I threw my first stone in December of 2004, I fell in love with the sport.  Since that time, I have won six U.S. National Championships, represented the United States at four World Championships and two Paralympic Winter Games, and won a bronze medal at the 2008 World Championships.  Throughout the entire process, Marc has been by my side serving as my mentor, my guide and my friend.  The countless hours he has spent away from his family to develop the STARS program and assist me, and dozens of others with disabilities, speaks volumes to his character.

These past seven years have been the most productive of my life, not just based on my athletic accomplishments, but rather the things I've done off the field of play.  Marc taught me that I could use my disability as a platform to educate others.  He and I have traveled to numerous schools and community events promoting disability awareness.  We routinely interview on our local radio and television networks.  We speak with individuals who are recovering from traumatic injuries at rehabilitation centers and hospitals so they can realize the opportunities that lie before them.  Additionally, I was nominated by Senator Joseph Griffo for the New York State Senate Achiever's Award as well as inducted into the central New York Optimus Hall of Fame for my commitment to serving as a role model in my community.  These things were unfathomable to me earlier in my life when meaning and purpose was lost.

My life has changed 180 degrees, thanks to Marc's intervention.  Based on my new found direction in life, my wife and I decided to have a child and welcomed our angel, Janaya Rose into this world three years ago.  She comes to my basketball and curling games and has become our team cheerleader.  I know my life would not be as fulfilling if I was not involved with Marc.

Marc's message is one of ability, not disability.  Experiencing physical trauma isn't the end of being "you", rather a new chapter in your life. With his guidance and inspiration, my life story has become a best seller.

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