This is the sixth year that we have given an award to a New Rochelle High School Senior.
Inspired by my son, A.J., who as a dyslexic, struggled in school, could not decipher letters, read time – all with an IQ of 145 (and to this day has trouble with the seasons) and as a way of building his self esteem, we would suggest sports, baseball, football, and along the way we discovered that he loved speed and flight…
Once again, in trying to build up his self esteem, and since he would be so quiet, in our wanting him to express himself, we felt that if he was doing something he loved to do, he would HAVE to express himself. SO, starting at the young age of 12, we sent him on seven different occasions to Space Camp in Alabama, and he loved it. In those days, you could pay a small ($20) fee to have the stewardess walk your child to the awaiting Space Camp rep, and perhaps it is the same today, only I am not so sure I would feel comfortable doing it today – but that is a different story!. A.J. loved Space Camp so much that at the age of 14, he won a scholarship in a contest for students 16 and under to attend a free week there, and won the Top Gun Award while there (pitted against students 16 and under). He always wanted to be fighter pilot, but because of his dyslexia and his requiring contact lenses, that particular dream was not a viable one. SO, typical of A.J., he didn’t give up, and he joined the Civil Air Patrol also at the age of 12, and became Sergeant of the Year at the age of 14.
His love of speed then directed him to the sport of luge when he was 11, and he became the Number 1 U.S Junior Luge Athlete at 14 for athletes 17 and under… but was never invited to participate in Europe…The coach told him to become Number One again, and he would send him to Europe, but without the European race training, different tracks.. that goal was an impossible one). The perseverance that A.J achieved through his academic struggles served him well, and while he had been accepted to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, (he had learned to fly solo when he was 16 at a summer program at the University), he realized that while he could always attend college (luge cuts into every college semester), you only have a few short years in which to train for the Olympics and so when the U.S. dropped him at the age of 18 from their program… (as he never achieved the Number One spot again), he approached Great Britain. Anticipating his being cut from the program, and being British, I initiated the paperwork to make A.J. a British citizen. The U.S. does not recognize dual citizenship but Great Britain does.
A.J., then found himself having to prove himself to Great Britain, training with mostly army athletes, which put A.J. in his element as he loves watching the History Channel and Military History. I can recall his going to Europe for a training camp that first year with his equipment, 60 lb luge sled, suitcase and backpack, and not speaking the different languages, only to discover that they never expected him there (a glitch had been made)… but they allowed him to stay anyway, and on two other occasions, his having to wait 3-5 hours at the airport to be picked up… but thankful he was being picked up! SO, at the age of 18, A.J. started traveling around Europe on his own, and he LOVED it! Great Britain realized that he wasn’t the brash, loud American they (perhaps) were expecting, and with his quiet demeanor, was very quickly accepted by his fellow athletes. A.J. has now competed in 2 Olympics, Turino and Whistler, and is hoping to make it to Sochi, Russia for his third Olympics. Oh, and by the way, after he beat two of the U.S. athletes at the Turino Olympics (great guys but who had more training than he), the U.S. called him several times to invite him back…
He never forgot his school struggles, and wanted to give something back to his school -the New Rochelle High School. A.J. has learned to speak clearly, has visited schools in Germany as a luge representative, been interviewed many times by different newspapers, television reporters, has dined on several occasions with Princess Anne, and even had lunch with Sherry Blair in Turin, and he no longer mumbles. His perseverance, tenacity and energy have served him well, and while he had received two awards from the High School, he realized that there were far more awards given to those students who have the highest of grades, but not to those other students who are also extremely bright but who perhaps don’t get those straight A’s, but who are just as exceptional.
This past Monday evening, I had the privilege of awarding David Johnson, a New Rochelle High School Senior, the “Power to Excel” Award (a $250 check) on behalf of A.J. who is training in Canada. I am now in awe of anyone who speaks publicly… I did not realize there would be an echo as you speak into the microphone, and as soon as I started speaking, heard the echo, it went down hill from there. Yikes! I had the privilege of meeting David and his mom after the ceremony, and so apologized to him in person for messing up! (I assure you I negotiate well in real estate but not in public speaking!) – and I was so impressed by David’s poise, humour and intelligence that I know that he will be a great success in life. Congratulations to you David, and to your nice mom! You definitely have the Power to Excel!
New Rochelle is GREAT!