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INSPIRATION

 

Jim Abbott | Athlete

Born with only one hand, Jim Abbott has been a Major League Baseball pitcher for the California Angels, the New York Yankees, the Chicago White Sox, and the Milwaukee Brewers.
   “I learned that you can learn to do things differently, but do them just as well. . . I’ve learned that we have an obligation to the abilities we do have, not the disability.”

Muhammad Ali | Athlete

A Golden Gloves champion at age 17, an Olympic gold medalist at age 18, and an undefeated heavyweight champion at age 22, yet Ali’s greatest fight has not been in the ring.Ironically, after beating the world’s toughest opponents, it was Parkinson’s disease that would prove to be his greatest foe.
    Ali’s tireless work raising money to fight this debilitating disease has inspired thousands and endeared him to a new generation of admirers around the world.


Lance Armstrong | Athlete

Lance Armstrong is a retired professional road racing cyclist. He is most famous for winning the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005, several years after brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy in 1996 to treat testicular cancer.
    “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. . . So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?”

Ludwig van Beethoven | Musician, Composer

Beethoven is widely regarded as one of history’s supreme composers, and he produced notable works even after losing his hearing, including his Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy) and Piano Concerto No. 5 (the “Emperor”). He was one of the greatest figures in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in music.

Halle Berry | Actor

Berry acquired unilateral hearing loss (80% hearing loss in her left ear) after being severely beaten by a former boyfriend.
    “Luckily, in recent years, I have been smart enough to hit the door when violence even becomes a possibility. That is something I will not tolerate.”
   In 1989, unaware that she even had the condition, the Oscar-winning actor was diagnosed with diabetes. She became the first spokesperson for Diabetes Aware, a public service campaign of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, sponsored by Novo Nordisk.

Orlando Bloom | Actor

“I suppose my dyslexia made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough. Some people are just brain boxes, but then in everyday [situations] they’re clueless. I was street-smart; I was always bright, but I found it harder in the classroom.
   Once I [passed] my exams, I felt better because I knew that I could do it if I applied myself.”

Foxy Brown | Rapper

In 2005, Foxy Brown revealed that she was slowly losing her hearing after being diagnosed with a rare condition that only affects 1 in 10,000. She suffered severe sensorineural hearing loss in both ears.
    “I started breaking down in tears and screaming and I couldn’t even hear myself scream,” she told People magazine. “I questioned God: ‘Why me?’”
   She continued to record by having someone tap out the beat on her shoulder. After surgery in 2006, Brown began to recover her hearing.

Julius Caesar | Politician

Julius Caesar, a brilliant general and formidable politician, had seizures in the last two years of his life, possibly caused by a brain tumor.
   Caesar was known to have fallen convulsing into the River Tiber.

Ray Charles | Musician

Ray Charles taught himself piano at age three. When he lost his sight at the age of seven, he entered the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind, where he learned classical piano and how to compose scores in Braille.
    After being orphaned at sixteen, Charles left school and joined a country-western band, and over the next ten years, he criss-crossed the South, where he absorbed different musical influences before finally settling on a sound of his own.

Agatha Christie | Author

Agatha Christie is the world’s best-known mystery writer and all-time best selling author of any genre other than William Shakespeare
   “I, myself, was always recognized. . . as the ‘slow one’ in the family. It was quite true, and I knew it and accepted it. Writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me. My letters were without originality. I was . . . an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until this day.”

Bill Clinton | Politician

William Jefferson Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States, and the third-youngest president, behind Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. In his second term, Clinton realized that he had difficulty with high-frequency sounds. He managed his hearing loss through the use of bilateral hearing aids.
   “More than ever before, America’s greatness depends on the ability of its citizens to make the most of their lives. Americans with disabilities are an enormous, often untapped reservoir of that potential.”

Tom Cruise | Actor

“I was a functional illiterate. I loved learning, I wanted to learn, but I knew I had failed in the system. Like a lot of people, though, I had figured out how to get through it.”
   During the making of Top Gun, Cruise realized that he could never learn to fly a plane. He decided to overcome his dyslexia through a program of Scientology that helped him take a step-by-step approach.

Thomas Edison | Inventor

Edison began to lose his hearing at age 15, perhaps a result of contracting scarlet fever. As an adult, he used telegraphy codes to communicate. When he went to see a play at the theater his wife tapped Morse Code on his leg.
   “Deafness probably drove me to reading,” he said later in life.
   In 1877, Edison patented the first phonograph, and followed that with the development of the incandescent light bulb, after trying 10,000 times. He developed the system that could deliver electricity at reasonable cost throughout a city, and created the first silent film. In all, Edison obtained 1,093 patents.

Albert Einstein | Physicist

Einstein attended school in Germany in the late 1800s. He was not very successful in his classes. He did poorly in history, geography, and languages, although he became skilled on the violin. Despite his struggles with the subjects, Einstein showed an interest in mathematics and science. He went on to study physics and mathematics for four years. He is best known for the Theory of Relativity and the mass-energy relation of E=mc².
   “Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine are still greater.”

Carrie Fisher | Actor/Author

Carrie Fisher, the child of two Hollywood stars (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher) was diagnosed as bipolar in her early teens. 
    Around the time she starred in the first Star Wars, in the 1970s, Fisher began using cocaine, which eventually led to an addiction. She had a serious alcohol problem by 1980, and in 1985 suffered a drug overdose which resulted in her entering rehab. From this experience came her first best-seller, Postcards From the Edge.
   “I figured, if people were going to say it about me, then I was going to say it first and I was going to say it better.”

Danny Glover | Actor

Danny Glover is probably best known as the actor who played opposite Mel Gibson in the famous Lethal Weapon films. But most people don’t know that he was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 15. For Glover, who had also been diagnosed with dyslexia in elementary school, respect was hard to come by. 
   “I was a decent athlete, but once I was diagnosed with epilepsy I could no longer play sports … I worked little jobs when I was in high school . . . in some sense, I was building a little place for myself. . . I felt that I could accomplish something. Despite the fact that I had epilepsy, I felt that I could win - that I was winning on some level.”

Whoopi Goldberg | Comedian/Actor

Whoopi Goldberg is an American comedian, actor, singer-songwriter, political activist, and talk show host. Goldberg made her film debut in The Color Purple.
   “I knew I wasn’t stupid, and I knew I wasn’t dumb. My mother told me that. Everybody told me I wasn’t stupid or dumb.If you read to me, I could tell you everything that you read. They didn’t know what it was.”

Harrison Ford | Actor

Ford began to show symptoms of clinical depression while in college. He’d sleep for days on end, finding it more and more difficult to raise himself. Once he recalls waking after a 3-day nap and deciding to attend a class. Everything moved in slow motion. He got to the class and, unable to turn the handle of the classroom door, he turned around and went back to bed. “The kindest word to describe my performance,” he said later, “was ‘sloth.’” Work went undone, classes were ignored.
   In his senior year at college he decided to try acting.

Michael J. Fox | Actor

Michael J. Fox is an actor, producer and author. In 1991, he was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s disease. Upon disclosing his condition in 1998, he shifted his focus and committed himself to a campaign for increased Parkinson’s research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which he launched in year 2000, raises awareness about Parkinson’s disease and has become the leading fundraiser in the U.S., putting $140 million into research over eight years.
   “The one choice I don’t have is whether or not I have [Parkinson’s]. But beyond that my choices are infinite.”


Bethany Hamilton | Athlete

Hamilton’s lifelong dream of becoming a professional surfer was interrupted in 2003, when she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing. The attack left Bethany with a severed arm but did not destroy her eagerness and courage to continue to pursue her dream.
   “I focused on the things that were really important to me. . .”
   Since her attack, Hamilton has made numerous finals and has won three contests. In August, at the first stop on the Hawaii NSSA circuit, she took first in the Open Women’s division placing ahead of 2003-04 National Champion.

Salma Hayek | Actor

After the release of the movie Frida, Hayek was asked by a London journalist, “What was the toughest part of your performance?”
   Hayek answered, “There was one day when I could not say the line right. I’m dyslexic and I was tired. That was the scene we had the most trouble with.”

Stephen Hawking | Physicist

“I am quite often asked: How do you feel about having ALS? The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”
   Considered one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

Tommy Hilfiger | Fashion Designer

“I performed poorly at school, when I attended, that is, and was perceived as stupid because of my dyslexia. I still have trouble reading. I have to concentrate very hard at going left to right, left to right, otherwise my eye just wanders to the bottom of the page.”
   In 2006, Hilfiger sold his company for $1.6 billion

John Irving | Author

“I simply accepted the conventional wisdom of the day—I was a struggling student; therefore, I was stupid. . . It wasn’t until my younger son was diagnosed as slightly dyslexic that I realized how I had been given the shaft. [Dyslexia] has become an advantage.  In writing a novel, it doesn’t hurt anybody to have to go slowly. . . One reason I have confidence in writing the kind of novels I write is that I have confidence in my stamina to go over something again and again.”

Magic Johnson | Athlete

On November 7, 1991, two months after getting married and still very much at the top of his game, Johnson announced his positive test for HIV and immediate retirement from basketball. Johnson was one of the first celebrities to make such an announcement, and remains still the most well-known person to publicly disclose the disease.
   “Somebody will find out that they have HIV today. Nobody is immune. No kid. No grown up. Black, white, Latino, Asian. Nobody is immune from HIV and AIDS.”

James Earl Jones | Actor

James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars, Mufasa in The Lion King, and the voice of CNN, is the most in demand voice in Hollywood. Although most people think of him as a “former” stutterer, Jones still stutters when speaking spontaneously. But as an actor, he has developed situational fluency when playing a role.
     “Stuttering is painful. In Sunday school, I’d try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter. Well, I knew I was funny. I still know why it is funny. . . [You] make people nervous. . . I’ve learned that sometimes the synapses in your brain trip up, like stumbling on a sidewalk.”

Keira Knightley | Actor

“I remember going in for an audition when I was 8, and it was the most excruciating experience because I couldn’t read my lines.
   My desire to act was my driving force. I got really good help from some amazing teachers and my mother and father worked tirelessly with me, so by the time I was 11, I had kind of overcome the dyslexia and now it’s not really a problem. I don’t notice it anymore.”

Jay Leno | Talk Show Host

Leno is mildly dyslexic and got mainly Cs and Ds in school, but that still did not deter him from applying to and eventually graduating from the esteemed Emerson college in Boston.
   “The admissions officer said I wasn’t what they wanted. But I sat outside his office 12 hours a day until he said he’d let me in if I went to summer school.”

Marlee Matlin | Actor

Matlin lost most of her hearing at the age of 18 months, following a bout of Roseola infantum. She lost all hearing in her right ear, and 80% of hearing in her left ear.
   “Often I’m talking to people through my speaker phone, and after 10 minutes or so they say, ‘Wait a minute, Marlee, how can you hear me?’ They forget I have an interpreter there who is signing to me as they talk. So I say, ‘You know what? I can hear on Wednesdays.’”

Heather Mills McCartney | Model / Activist

In August 1993, her life changed forever when she was involved in a road accident with a police motorcycle and suffered crushed ribs, a punctured lung, and the loss of her left leg below the knee.
   Already a champion for better refugee care in Slovenia, she launched a nationwide appeal for unwanted prostheses and then recruited inmates at Brixton prison to dismantle them for transporting abroad.
   Since the first shipment to Zagreb in 1994, over 22,000 amputees and victims of land-mine explosions have been helped.

Aimee Mullins | Athlete/Model

“Truthfully, the only real and consistent disability I’ve had to confront is the world ever thinking that I could be described by those definitions.”
   Mullins competed in the NCAA Division I Track at Georgetown University. She set Paralympic records in 1996 in Atlanta in the 100-meter dash and the long jump.

Terence Parkin | Athlete

The 25-year-old South African was born with a severe hearing disability and uses sign language to communicate with his coach.
   Parkin won the silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in the 200 meter breaststroke. Parkin also competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
   “I am going to the Olympics to represent South Africa, but it’s so vitally important for me to go, to show that the deaf can do anything.”

David Patterson | Politician

David Patterson (born May 20, 1954) was the 55th Governor of New York State. He was the first governor of New York of African American heritage and also the second legally blind governor of any U.S. state.
   Gov. Mario M. Cuomo recalled playing basketball against Paterson in a charity game ten years ago. “I said: ‘What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be blind.’ He said, ‘I’m guarding you.’ Just what I wanted: a blind guy to guard me. The second time down the court, he stole the ball.”

Michael Phelps | Olympian

Michael Fred Phelps has won 14 career Olympic gold medals, the most by any Olympian, and is often cited as the greatest swimmer and one of the greatest Olympians of all time.
   After being diagnosed with ADHD, Phelps developed the self-discipline and determination that has made him a legend and role model for children with learning disabilities.
   “I know it won’t be eight medals again. If you want to compare me to that, that’s your decision, not mine. I’m going out there to try to accomplish the things that I have in my mind and in my heart.”

Curtis Pride | Athlete

Pride played baseball all through high school and college. He first signed with the New York Mets and has subsequently enjoyed a successful career in professional baseball, and played with the following major league teams: Detroit Tigers, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos.
   While playing with the Atlanta Braves, Pride was the first African American with a disability to play in a World Series. He is the first deaf baseball player in almost 50 years.

Christopher Reeve | Actor

American actor, director, producer and writer, Reeve is renowned for his film portrayal of Superman (and Clark Kent) in four films from 1978-1987.
   In 1995, Reeve was rendered a quadriplegic during an equestrian competition and was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. He became a spokesman for disabled people and a vocal supporter of stem cell research.
    “I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”
   Reeve died on October 10, 2004.

Nelson Rockefeller | Politician

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (July 8, 1908 – January 26, 1979) was a philanthropist, Governor of New York State, and the 41st Vice President of the United States (1974-1977), serving under President Gerald Ford.
   “I was one of the ‘puzzle children’ myself – a dyslexic . . . And I still have a hard time reading today. Accept the fact that you have a problem. Refuse to feel sorry for yourself. You have a challenge; Never quit!”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt | Politician

At age 39, Roosevelt lost the use of both legs due to polio, but refused to be limited by his disability. He went on to become Governor of New York State, and the 32nd President of the United States. One of the central figures of the 20th century, Roosevelt was the longest-serving holder of the office, and the only President elected more than twice.
   “Every time I hear your voice on the radio and read about your attitude toward physical handicaps . . . I am strengthened and my courage is renewed,” wrote a mother whose eight-year-old son was in braces.

Harriet Tubman | Activist

Harriet Tubman developed a seizure disorder through sustaining a head injury early in life. It has also been reported that she suffered from narcolepsy and headaches.
   Nevertheless, Tubman led hundreds of her fellow slaves from the American South to freedom in the North and Canada on the Underground Railroad. She became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. Later in life she was active in the women’s suffrage movement. Tubman inspired generations of Americans who fought for civil rights. She was buried with military honors.

Erik Weihenmayer | Athlete

Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik Weihenmayer has become one of the celebrated and accomplished athletes in the world. he was first introduced to rock climbing at a camp for blind teenagers and soon was climbing more difficult mountains.
   Weihenmayer climbed the tallest mountains in South America and Africa and then set his sights on Mount Everest. On May 25, 2001, he reached the top of Everest and stood at 29,035 feet. He is the first blind person to summit Everest.

Heather Whitestone | Miss America

Heather Whitestone lost most of her hearing at the age of 18 months.
   A former beauty queen, she won the title of Miss America in 1995, and is the first Miss America with a known disability. After her Miss America win, Whitestone completed her studies at Jacksonville State University.
   President Bush appointed her to the National Council on Disability, where she continued to promote awareness of Deaf issues.

Montel Williams | Talk Show Host

“When the neurologist said those words, ‘You have MS,’ it hit me like a brick. I thought the diagnosis was a death sentence. . . I had a choice to make. I could spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself as the victim of a tragic fate. Or I could view my illness as a call to action – an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions who suffer from MS and their loved ones.
   In 1999, I went public with my battle against MS. Although I was warned that this disclosure could harm my career, I couldn’t remain silent. I have one of the biggest mouths on this planet, and I decided to keep using it until everyone everywhere knows about MS, what can be done to fight it, and a cure is found.”

Henry Winkler | Actor/Author

While growing up, Henry Winkler often felt that the person he was inside was invisible to others. “Inside you feel one way, and people are telling you that you are another way,” he says, “and I couldn’t reconcile that.”
    Winkler began writing a series of children books with his partner Lin Oliver. Hank Zipzer, the World's Greatest Underachiever. The books are inspired by Winkler’s struggle with dyslexia. The first eight books of the series are in bookstores now and have sold over a million copies nationwide.

Stevie Wonder | Musician

Blind from infancy, Stevie Wonder has become one of the most successful and well-known artists on the Motown label, with nine U.S. #1 hits to his name and album sales totaling more than 70 million units.
   Wonder has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and hit singles, and writes and produces songs for many of his label-mates and outside artists as well.

Woodrow Wilson | Politician

Wilson was the 28th President of the United States. Dyslexic from childhood, he did not learn to read until he was 10 and never became a rapid reader.
   Nevertheless, he developed passionate interests in literature and especially politics. Wilson attended Davidson College North Carolina for a year before entering Princeton University in 1875.

Mark Zupan | Athlete

Mark Zupan is captain of the United States quadriplegic wheelchair rugby team which competes in the Paralympic Games and the official spokesperson for Team USA.
   Zupan’s successes — surviving fourteen hours clinging to a branch for life, hypothermia and quadriplegia, to become a Georgia Tech graduate, civil engineer, two-time quad rugby national champion, 2004 quad rugby player of the year, world-class Olympic quad rugby bronze medal winner, and spokesman for team USA — all show what a positive mind can do.
   He was recently featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Murderball.

 


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