Born with mild cerebral palsy and ADHD, Micah Walker had a lot to overcome as he grew up.
“It was pretty bad in elementary school,” he told a sixth-grade class at Mountlake Terrace’s Cedar Way Elementary, where he was invited as a guest speaker on Tuesday. “I was called names. I was bullied. Some days I’d come home in tears. It can be tough when you’re different, but eventually you learn that no matter what the outside differences — walking with limp, using a wheelchair, learning disabilities — we’re all the same on the inside.”
Micah began by telling the students what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy.
“I’ve never known anything different, so for me it’s my normal,” he related. “I know I look different — I walk with a limp, my arm and hand muscles don’t extend completely. But I think of myself as…well…myself. I know others see me as looking different, but I don’t feel different.”
In addition to the cerebral palsy, Micah’s other condition, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), makes it difficult for him to learn in traditional ways. According to government statistics, one in 10 children between the ages of 4 and 17 suffers from ADHD.
“In the fourth grade I went into what they called ‘special ed,’ he told the students. “It was different than the traditional classroom, where you learn by hearing and understanding. Instead, it was mostly small groups and lots more hands-on activities where you learn by doing. I’m still very much a hands-on learner, and whenever I instruct others I use that approach. For me, it’s the best way to learn.”
Many in the community know Micah as the “does-it-all” guy at Edmonds’ Harbor Square Athletic Club, where he’s worked for the past 24 years. He goes about his work with a smile and is valued by members, co-workers and club owners alike. What doesn’t show on the surface is how the years he’s spent grappling with personal challenges has left him with a burning desire to reach out and help others in similar situations. And it’s more than just a desire. He does it.
For many years, Micah has worked with students in the Edmonds School District VOICE program to gain the skills they’ll need to become productive, contributing members of the community despite what for some are a host of physical and mental challenges. With the support of the Harbor Square Athletic Club management, Micah brings them to the workplace and uses his considerable skills as a hands-on teacher to help the students learn real-world job skills. (See My Edmonds News coverage of Micah’s work with VOICE here.)
A modest guy by nature, Micah is not one to brag about his contributions — but word is definitely getting out. This year he was recognized by the Daybreakers Rotary Club with the distinguished Paul Harris Fellow award in honor of his many years of living the Rotary motto, Service Above Self.
Micah was adopted at age 16 months from India. He grew up in Edmonds as the only boy in a single-parent family. His five sisters, also adopted, all have special needs. His mom Esther Walker dropped in to watch Tuesday’s presentation and be there to support Micah.
At the conclusion of his talk, Micah took questions from the students that varied from “does cerebral palsy hurt?” (answer: sometimes) to “what’s your favorite food?” (answer: Snickers candy bars).
One student asked what to do if they see someone being bullied or picked on because they’re different.
“Tell them to stop,” Micah advised. “Then tell someone like a teacher or a parent about it. This kind of behavior is totally not cool. It’s wrong no matter where it happens, but particularly in school where it gets in the way of learning. We’re here to learn, not to tease and make fun. And never forget that we’re all important and each of us deserves respect and consideration. And always remember — differences are just on the outside; inside we’re all the same.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel