This is the second story I wrote for the Journalism Feature Writing class I’m taking this spring. My instructions were to write a 500-word profile story on someone and I had to interview them. I went way over the word requirement 🙂 Interviewing Bobby for an hour and asking his mom questions gave me so much information I had a hard time deciding what to put in and what to leave out. From what I read, that’s true for all journalists.
(Did you notice my play of words in the title? Like the song “Me and Bobby McGee”)
Let me know what you think and how you think I can improve it.
JUST ME AND BOBBY CALDERONI
By Marianne Frontino McCreight @marmccr8
May 22, 2016
(All images courtesy of Bobby Calderoni)
Robert Joseph Calderoni, Jr., (Bobby to his friends and family) agreed to sit down for a chat about his challenges this week.
“Everywhere you go, whenever you meet someone new, you have to start from the ground, and they’re going to have the assumptions and the biases they grew up with about what your capabilities are. And pretty much it works the same with every person you meet. You’re going to have to show them how it doesn’t affect your life and that you can do anything – even things that they thought you couldn’t do. And that you can do anything that you want to do.”
His acceptance that he will have to prove himself to everyone he meets doesn’t sound like what you’d expect from a “Millenial” or “Generation Y” twenty-something young adult, also known as “Generation Me.”
This handsome 25-year-old biomechanical engineer from the Philly suburbs, a graduate of Drexel University’s biomedical engineering master’s degree program, has worked at Terumo Cardiovascular’s North American headquarters on Ann Arbor’s west side for over a year now, and he’s played on an adult soccer team in town for almost the same amount of time.
Moving away from home for the first time could be scary for any young adult, even those who don’t have cerebral palsy. But for this Italian-American kid with a very close extended family, things have kind of been a breeze so far.
He explains the reaction of players who see him for the first time at his adult intramural soccer games.
“I thought it was going to be difficult because…if I ran into somebody who really cares about intramural soccer — even though they are 35 and have no shot at anything substantial in the soccer world — that could have been an issue.” […]
Continuing, he says, “I think I lucked out because of how liberal and including Ann Arbor is.”
While some people had questions and others had complaints, Calderoni was allowed to explain the rules he played under throughout middle and high school. That, plus the fact he pads his forearm crutches with pipe insulation to protect other players in case of stray swings, helped him win approval to play.
(At the 2016 No. Am. Car Show in Detroit)
He says, “I can’t lift the crutches above my waist and I can’t, obviously, hit people with the crutches. So that’s pretty much it, and the rest is game on.”
His girlfriend Michelle Nicole says, “Most people that play with Bobby for the first few times, they don’t know what to do. Like when Bobby has the ball and they’re supposed to be covering him, they’re like – it’s like a befuddlement thing.”
She continues, “This is his second year he’s been playing so all of his friends from last year, they all requested each other to be on his team. So half his team, he’s friends with.”
It isn’t surprising the intelligent and charismatic young man has won over so many new friends since moving to Mich. His great attitude and friendly disposition are hard to resist.
Growing up in the same community his whole childhood meant all the kids on the city intramural league got used to him playing from a young age and they accepted him as one of them.
He says, “At that time I was already doing most of the things the other kids were doing so they didn’t really see me as very different.”
The trouble didn’t start until high school, when he played on the JV soccer team.
“In high school I got kicked off the soccer team twice, but that wasn’t because of something I did. That was because they thought I was a danger to the other players because of my crutches.
“And the second time, they argued the same thing because a JV goalie broke his pinkie and blamed it on me.” […] “His mother wrote a letter to the PIAA and the PIAA said I couldn’t play anymore.”
In both his sophomore and junior years, the Penn Intramural Athletic Assoc (PIAA) took away Calderoni’s right to play. However, he appealed the decision to the PIAA Board his junior year. The father of one of his soccer teammates, an attorney, represented him at the Board hearing with his high school principal.
“I felt like I was getting the raw end of the deal.”[…] “It wasn’t fair because there was nothing I could do about my situation—this is the way I was born.”
The Board could only claim worries that he would be aggressive with his crutches since anything else would be discriminatory. Calderoni believes both the PIAA Board and the High School were scared of a lawsuit. However, since he had never been aggressive, he earned their support and won the appeal.
When asked about his sports history, Calderoni relates that he wrestled in high school and also played sled hockey. He also says, “I played baseball in 7th grade but that was terrible. That was funny.” He says he played on disabled teams at first but it wasn’t enough of a challenge because he had less handicap than most of the others.
“I didn’t think it was a challenge. I went from being the best player on the team to being the worst player. But I’d rather be the worst and have to constantly try harder.
“I felt like I was taking advantage of them. My disability wasn’t as severe as the other kids and it just wasn’t as fun. I’d rather make an able body look stupid.”
There is no sled hockey near Ann Arbor, but Calderoni says he works out at a gym and runs, including participating in 5K, 10K, and Turkey Trot events.
Calderoni credits his parents and the rest of his family with pushing him and giving him the drive to try whatever he wanted to do, to not accept his perceived limitations.
Although he is entitled to use a handicapped placard in his car, Calderoni refuses to get one. He believes it is abusing the system to take advantage of everything he can, claiming,
“I don’t need assistance with things that I can do. I determine what crutches I need in life and I don’t think I need those. Those crutches are reserved for people that truly need them. And I think that’s the way that most people should look on those things, like, you only get them if you really need them. Everyone’s goal should be to be independent and to not rely on others for their existence.”
Calderoni has nothing but encouragement to give to kids with cerebral palsy and also to their parents. Advice for parents includes: “Don’t get discouraged. Just because a baby has CP doesn’t mean they can’t live happy, successful lives. It doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish their goals and be whatever they want to be.”
He acknowledges there are more challenges, that it will be harder and that they will need support from their parents, but he affirms that, “in the end, they’ll learn a lot from their struggles. You get a lot back from things that you worked really hard to achieve.” He believes that kids who work hard for everything they want to achieve are more proud of their accomplishments.
“One thing my physical therapist used to say to me is: ‘Can’t means won’t and won’t’s not an option’. So pretty much don’t ever say you can’t and just give it your all and that’s the best that you can do. And I believe that. I believe you don’t know what you can really do until you try your best at it. And even if you give it your all and fail, you still learn something about your limitations and what you can and can’t do.”
All of this doesn’t sound like the mainstream media’s picture of Millenials as lazy, narcissistic and entitled. They ought to meet Calderoni for a glimpse of someone worth knowing.