By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an on-going series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes reside among us and that they serve as quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too.
Every year, Henrico’s (VA) Deep Run High School holds a dance marathon to help local charities. The event is wildly successful raising over $1 million since its inception in 2007. The kids start their dancing on Friday night and 27 shaking hours later the exhausted participants rightly toast their accomplishment with some donated punch and soft drinks. This year they toasted more than a marathon.
Sophomore Michael Schiavo was the top fund-raiser this year bringing in an impressive $7,161 in donations. But according to Michael, he got a lot more than he gave. Michael suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. DMD is a genetic based dystrophy that attacks 1 in 3600 boys. It usually manifests itself in infancy and causes a wasting away of muscle tissue that is replaced with fat and fibrotic tissue leading to fibrosis. The average life expectancy for patients afflicted with DMD is around 25.
Michael Schiavo felt like an outcast as a freshman at Deep Run. Most of the kids accepted him but he was invisible for most of them leading to a lonely existence as he motored through the halls in his wheelchair. We all know how isolating high school can be. Imagine it in a wheel chair. All that changed at last year’s preparations for the dance marathon. Putting away his shyness, Michael spoke to the whole school about something close to him. Michael proposed adding Canine Companions for Independence to the list of benefited charities. Canine Companions provides highly trained assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities.
During that speech from the heart something changed at Deep Run High School. The speech was about his service dog and his desire to be accepted. “’Last year, I didn’t have really any friends,” he said. Continuing, Michael challenged his fellow students to ignore the “400 pounds of metal between us” and say hello in the hallway.
After the speech, “all these people were coming up to me crying and hugging me and I had no clue who they were,” Schiavo beamed. That’s right, self-conscious, class-conscious, and sometimes detached high school kids in one of the Richmond area’s wealthiest high schools took a kid into their heart and made the realization that the admonition to be your brother’s keeper is written much deeper than some text on a page.
Now, kids from his school wanted to hang out with Michael. Some even borrowed the family’s lift equipped van to take Michael out for ice cream. A small, routine rite of passage for most kids, but a “first” for Michael.
“Because of this, I have a lot of friends now. I feel comfortable at school,” Schiavo said. “It’s hard to put myself out there like that, but it was worth it.” His mother, Susan, sees the change, too. “He’s always been a happy kid,” she said. “It’s not like he’s different (now), but there’s a joy that I can’t describe … joy that he gets from hanging out with kids his own age.”
And how did Michael raise all that money for charity? E-mails and follow-up, of course. In those communications he explained how the marathon had changed his life for the better and how it could happen for others. The crassness just fell away and the money started to roll in. But just maybe the real reason for Michael’s success comes from the person who knows Michael best: “If it’s the right thing, it’s not a big deal to him,” she said. “Michael is just pure love. I don’t know if he’s aware that he always sees the good in people.”
If Easter is about hope, renewal, and overcoming the things of this world that separate us, I offer Michael Schiavo as a shining example of those qualities. Happy Easter, Michael, and to all the good kids at Deep Run who learned the most valuable lesson of all.
And Happy Easter to us all who are lucky enough to live in a world with Michael Schiavo.
Source: Richmond Times Dispatch
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger