Article By Becky Mock; Teacher MVHS
March 18, 2019
Missing all of his limbs, except for his right arm, seated in a wheelchair, Bob Mortimer addressed the students and staff of Mt. View High School and Burney Community Day School. He had a cheerful opening that put everyone at ease. He put on shades and played his “one arm man blues” song on his harmonica singing playful lyrics that made light of his physical condition. He word a ball cap on his head with the word “Handy” on it.
Bob’s presentation was brought to the FRJUSD office and sponsored by Carmen Schuette of Shasta County’s Health and Human Services Agency. His objective was to talk about how he came to be in his physical condition, and what we as people, young and older, can learn from his experience.
Bob was in a car accident when he was 21 years old. Now (age) years old, Bob told the story about how he and his buddy were drinking and driving on their way home from a party one night, hit a power pole, and survived the crash without a scratch, that is, until Bob tried to get out of the car and walk up the side of the hill. That is when he was struck to his knees by a loose power line. His legs from the knees down and his left arm were seized by the electricity, and he was rendered without their use. He spent 6 months in the hospital in recovery, eventually consenting to have what was left of his shriveled limbs to be amputated when it became clear they could not be saved.
Bob went on to explain the audience that the only handicap he has is the one on his head. “This is the only handicap I have,” he said holding the cap out to be seen. “It’s an adjustment to have to live this way, but it is not a handicap. The only handicaps we have are the ones we put on ourselves.”
Bob went on to say that he has a nickname at the local community pool. “They call me Bob,” he said with a grin. “Yes, I go swimming. I don’t let this condition stop me. A handicap can be an attitude of low self-esteem, comparing ourselves to others, or not exercising. We all have to exercise!” Mr. Mortimer explained that he rides a 3-wheeled bike and that he bikes with his whole family using his hand cycle. He and his family have biked together cross-country through the United States twice, making stops along the way to give his testimony to those they meet.
“If I can do it, you can do it. I don’t want to hear about what you can’t do. I want to hear about what you can do.” Bob went on to explain that our handicaps can be things like how we treat other people. “If you can’t treat other people with dignity and respect, you have a handicap.”
Mr. Mortimer went on to describe his home life growing up. He was the youngest of 5 boys and 2 girls. He found his dad dead at the age of 41 one day, of an overdose on alcohol and drugs. This was rough on his self-esteem. He dropped out of high school. He said that every day after that he felt like he wore a mask every day to hide his pain. “My mask was a handicap for me. I never felt like I was good enough. Don’t be like me. Find someone in your life you can talk to who is not going to judge you or convict you if you share your secrets.” Bob went on to state that one should not look for such people in negative places like a bar, a party, or a setting with illegal activities going on. “Look for people who are positive, and who like you for who you uniquely are.”
Bob went on to describe how after he was released from the hospital that he went back to drugs and alcohol because he felt less lonely. “As long as I had drugs or alcohol to share with others, they were my friends. It’s easier to go back to the old road than it is to change.”
Mr. Mortimer’s friend, Darla, offered him help one day, and he took it. His self-esteem improved, and he ended up marrying Darla. He went back to get his high school diploma. They now live in the state of Washington and have three successful children between them. “When Darla helped me, she gave me the Bible. I quit my destructive ways. I eventually became a minister. That is why our children are so successful, because we broke the chain of alcoholism and drug abuse.”
Bob went on to explain that when the person who is supposed to be the leader breaks the chain of abuse, one’s life will change exponentially in a positive way, not just in a few decades, but very quickly. Bob’s closing thought for his audience was to “get rid of the handicaps in your life. Be the leader. Be the hero.”