Youth from cohort parishes come together to hear speaker's journey with cerebral palsy
By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
Dr. Paul Wichansky was born with cerebral palsy and a hearing loss, but that never stopped him from living out his dreams.
“I wanted to walk, but doctors told my mom, ‘Paul will never be able to walk,’” he told a crowd consisting mainly of teens April 22 in the parish center of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.
But at the age of 7, thanks to the use of leg braces, he was able to walk – just one of Dr. Wichansky’s dreams that he would accomplish in his 46 years.
“You are dreaming a dream every day – it’s called life, if you choose to look at it this way,” he said to the parish’s youth ministry, who were joined by their counterparts from cohort parish St. Thomas More, Manalapan.
Wichansky, who has a doctorate in environmental science and meteorology, is a member of “A Vision in Motion Speakers Bureau,” whose presenters share stories of overcoming personal adversaries and inspire others to live positively.
Jeanne Marinello, St. Robert Bellarmine youth ministry coordinator, said messages such as Wichansky’s are ones youth need to hear.
“All you hear on the news these days is negativity. I think we all owe it to the youth we serve to give them more positive and uplifting messages and introduce them to inspiring people because through inspiration brings hope. It provides an avenue to validate their dreams and aspirations when they see the message that we all have struggles and things we have to overcome,” she said. “The most important message is that we can't give up and we have to see God in each other.”
Indeed, that was a message received by Freehold parishioner Janine Gasarowski, 18. “It was very inspiring. I just feel really grateful. Seeing him makes me want to make the best of every day.”
With humor and honesty, Wichansky shared how he overcame the challenges of living with cerebral palsy, stressing the importance of having dreams and not letting anything – even a physical disability – stand in the way.
“A child with a disability is no less a miracle today than the day he/she is born,” he said, encouraging the youth to “become educated about the differences we share.”
From walking and forecasting the weather on television, to driving a car and jumping out of an airplane – and even meeting Billy Joel, whose song, “Just the Way you Are” has become the domain name of his website – Wichansky captivated the audience with his “can-do” attitude.
“If you focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do – you’ll be amazed,” he said.
Many were amazed by Wichansky himself.
“I think it is really cool how he has accomplished his dreams. If he can be positive, I can, too,” said Samantha Schubel, 17, of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, who attended the talk with her sister and cousin.
Fellow youth ministry member Lauren Farrell, 16, said she wished she had brought others to the event. “I am a member of the Friendship Circle at my school, where we support children with special needs. I wish I brought my two friends.”
St. Thomas More parishioners, Anthony Seitz, 17, and Ray Karaczun, 16, said they were glad they visited their cohort parish to hear Wichansky’s message.
“I liked his talk because it teaches us anyone with disabilities can overcome the cards they’ve been dealt,” Seitz said.
To read more about Wichansky’s story visit, http://www.justthewayyouare.com/.