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Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
Teen challenged students to look beyond his wheelchair​


Mar 31, 2013.
BY LAURA KEBEDE Richmond Times-Dispatch
Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:00 am, Sun

Michael Schiavo, a Deep Run High School sophomore who has muscular dystrophy, brought in $7,161 in donations for the school’s Marathon Dance. His prize for being the top fundraiser is a trip with his friends to see a Washington Nationals game.

The No. 1 fundraiser for Deep Run High School’s Marathon Dance challenges his fellow students to look beyond his wheelchair

Deep Run High School sophomore Michael Schiavo used to be the kid in the wheelchair, ignored by many of his classmates.

Now, he has many friends who see him as an equal — and he feels like he’s truly part of his high school community.

Schiavo, 16, served on the student committee for this year’s Deep Run Marathon Dance and was by far the top fundraiser for the event, bringing in $7,161 in donations.

Students jumped to their feet at the event finale March 16 as organizer Kathleen Kern announced a prize tailored to one of Schiavo’s fantasies: a trip by train next month with his new friends to Washington to see a Nationals baseball game.

“He helped people realize that they needed to change,” said friend and dance committee leader Sara Turnley. “A lot of high schoolers are in their own worlds. … People don’t really pay attention to what matters.”

At last year’s Marathon Dance, Schiavo spoke as a freshman in front of almost 900 fellow students about Canine Companions for Independence, one of the 12 nonprofits for which they were fundraising. The group provided his first assistance dog.

His return to the same stage was a lot less scary, he said, and symbolized acceptance among peers on the event’s student committee and hard work to raise money for local organizations.

Schiavo was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was 18 months old and has used a wheelchair most of his life. When he entered high school, he felt ignored, he said.

“Last year, I didn’t have really any friends,” he said. But in his speech at last year’s dance, he challenged students to ignore the “400 pounds of metal between us” and say hello in the hallway.

The speech about his service dog and his desire to be accepted was the turning point. After the speech, “all these people were coming up to me crying and hugging me and I had no clue who they were,” Schiavo recalled.
Being on the dance committee was the first time he felt he was truly a part of a bigger group, he said.

“Because of this, I have a lot of friends now. I feel comfortable at school,” Schiavo said. “It’s hard to put myself out there like that, but it was worth it.”

His mother, Susan Schiavo, said she has seen significant change in her son and his relationships at school.

“He’s always been a happy kid,” she said. “It’s not like he’s different (now), but there’s a joy that I can’t describe … joy that he gets from hanging out with kids his own age.”

Susan Schiavo said that after a dance-planning meeting this year, student committee members invited her son to go with them to Sweet Frog. His wheelchair cannot fit in most vehicles, so his new friends came to his house and used the Schiavos’ van.

“Just being goofy teenagers, singing on the way back,” Susan Schiavo said. “It was just so normal.”

And now, Michael Schiavo is seen as the one who took the most initiative and went beyond the expectations for a committee member. For example, students were charged to sell at least five discounted oil changes to benefit the Marathon Dance. Schiavo sold 41 — dozens more than the second-highest total.

While other student leaders struggled to get family and friends to consistently participate in the numerous fundraisers throughout the year, Turnley said, “Michael always brought his posse.”

His secret? Mass emails with follow-up calls. No gimmicks or lemonade stands. Just a personal appeal to family and friends about how the Marathon Dance has changed his life and how the event will change more lives in the community.

“It’s not really me,” he said. “I just have a lot of generous friends and family.”

More than 800 students raised $243,855 at this year’s 24-hour event; since the annual dance started in 2007, Deep Run has raised more than $1.1 million.

Student committee leader Kate Smucker, who attends the same youth group as Schiavo at Christ Church Episcopal, said Schiavo’s help was critical to this year’s success.

“He’s a strong demonstration of how much you can get accomplished when you push yourself,” she said.

Deep Run Principal Lenny Pritchard said Schiavo was not fundraising for the recognition. Rather, he wanted to give back to the event that benefitted an organization close to his heart.

“It’s because it’s what he believes in and it’s the right thing to do,” Pritchard said.

Schiavo said he did not realize his words at last year’s Marathon Dance had such an impact on students. But his mother wasn’t surprised.

“If it’s the right thing, it’s not a big deal to him,” she said. “Michael is just pure love. I don’t know if he’s aware that he always sees the good in people.”

Turnley said whether he realizes it or not, Schiavo has challenged students to be more considerate of their peers while also helping them realize he’s just like them.

“That’s what the dance is all about — changing people’s lives,” she said. “And I think Michael does it best.”
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