Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 25, 2010

Motivation, inspiration

Ron Bachman, who was born with a birth defect that forced amputation of his legs, speaks of tolerance at Boyd Middle

By TIM PRESTON - The Independent

SUMMIT — Ron Bachman of Detroit came to Boyd County Middle School Wednesday morning to provide a lesson about tolerance and bullying, and drove away with a renewed sense of inspiration provided by hundreds of children who stood to applaud his message.

Following a video introduction of Bachman that included Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler, Bachman rolled his motorized scooter onto the BCMS gym floor to screams and applause generally reserved for a rock star.

Remaining in constant motion between the far ends of his 725-student audience, Bachman explained he had a birth defect which forced amputation of both legs when he was 4 years old. In early life, Bachman said he was often the target of bullies, and still finds himself as the focus for people who tend to look at him as some sort of human oddity.

“You will survive it. Believe me when I say, I know,” he said to the students who are now dealing with bullying behavior.

To those who act as bullies, Bachman asked a simple question — “How dare you?”

“Do you think this world is just for you?” he asked, adding an image of a bully and buddies “dogging and picking on people.”

Bachman, 52, told the Boyd County students he attended a school for handicapped children, noting education officials and parents at that time felt it was best to keep disabled children separated from “normal” kids.

“Today, we know the faster we meet, the faster we become friends,” he said.

Bachman also recalled being fitted with artificial legs, even though there was no chance of him using the prosthetic devices to walk.

“The artificial legs weighed 60 pounds,” he said, explaining the fake legs actually caused him to fall more often. “I hated those artificial legs, guys. They weren’t me. I was told to wear them not for me, but for you.”

Bachman told the students about his first job at a pizzeria, where he made a point of showing up early, working extra hard and offering to come in on his days off.

“I was the best employee they had ... for 45 days,” he said, explaining his boss called him into his office. “I thought I was getting a raise! Instead, I got fired.” Bachman said his termination was the result of a customer seeing him in his wheelchair and asking, “What was that? Not who, but what. He said, ‘It made me sick. You better get rid of it.’”

While that couldn’t happen under the current Americans With Disabilities Act Bachman said it was a difficult thing to accept.

Citing an incident while on his way to the middle school, Bachman asked the students to consider discrimination and harassment take many forms.

“I still see it. I still get picked on,” he said. “I was pumping gas at a Speedway this morning and two guys were taking pictures of me with their cell phones. Was that a form of bullying?”

After working in several fields, Bachman said his love of music remained a driving force in life and he decided to pursue a career as a broadcaster. His life was also the subject of the award-winning film “Walk This Way: The Ron Bachman Story.”

The motivational speaker, who tells his story and applies life’s lessons for groups ranging from elementary pupils to business executives, said he initially had no intention of talking to any group. He estimated he has since spoken to more than a million adults and children. His speeches include stories about spending time with members of his favorite band, Aerosmith, as well as two tours with Motley Crue, which he described as “tougher than life without legs.”

Bringing his talk to a close, Bachman asked the assembled students how many of them would help rescue him if his scooter broke and the building was on fire. Every hand in the gymnasium immediately went up.

“You will walk through fire for Ron Bachman?” he asked, only to receive an enthusiastic, “yeah!”

“If you can do that, why won’t you leave each other alone from eight in the morning until 3 o’clock?” he asked, continuing his anti-bullying message.

Bachman wiped tears from his eyes as the students gave him a prolonged standing ovation.

“No wonder I wanted to come to Kentucky,” he said, trying to laugh as he cried. “You have no idea what you just did. For weeks to come if someone gives me an unkind look, I am going to think about what you did for me today. Thank you.”