GUELPH, Ont. — Ron Bachman is a small man with a large stature.
An international champion of diversity in its myriad forms and opponent to school and workplace conflict, the double amputee told an audience recently he feels no less valuable to society than those who have legs.
In an earlier speech Bachman gave in Saginaw Que, he shared how one day back in the 1960s, at age 10, he used his hands to peddle his Big Wheel to the neighborhood store to buy candy. Two boys around 15 blocked his way. Bachman was born with deformed legs, and doctors had amputated them.
“They just picked me up and my Big Wheel and ran with me down an alley and beat me up,” Bachman related.
With Bachman screaming, the boys tossed his Big Wheel on top of the store’s roof while they pummeled him.
“They pried open my eyes and filled my eyes with pepper,” he told the stunned students inside the gymnasium at St. Stephen School.
“That was the worst day in my life. Losing my legs was a piece of cake.”
“You don’t overcome this disability. You learn to live with it,” Bachman told Guelph-area Grade 9 youths and Linamar Corp. employees at the auto-parts maker’s research, development and training centre.
He’s done far more than that, despite having his legs amputated at age four because of a profound birth deformity.
A former radio broadcaster, Bachman has over the years spoken to more than a million youths and 300,000 adults.
Through Linamar sponsorship, Bachman, 52, was in Guelph all last week speaking in particular to schools about bullying, violence and discrimination.
Bachman said he was bullied as a child and felt discrimination all his adult life. He recalled one speaking engagement a while back where he was pleased with himself for striking a chord with students in his native Michigan. “I was 20 feet tall.”
But a few minutes later and a few miles away, he ran into a man who said: “If I looked like you, I’d go home and kill myself.”
Bachman was momentarily tempted to respond in kind as a joke. Instead, he was struck by how out of touch with reality the man was.
“Think about how sad he must be,” Bachman said. The man appeared to be the picture of health, yet didn’t know how lucky he was not to face the physical and mental challenges others do.
“That’s why I do what I do,” said Bachman, who zipped around the sprawling room on a fast, custom-made Amigo scooter.
Children and youth need to have a positive outlook on life, value the blessings they have and treat each other well, rejecting bullying and violence, Bachman repeatedly said.
“Think with a positive outlook that you have a mission,” he implored them. “Hopefully, you’ll leave another student alone, and if you’re being bullied, it’ll go away.”
That means learning to appreciate diversity from an early age.
“How do they get those skills? You guys,” he said, pointing to the adults in the room.
“I found it very moving,” Grade 9 student Bhana Elias said, giving Bachman a hug after the event.
Elias, whose mother is a Linamar machine operator, was impressed with Bachman’s strong message that everyone is different and that should be honoured, not shunned.
“I saw the world in a better way,” said Elias, who lives in Kitchener.
Linamar supervisor Mike Zelobowski added compassion and understanding are laudable, universal goals relevant not just to teens growing up.
“I think adults can always learn from that,” Zelobowski said.
Years after being attacked with pepper as a child, Bachman told of meeting a man with a long ponytail, dressed in Harley-Davidson gear while leaving a Rod Stewart concert at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
The man recognized Bachman.
“The man said ‘I was the boy who poured pepper in your eye,’” Bachman said.
The man asked for Bachman’s forgiveness, and Bachman forgave him. He then told Bachman that his two children have muscular dystrophy.
“God bless those kids,” Bachman said. “I think about what he must be going through. The man said that God was punishing him. I said he was punishing himself. The moral of the story is be careful how you talk to someone. It’s that basic, that simple.”
During his speech in Guelph, Bachman called one student at random to the front of the audience.
“I love you,” Bachman told him, stressing he meant by that the youth was valued and appreciated as an individual, regardless of his background.
“You belong here,” he told the youth in referring to the community.
Turning to the audience, Bachman, founder of the Walk This Way Foundation, added: “Think, think, think how great diversity really is.”