ALLEGANY — When Dustyn Green rolled onto the stage in his wheelchair at the Allegany-Limestone High School auditorium Friday, there was no doubt about the senior’s message, which was to bring awareness of people with disabilities to the forefront.
At Green’s side for the “Wheel a Mile in My Shoes” presentation at the middle/high school campus was Julio Fuentes, a former Alfred University football player who was paralyzed in a game and now uses a wheelchair. Green and Fuentes, who spoke of his challenges over the past decade since his accident, also presented a similar program to the community later that night at the auditorium.
Prior to their presentation, Green, who has cerebral palsy, said he was conducting the presentation to ensure awareness for people with disabilities, and their everyday challenges.
“This is the way you do it, it’s collaborative and the school has been really supportive,” Green said.
Superintendent Tony Giannicchi agreed and said Green has been very proactive and even spoke with him about the capital project that involves renovations at the middle/high school campus.
“He (looked) at the new building project and pointed out some parts that need changed” to further ensure the campus is compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, Giannicchi said of Green. “He’s going to graduate, but his legacy will move on” and impact the school district.
To that Green added, “This is not about me, I’ve said this since day one, it’s about the future generations. It’s my job to pave the way forward.”
One of Green’s presentations to the student body was a video that he and physical education teacher, Jim Wieand, made over a week ago during a shopping trip in wheelchairs.
Wieand admitted in the video that he didn’t realize how many obstacles are present in public for people with disabilities. At one point, the video showed Wieand trying to line up his wheelchair near a freezer at the store to allow him to reach the food.
For his part, Fuentes told the students that he thought what Green is doing to increase awareness for people with disabilities is remarkable.
Fuentes then shared some of his own situation with the audience, after they viewed a broadcast news clip that had shown Fuentes playing football before he was injured.
“As you can see from the news video, I wasn’t always confined to a wheelchair,” Fuentes said.
“For most of my life, I was a three-sport athlete.”
He noted that a split second after he was hit in the neck during a game on the football field in September of 2006, he knew he was paralyzed.
“For the next seven months, I had to relearn how to eat, breathe on my own, speak and drive a wheelchair,” he recalled. “I had to rely on strangers to help me bathe, get dressed and even get out of bed.”
Fuentes said when he returned home, the reality of his new life set in. This included the widening of doors in his home to allow his wheelchair to move from room to room. In addition, the showers he used to take turned into bed baths.
While life was no longer easy for him, Fuentes found alternatives to the obstacles that presented themselves.
“I never expected myself to be in this situation, as most people don’t,” he admitted. “But if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that you can’t really control what the world has for you, but you can control your attitude and effort towards it.”
Attitude and effort came to the forefront for Fuentes a few years ago when he took his first steps with assistance on a football field after doctors had determined he would never walk again.
Fuentes also lives by the acronym of B.A.L.L., which stands for Beat All Life’s Limitations.
“It isn’t until we’re faced with adversity that (we’re) allowed to accomplish great things,” he remarked.
At the end of the presentation, Green surprised his fellow students when he told them that he also has a goal to walk at least one time in his life, which brought applause and a standing ovation from the audience.
Following the presentation, Fuentes’ fiance, Heather Levia, said he would like to become a public speaker to inspire and educate others.
“For him to give people that push that everything is going to be OK, that’s what he wants,” Levia said.
High school students who commented on the presentation were Ryann Zink and Ellie Waugaman.
“I thought it was really good,” Zink said of Green. “I think it was really brave of him to be able to go in front of people and tell them what was going on.”
Waugaman added, “It made you think about things that you normally don’t think about.”
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)