Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sheldon Crocker - One Step at a Time

I recently had the great fortune of meeting an incredible man named Sheldon Crocker. I was so happy to be able to connect with him and reading his story reinforces to me that there are so many things that connect us all as we try to find our life's purpose.

Sheldon identifies as being a person with a disability that he says isn’t a disability. His belief is that a person is only as disabled as they let themselves be. He says that people with disabilities, like everyone else, must be free and empowered to make their own choices and to live with the consequences. That is how we all develop our character and personality. That is the real meaning of choice and control.

He plays pool using just one hand in the competitive Canadian Poolplayers Association against players using two hands, and he has managed to win a Top Gun Award and has also competed at the national level in Las Vegas.   

When he was a child, it was thought that he would never be able to walk. Sheldon wore braces on his legs with a bar between his feet connecting both shoes until he was about four years old. He learned to walk by placing  his back against the wall and sliding along. He knew from a very young age the message that he still feels to this day: "If we don't push ourselves, if we don't step out of our comfort zone, if we don't set goals for ourselves then can we say we are really growing, progressing and truly living?"

Sheldon has pushed himself to achieve goals that many thought were unattainable. This year, he completed the Tely 10 Mile Road Race, and also recently participated in the Terry Fox Run here in St. John's.

Sheldon is actively pursuing a career as a professional speaker and is an advocate of equal rights for all persons with disabilities. The following is from a talk that Sheldon recently gave at an ExxonMobil fundraising event for United Way. Thank you, Sheldon, for allowing me to share your powerful story here as well.


As an only child, I grew up in a small Newfoundland community during the 1970s and '80s. Being the only one there with a physical disability, I was picked on, laughed at and bullied by the other children because I was "different". My home life wasn’t the best either. I had no supports and was forced to grow up long before I should have had to. For really no reason besides getting a few marks lower than my cousins, my mother always compared me to them. "Why can't you be more like them?" she would say. 

My entire life I felt like I had to prove myself to people, that I was just as good as others. As a kid growing up with a disability, I wasn't able to participate in activities and sports like other kids. Just about every recess time while I was in grade 8, I'd stand there telling other students to line up in front of me in single file, and take turns punching me in the chest as hard as they could to see who could knock me across the floor the furthest, to see if anyone could make me feel pain. At least this way, I felt important and that people were paying attention to me and that I didn't appear to be this weak little disabled kid.

I started drinking at 11 and doing drugs at 13 to numb the mental pain. I had no confidence and terrible self-esteem. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone who wanted to be close to me, because I was convinced that I was stupid and worthless. I struggled with addictions, homelessness and poverty. I was physically unable to cook for myself, so ate only microwaved processed food (when I saved enough money to do so). I stayed places that had no hot water, no heat and I ate donuts off the sidewalk. 

I told myself I had to be strong and get through it on my own. I lived rough and by my wits. I slept on friends' floors. I was happy, and I was miserable. But it was an amazing journey. All the while, I managed to go to two colleges and graduate with two diplomas. I helped people see life in a different way. "If you're surviving and trying to strive ahead with a disability then why are we holding ourselves back?" people would say to me.

After 7 years of this, I moved to St. John’s. I continued with college and fortunately, the Guidance Counsellor connected me with Emmanuel House, a residential treatment program of Stella’s Circle. Through this program, my life changed dramatically. I quit drinking and using drugs 17 years ago and never looked back.

Prior to getting connected to Stella’s Circle, my life was a real struggle. I didn’t have much hope for anything; I had mostly depressing dark thoughts. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere, didn’t feel included, even when out in society I mostly kept to myself. I didn’t see a way out of the darkness. With the help of Stella’s Circle and the direction they provided, they helped me see that there were people who truly cared. They were the light in the darkness that I held tight, and each day was brighter and less shaded because I was gaining hope for the future.

Upon leaving Emmanuel House, it was determined that I was eligible for the Community Support Program, another program of Stella’s Circle. Workers from the Community Support Program help me shop for groceries, cook meals, and clean my apartment. They have also provided moral support, encouraging words and at times, words of wisdom. 

I am proud to say that I graduated from The Employment Program - New Beginnings offered by Stella’s Circle, in 2014, and I feel like every day is a new beginning. This program has also helped me to feel empowered and realize that I am capable of working. 

My self-esteem and self-confidence have grown significantly with the help of all of the programs at Stella’s Circle, including the Inclusion Choir. It has been one of the most therapeutic and best things I’ve ever been a part of. It has helped me step out of my comfort zone, feel less isolated and I’ve grown tremendously as a person. I just recently celebrated my anniversary of being in the Inclusion Choir. I call it my anniversary of liberation out of silence. For most of my life, I’ve been told: “Kids are to be seen not heard.” I felt like I was without a voice. The Inclusion Choir is one of, if not the most positive thing that I’ve ever been a part of in my life. In the past, I tried to keep my distance from the events and programs of Stella’s Circle because of the social stigma I felt attached to it. It’s so awesome to see each year how the social stigma around mental health becomes less and less with the great work of this organization and others like it. 

With regards to my physical environment, I am grateful to have had a roof over my head for the past 19 years. I don’t have to worry about sleeping on park benches in January anymore. Working with an occupational therapist, I’ve had my bathroom adapted so I can be independent with my personal care. I have a hospital bed that is comfortable and adjustable that I can get in and out of. I have modifications done so I can reach my clothes hanging in the closet. I am able to access my computer through voice command and the setup is ergonomic. These changes at home have helped raise my confidence to look for work and access the community. The older I get, the more I feel these services will be useful in helping me maintain an adequate quality of life.

I believe that understanding my personal experiences and the support that has been necessary to help me live in the community is valuable. It will help develop an understanding of what support is needed to continue to help people, like myself, age successfully in the community. No person anywhere, especially here in this country, should live in the shadows or suffer alone, because they can’t afford treatment. I've learned through my connection with Stella’s Circle that fears limit us and our vision.

This may seem really obvious to a lot of you, but it wasn’t for me, so I’m going to say it anyway: There is no reason to feel embarrassed when reaching out to a professional for help. There is no reason to be ashamed and most importantly, no need to be afraid. People do not need to suffer. There is nothing noble in suffering, and there is nothing shameful or weak in asking for help. I am thankful for the help I received. If people hadn’t had the strength to encourage me to seek professional help, I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to even exist, to say nothing of truly living. 

Believing that it takes the whole community working together to change social conditions is essential. There is hope for everyone, work hard, believe strongly, focus, be aware of your thoughts and we can all change our lives if we want to bad enough. The journey of life is taken one step at a time. 


One of the primary reasons I speak out about my mental illness, is so that I can make the difference in someone’s life that I wish had been made in mine when I was young, because not only did I have no idea what Depression even was until I was in my twenties, once I was pretty sure that I had it, I suffered with it for another ten years because I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, and I was afraid.

Those of us who live with mental illness need to talk about it, because our friends and neighbours know us and trust us. We need to share our experiences so someone who is suffering the way I was won’t feel weird or broken or ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. So that parents don’t feel like they have failed or somehow screwed up when they see symptoms in their kids.

People tell me that I’m brave for speaking out the way I do, and while I appreciate that, I don’t necessarily agree. Firefighters are brave. Single parents who work multiple jobs to take care of their kids are brave. People who reach out to get help for their mental illness are brave. I’m not brave. I’m just a man who wants to share his story with the world, who hopes to speak out about mental health so much that one day, it will be wholly unremarkable to stand up and say the words: "My name is __ __. I've lived with Chronic Depression, and I am not ashamed."


Sheldon has had the opportunity to share his powerful message at several local events, and he welcomes requests from businesses and organizations looking to hire an inspirational speaker. Sheldon can be reached at

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Caught in the Act

Since the success of it's debut production, "Crippled" last year, Power Productions has been registered and incorporated as a not-for-profit theatre company that is committed to creating diverse and accessible theatre projects, professional development opportunities and community collaborations with a focus on the disability, Deaf and MAD arts sector in Atlantic Canada.

Power Productions recently presented "Caught in the Act" by Bruce Kane as part of St. John's Shorts: 3rd Annual Short Play Festival.

Starring: Krista Legge and Steve Daley
Directed by: Janet O'Reilly
Produced by: Paul David Power
Stage Management: Kim White
Assistant Stage Management: Julie Brocklehurst

This clever comedy by Bruce Kane blurs the line between fantasy and reality when Annie and Don realize their relationship is in more trouble than they thought. It’s a one act play and they are the characters – completely vulnerable to the whim of the playwright who keeps editing their backgrounds, reasons for being together and emotional baggage. Will Annie and Don remain just two characters in the mind of the writer or break the fourth wall to become a real couple in charge of their own choices when it comes to love? Clever, unique and a must for anyone who has set out to write (or criticize) a play – Caught in the Act is a comedy that dares to not only break but completely obliterate the fourth wall. 

  photos by: Ashley Harding

The Short Play Festival was a great way to begin to showcase diversity both on stage and off, with a mix of actors and production team members with visible and non-visible disabilities. While disability was not a theme of the play, Power Productions was interested in casting the piece with actors who self-identify as having a disability. A casting call went out back in July, and we were thrilled to see a response from such a diverse group of individuals! Krista Legge and Steve Daley are both first-time actors and they did a tremendous job in their roles of Annie and Don. 

Artistic Director, Paul Power said, "'Caught in the Act' was a great way to engage members of our community who have never participated in a theatre production before, on stage or off. We tried some new things not regularly seen in our arts community, including a casting call for performers who self identify as having a disability. We also expanded accessibility for backstage crew, providing further opportunities where previously there have been none. It's a great example of the mandate and goals of Power Productions in action - providing platforms and opportunities for artistic expression and exploration where previously there have been very little for artists who require accessibility supports and understanding. We really appreciate the Resource Centre for the Arts for its open approach to accessibility and discovering solutions to ensure our theatre community is more inclusive."

Kim White had the role of Stage Manager, and had this to say about her experience:

"Stage managing for "Caught in the Act" was an awesome experience. I never would have thought that I could take on such a role considering the physical barriers that often exist in theatre environments. With adjustments made by the supportive team with the St. John's Shorts Festival and at the LSPU Hall, I was able to call the lighting cues from the actual stage - tucked away behind the curtain using a headset. It was a great example of 'where there's a will, there's a way'. I'm excited to see what Power Productions will continue to do to open up more opportunities in the world of theatre for persons with disabilities... and to see what play we will mount for the Shorts Festival in 2019! I have my Stage Manager hat waiting!"

The cast and crew of Caught in the Act

Power Productions has come out of the gate running, and as a Board member, I am proud to help support the important work it is doing both in and for our community. The organization's ongoing work includes producing diverse theatrical works, raising awareness about accessibility for both artists and audiences, and supporting community projects that reflect the goals and priorities of Power Productions.  
Stay tuned for upcoming dates and events!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Just Dance

This morning, Andrew and I took Brennen to see Luca 'LazyLegs' Patuelli perform and present his "No Excuses. No Limits." program for a sold-out crowd at Easter Seals House! 

His show was similar to the one he presented at City Hall earlier this week, but there was something extra special about watching him do his thing in a space where we often gather with other families who have young ones with disabilities. It was like having a guest in our home who comes with the best of intentions and the warmest of wishes and only wants to see us all succeed and thrive and live our very best lives. It was magical, and Luca touched the hearts of everyone in the room with his positive attitude and uplifting message.

"Keeping an open-mind allows a person to adapt to any situation and find solutions despite feelings of vulnerability or uncertainty. This adaptation, in turn, spawns the persistent determination to see possibilities rather than challenges, breeding the creative thinking that allows people to overcome any obstacle."

After his presentation, Luca offered a workshop for youth and adults with diverse abilities, and Brennen and I were excited to take part in the instruction. Luca had spoken about how it is the slightest movements that make the greatest impact in a performance, and recognizing the value that each particular dancer brings to the piece.

"He understands that different body types and ability levels interpret movements slightly differently. Rather than making imitation of movements the goal, Luca works with dancers to push their boundaries and explore various possibilities which, in turn, allows for unique and emotional connections within the choreographies."

It was incredible to see so many individuals with diverse abilities throw out their inhibitions and use their bodies to create their own unique dance moves. And there were some seriously good dancers in the house!

Like Bella:

And Graysen:

And Hannah:

As a parent, when your child receives a life-altering diagnosis and you are told that he will likely never walk or talk or be able to do anything independently, so many of your hopes are crushed and your dreams go out the window. Thirteen years ago, when our diagnosis was still fresh, I could never have imagined that Brennen and I would be participating in a dance workshop, where his abilities were valued and his movements were celebrated.

Having a child with a disability is not an experience to be pitied, but a joy that makes me feel pretty damn lucky to be living this life, and I know I'm not the only one. Standing around that dance circle in the gymnasium this morning, I felt like the proudest mother there, until I caught the looks on the faces of the other parents and realized that they too felt like the proudest in the room. I am forever grateful for the gift that Brennen is in our lives, and when I attend events like this one, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be a part of this community. Watching these children, all dancers in their own right, makes me understand even more that every life holds great value and there is infinite beauty in our unique abilities.

Thank you, Luca, for spending time with us and for sharing your talents with our community. Thank you for your meaningful message. And thank you for seeing what we see - that our families are lucky and wonderfully blessed, and our children have so much to offer. I hope you enjoyed your time in Newfoundland. You have certainly left a lasting impression on all of us!

Friday, October 5, 2018

No Excuses. No Limits.

You guys are going to be so tired of hearing me talk about Luca 'LazyLegs' Patuelli, but I just can't help myself! If you saw my last post, you know that Luca is here touring the province this week, and I couldn't be more exited! After hearing him speak on the panel at MUN about 'Reframing disABILITY' a couple of days ago, it was incredible to see him perform and present his "No Excuses. No Limits." program at City Hall here in St. John's.

Throughout his career, Luca has been able to share his message with over a million audience members world-wide. Offering a charismatic, interactive, and dynamic presentation on his own successes and failures, Luca spoke personally about how perseverance has gotten him to where he is today.

Luca talked a lot about his dance career, and demonstrated how he uses his upper body strength to create a unique dance style that has garnered him worldwide recognition. Luca is the creator and current manager of the ILL-Abilities Crew, and he co-founded Project RAD, which was Canada's first inclusive urban dance program offering people of all ages and all abilities the possibility to participate in accessible dance studios.

Luca explained that in Hip Hop, the words 'bad' and 'sick' mean good, and so he uses the term 'ill' in ILL-Abilities to mean really good. It represents an adaptation of power, strength, and creativity. Believing in yourself to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Creating advantages from disadvantages, and exploiting your capabilities - to live life to the fullest potential.

Thank you to Alick Tsui for capturing these images! 

Luca's performance was impressive. His presentation was remarkable, and his message was important: "No Excuses. No Limits." I've been saying it all week, and I'm not done talking about him yet! Luca will be performing again to a sold-out crowd at Easter Seals House on Saturday, followed by a dance workshop and social. I am excited to see how Brennen responds to him. I know he will love the music and the hip hop beats, but I am not sure if he will be up for showing off his sick moves on the dance floor. Maybe we will practice a little at home before the weekend. I'm always up for a pajama dance party!

"Dance challenges us to surpass our limitations by discovering strength within. So, live your life to the fullest and dance beautifully!
- Luca "LazyLegz" Patuelli

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Reframing disABILITY

When it comes to inclusion, we try to cover all the bases as a community. There are so many areas and perspectives that need attention, and mountains are not going to move overnight, but I am excited to say that some wonderful things are happening in our province with regards to accessibility in the arts. It is encouraging to know that people (like my dear friend, Paul Power) are committed to creating diverse and accessible projects, not as some charity outreach mission, but as responsible citizens who are committed to representing the real world - a world that includes persons with disabilities.

This afternoon, I attended a panel discussion titled 'Reframing disABILTY: The Perspective From Artists in Performing Arts'.

The panel included three professional performing artists all living with a disability - Luca 'Lazylegs' Patuelli, Erin Ball, and Paul Power, and was moderated by Emily Christy, of the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities - NL.

The artists each described their own experiences and various triumphs overcoming adversity in their respective roles. Their stories are both inspiring and motivating, and resulted in an important conversation around inclusivity, accessibility, and overcoming extraordinary challenges.

Paul Power has spent the last 25 years working as a writer, actor and director. Born with a disability requiring the use of crutches and leg braces for mobility, Paul has a long history in raising awareness and understanding about disability issues through his work as a playwright, columnist, director, actor and community leader. Paul is one of 13 deaf, disabled and MAD art leaders from across the country who participated in the National Arts Centre 2016-2017 cycle. The cycle was a year long process that explored diversity in our national theater scene and how artists can work to expand and strengthen disability arts in Canada. Paul is committed to applying what he's learned during this process to projects and initiatives in his own community as well as other areas of Atlantic Canada. Paul currently has his own production company, Power Productions, based in St. John's which produces and advocates for theatre projects focused on disability, deaf and MAD arts.

Paul talked about his experience as a "disabled actor" and auditioning for roles unrelated to his disability. He spoke about how he always felt like the only one with a disability in the theatre world here in Newfoundland, and how that is what led him to create plays that represented persons with disabilities on the stage. Paul said, "I think another factor of inclusion is doing by seeing, and from a theatre perspective, challenging directors and casting agents to broaden their horizon in their casting. It's not good enough just to say 'We welcome everybody'. What I've learned through our activities is that to make change you really have to go in there and pull people out to insight change because it's not going to happen on its own."

Erin Ball is a circus artist from Kingston, Ontario. Her disciplines include aerial silks and trapeze, both solo and duo, wheelchair acrobatics and aerial wheelchair, flexibility and hooping. Erin is also experienced with aerial hoop, partner acrobatics and hand-balancing. She took a year off in March 2014 due to a life changing event that resulted in the loss of her lower legs. She has since returned to her passion of training, coaching and performing, and loves adapting and creating new and different ways of executing her skills. Erin loves to move and to connect with others through movement and play, and she has worked with many diverse groups of people. She developed a workshop and manual in 2017 called 'Flying Footless' - a course for aerial coaches working with amputees. She recently hosted the first amputee circus camp week with Kingston Circus Arts. Erin is involved in many artistic projects, including her company, LEGacy Circus, and various aerial and ground works and creative audio description projects to make circus more accessible for the blind and partially-sighted community.

Erin said that five years ago, she would never have imagined where she is today. "It has been the richest, most fulfilling years of my life.. and the hardest. I have learned so much and continue to every day. Today, I am proud to call myself a member of disabled community, and I hope that I can continue to represent on the circus stage, and get as many others to join me as possible!"

Watch Erin's extraordinary story of survival and how she got back in the ring after losing her lower legs HERE.

Luca 'Lazylegz' Patuelli has lived by the "No Excuses, No Limits" motto his whole life. Born with a neuromuscular disorder affecting the bones and joints of the body, he has undergone many surgeries to support his legs, hips, spine and shoulders.

Luca has been dancing since he was 15 years old. He developed a unique dance style, taking advantage of his upper body strength. By using his crutches as extensions of his arms, Bboy Lazylegz was born! Combining his passion for dance with his knowledge of engaging the masses, he has become a strong advocate for inclusion and integration as he aims to bring people of all abilities together through the power of dance.

Luca had me in tears when he talked about working with children who have more severe disabilities. He stressed the importance of observation, stating that when working with any type of ability, you have to be able to observe what kind of movement is coming out of the person. For example, a person with cerebral palsy may have very limited movement such as the opening and closing of a hand. "Someone might look at that and think, how are we going to integrate them, but this movement of the hand can be interpreted as a beautiful movement within dance. It is the slightest movements that make the greatest difference in a performance."

To hear Luca talk about the amount of passion and energy that can be felt within those slight movements, hit me right in the heart. Thinking of my own child, who has very limited mobility and very few intentional movements, knowing that there is someone like Luca who recognizes that his movements can be purposeful and beautiful.. I was a mess. Luca, you get it, and I am so happy that you are sharing your insight with the world.

Luca is taking his "No Excuses, No Limits" tour across Newfoundland, bringing his inspiring message of inclusion, perseverance, personal empowerment and overcoming adversity to audiences young and old from all walks of life. He has just visited four locations in the province, starting on the West coast and working his way East, with performances in Corner Brook, Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, and Gander. He is now in St. John's and will perform at City Hall on October 3rd and at Easter Seals House on October 6th. Be sure to get tickets! You don't want to miss it!