Wheels of Fate: Cerebral Palsy on Stage

Mike Berkson and Handicap ThisThe time is 7:56 pm, four minutes till Showtime. Tim and I wait behind the curtain, anticipating the lights going down and the voice-over to begin. The house is full, we only know this because Tim anxiously peeks out and reports back to me, “Looks like Standing Room Only!” which is a term I never really liked, ha ha. I am calm; I have done this, what seems to me like a million times. Tim is not so calm, but it is his anxious energy that’s made this successful, yet crazy endeavor possible. As Tim prepares to wheel me onto the stage, my thoughts cannot help but drift back to the first time that me and my compatriot met.

I remember it like it was yesterday, Wednesday June 6, 2001. Once again I was performing. My able-bodied twin brother David and I were selected to host the 6th grade talent show. I was given the task of coming up with a name for the show. I settled on “Crouching Students, Hidden Talents”. Our job was to introduce everyone in the talent show and tell the audience what the act was. Little did I know that in the crowd that day was a twenty-something, soon to be my partner in crime, Tim Wambach. He proved to be energetic, forever smiling, and an all around perfect fit.

As the show got underway and my brother and I started, from my time to time I would hear an infectious laugh, one that when I hear it today can still make me crack a smile, even in the most darkest times. When the show concluded, the audience stood up and cheered. Tim came up to us and congratulated us on a job well done. This was my first encounter with Tim but it would certainly not be the last. Later that week, Tim arrived at my house which would become his home away from home. His indoctrination into the Berkson family was a game of NBA Live 2002 against David, as I watched. Our relationship was off to the races.

Tim worked with me throughout that summer and began his duties as my aide in school that fall. In the school environment, Tim saw that other students treated me differently because of the wheelchair. They automatically thought that because I had a physical disability, my mental facilities were impaired as well.

This misconception motivated Tim to do something that would forever change our lives for the better. In April 2005, Tim put his plan into motion. He decided that he would run from Orlando, FL all the way back to Chicago, IL for the purpose of raising awareness for the way I live and for those living with cerebral palsy and to inspire everyone to go after their own goals and dreams!

On July 31, 2005 Tim started this journey. One month later, I would join him for a final lap back in Chicago. Tim’s amazing accomplishment soon spread like wildfire among our community and beyond. We were soon asked to do numerous speaking engagements re-counting lessons learned from our relationship as well as Tim’s experiences during the run.

There was such an outpouring of positive feedback from our speeches that it sparked another monumental idea in our minds. In April of 2007, we decided that our story had all the makings of a theatrical production – we had 1) an entertaining spirit, 2) important message, 3) a willingness to put ourselves out there and 4) people already were enjoying the heck out of us!

Our show debuted in January of 2010. Since its inception, we have performed the show over 40 times and over 30,000 people have seen it live.

We have traveled all over the country from Arizona to Pennsylvania and we have had the opportunity to perform for a wide variety of people including students in middle schools, high school and college students, disability organizations, and corporations.

We are always working on our craft, refining and looking for ways to improve the audience experience. But the most rewarding feeling when performing the show is the knowledge that we give a voice to a group of individuals who often go unheard.

You can find us on the “Handicap This!” website. We are also very active on Social Media – look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest.

Rollin’ into a town near you!

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