By Tyler Barth
Paul Wichansky walked on stage Friday at the Morris Plains Borough School with an inspirational story to tell the students. The most impressive thing, however, was the fact that he was able to walk.
Born with cerebral palsy, Wichansky, 47, was unable to walk unassisted for the first seven years of his life. Thanks to frequent therapy, he now can do that, albeit with a slightly bow-legged gait.
“What happens when you learn to walk, you fall down,” recounted the Freehold resident.
“My mom and grandma would want to help me up, but my dad was there, and had another idea. He said: ‘No, don’t help him.’ He then turned to me: ‘Paul, get up.’”
Was his father too mean?
About a third of the elementary school students raised their hands.
Wichansky, who estimates he has addressed a million youths and 7,600 school assemblies around the world, said the first lesson he had to learn was rejecting the notion of can’t, which he did via his father’s method.
He was forced to wear leg braces for most of his childhood. After his condition was diagnosed as cerebral palsy, he said, his mother took him to about 10 doctors before one gave her some hope.
Home videos of Wichansky as a grade schooler showed that his teachers were well aware of the diagnosis. He spent most of his spare time drawing and painting.
People could be cruel.
Wichansky recalled being thrown into a trash bin by an athletic classmate. He asked school officials not to punish the jock.
A quarter-century later, his former tormentor sent Wichansky a Facebook message, apologizing. He asked Wichansky to friend him on Facebook if he was forgiven. Wichansky quickly sent a friend request.
In college, Wichansky pursued his dream of becoming a meteorologist, “the only career where you can be wrong and still keep your job,” he joked.
Wichansky has been preaching his can-so story since he was 10. He spreads his message on a website, JustTheWayYouAre.com:
“You don’t need tights and a cape to be a hero,” says the site.
His dad’s tough love helped him get on his feet; Wichansky credits his mother Barbara’s hard work, upbeat attitude and refusal to quit with getting him where he is today.
Though she passed away last year, Wichansky emphasized that his mom lives on in him.
“This is what I’ve been meant to do,” he told his young listeners.