Adversity no excuse,
By Jesse Phelps
The seventh-graders of Matilija
Junior High School were treated to a special presentation last
Thursday when renowned motivational speaker W Mitchell visited
Mitchell uses a letter without a period for a first name. His
first book, called "It's Not What Happens to You, It's What
You Do About It" has provided inspiration to many. It's
an apt title and he's a man who speaks from experience. He's
suffered what many would call tragedy but he's turned it into
Mitchell worked as a brakeman on San Francisco's cable cars for
years. Having a keen interest in vehicles, he bought a motorcycle,
which he loved to ride. He described one day to the kids, a day
he was riding to work. It was sunny and perfect, the kind of
day you might enjoy so much you might never notice the truck
hurtling at you out of control.
That truck hit him and Mitchell found himself on the pavement,
engulfed in flames. One brave soul, a car salesman, ran into
the street with a fire extinguisher, probably saving Mitchell's
life in the process. But the damage was done. Mitchell, burned
over 65 percent of his body, would never operate a cable car
His hands disfigured, his countenance
scarred, he found himself in the hospital without any memory
of the event.
One might think this would slow him down. Not Mitchell.
He could still fly. One day Mitchell decided to take some friends
on a flight around the beautiful skies of Colorado. He says that
he must have missed some ice on his wing during his pre-flight
inspection because no sooner did he take off then the plane went
into a free-fall. Fortune smiled upon him. His friends were mostly
unhurt in the crash but Mitchell once again sustained the brunt
of the impact. He was paralyzed from the waist down, never to
Was he defeated? Not Mitchell. Though confined to a wheelchair,
he pushed on, finding light in the smile of a passerby. He described
to kids the courage it must have taken for that person, a kid
a lot like one he found in the audience, to make that connection.
And that, he said, gave him the courage to smile back.
From there, it became clear to him: Smile and the world will
smile back. As Mitchell said to the students, "There were
a hundred things I couldn't do anymore. But there were 10,000
He ran for Mayor of Crested Butte, Colo. and won. He ran for
U.S. Congress and lost. And still he kept going. He urges people
to take responsibilty for change, telling the seventh graders
at Matilija to "make friends with that person who isn't
popular," to be brave and believe in themselves.
Today, Mitchell splits time between Hawaii, Santa Barbara and
Australia. He's spoken to audiences the world over. Though he
appeared for free at the school, usually Mitchell shares his
story with audiences for more than $15,000 per session. He commands
rooms filled with anyone from corporate tycoons to our lucky
seventh graders. And the students noted their good fortune, sitting
rapt through his storytelling, his respectful demeanor and the
warmth of that smile.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news
MITCHELL works his way through the crowd of seventh-