YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollections

Speakers urge students to accept themselves, strive to reach goals

March 27, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

Imperial Valley College hosted Disability Awareness Day on Monday to celebrate the accomplishments of people with disabilities and to recognize what they contribute to the community.

The program began at 9 a.m. with two internationally known performers, comedian David Roche and extreme athlete Mark Wellman.

Roche gave two comedic shows detailing his life and how he's overcome his disability.

Wellman gave a motivational speech while demonstrating how he climbs using only his arms.

Roche was born with a hemangioma, a benign tumor consisting of blood vessels, attached to the side of his face. Surgeries and radiation treatments left him with a severe facial disfigurement.

"My face is a gift from God," Roche told the assembled students, who ranged from elementary age to college.

He joked about the scars on his face and the disfigurement he has suffered as a result of the tumor.

Roche spoke about his struggle to accept himself and his face.


"I had to learn to love myself," he said.

Roche said "nobody is perfect," telling the audience, "all you can be is yourself."

"My face is unique, but my experiences are universal," Roche said.

Roche later fielded questions from the audience.

The curious students asked about his face, feelings and the surgeries he's had.

Roche ended by saying, "I am the way I am. I was put here on earth to find inner beauty and strength and to talk about it."

Wellman was a world-class rock climber when he had an accident in 1981 and lost the use of his legs.

An extreme athlete and avid climber, he gave demonstrations of his climbing abilities as a paraplegic.

Using a modified climbing apparatus, Wellman easily hoisted himself up the 25-foot wall by doing pull-ups.

After the accident, Wellman became a park ranger at Yosemite National Park, where he worked for eight years before deciding to devote himself to speaking engagements and starting a business.

As a paraplegic, Wellman has climbed El Capitan twice and is preparing to make a 10-year anniversary climb up Half Dome in September.

He always climbs with a partner who takes the lead. Both men drag all 250 pounds of their gear up the mountain behind them.

Wellman was a member of the U.S. cross country ski team in the Paraplegic Olympics in both 1992 and 1994.

He has skied across the Sierra Nevada mountains in a "sit-ski" device.

A hit with all in attendance, Wellman let members of the audience attempt to climb the wall.

"It was very challenging," said Blas Lopez, 12, a sixth-grader from Kennedy Gardens Elementary in Calexico who tried the climbing wall.

Blas said he was impressed that Wellman can climb using only his arms.

The rock-climbing wall wasn't the only favorite among students in attendance. The dance in the cafeteria was another popular venue.

"It's good for them to hear the speakers," said Liz Willingham, special education teacher at Brawley Union High School.

However Willingham said, "What my students look forward to is the dance."

Marlene Guttierrez, 16, and her sister Vanessa, 14, students from De Anza Junior High in Calexico, said their favorite part of the day was the dance.

"I like to dance," said Marlene, "and see the cute boys."

The event also featured a petting zoo, carnival games and Dino-jumps for students.

"We brought the kids to let them have some fun," said Daniel Herrera, an Americorps worker with special education teacher Carol Irwin at Finley Elementary School in Holtville .

"We bring them every year. They enjoy getting to see their friends," said Rhonda Lorente, special education teacher at De Anza Junior High, adding, "It's really good because it exposes them to IVC. They might want to come to their program here."

Roche is writing a book about his life's experiences.

Wellman has written an autobiography, produced videos and designs climbing equipment for paraplegics.

"I want to show these kids that they need to strive to make their goals happen. They've just got to want it," said Wellman.

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles