Arthur Renowitzky speaks at Sobrato rally as part of Life Goes On Foundation
Published in the September 12 – 25, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Danielle Dokter
During a San Francisco street robbery for a wallet containing $20, a bullet hit Arthur Renowitzky’s spine. Several days before Christmas 2007, he woke out of a three-week coma. Doctors informed him he was paralyzed from the waist down. The young man who loved sports so much learned his life would be forever changed.
After months of rigorous rehabilitation, Renowitzky regained his ability to speak. With that accomplishment, he made a decision to use his voice to empower others — and for the past decade he’s done that as a motivational speaker for the Life Goes On Foundation. Aug 16, the first day back to school in the Morgan Hill Unified School District, he rolled himself in his wheelchair to the center of the basketball court in the Sobrato High School gym. About 1,400 students applauded and cheered his transformation of a tragedy into a triumph. He gave them all an important message: Life goes on.
Renowitzky told the Sobrato students that after he woke up from his coma, doctors delivered the hard news that his life would be completely different. His spinal injury impairs him from the chest down, though he has normal arm and hand function.
“I was also told that I would possibly lose my voice and not be able to speak,” he said. “But as you can see today, I’m here speaking and I’m super grateful to share my story and talk and have a conversation. One thing I promised myself when I got my voice back is that I would never take it for granted and I would use it for something powerful.”
Doctors and therapists also told Renowitzky he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. He knew, however, he was destined for more. Through rehabilitation at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center he adapted to a life without use of his legs and slowly regained his independence. He learned how to drive, work out at the gym, and rebuild the basic skills for doing the daily activities most people take for granted.
“It was a fight at the beginning,” he said. “I really had to keep pushing forward. I had to fight off depression. I had to fight off societal perceptions toward those in wheelchairs. Just because we are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. We can do whatever we put our mind to — and so can you guys.”
Renowitzky is an athlete at heart. He has the competitive mindset and a hunger for success. In the months of rehabilitation, he often fell into a stadepression. To help him, doctors implemented wheelchair basketball for exercise and cardio training. The sport brought him out of his dark mood and gave him strength and confidence.
Renowitzky now plays for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association on the Golden State team. Every NBA team has its own NWBA team. The sport keeps him in shape and also helps him connect with the students at the Life Goes On rallies.
“Any opportunity you have in front of you, don’t let it pass, keep moving forward and take advantage of those opportunities, because you may never have them again,” he said.
In 2008 he founded the Life Goes On Foundation to help people overcome challenges and strive for the best possible outcome. Through the nonprofit organization’s speaker series, hospital care packages, adaptive sports, and education, patients with spinal injuries are inspired and given hope until a possible cure or life-changing device is invented to assist them with their disability. LGO focuses on spinal cord injury awareness as well as gun violence prevention with rallies that inspire and motivate young people.
At the beginning of every school year, student leaders at Sobrato choose a mission statement to motivate students and stay diligent in their studies and curricular activities. This year’s statement quotes President Barack Obama: “We are the change that we seek.”
The student leaders asked Renowitzky to introduce this mission statement at the Aug. 16 rally because his story embodies the same message the student body chose. At the beginning of the assembly, Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing introduced Renowitzky as someone who demonstrates a determination to overcome adversity.
“Building mutual respect can help us also build resiliency and that resiliency forms a group of friends, which helps us bounce back when we face issues that are challenging in life,” Swing said.
At the end of Renowitzky’s talk he invited several Sobrato students to come from the bleachers to the court and try to shoot baskets while sitting in a wheelchair. The teens found it a challenge to roll around the gym floor and throw the ball from a sitting position, but several came close to getting the ball through the hoop.
The rally served as a fun way to start the school year with a motivating speaker who reminded the students that life is what you make it and, despite any challenge, “life goes on.”
Orion Woods, a Sobrato athlete was truly inspired by Renowitzky’s story and words of encouragement.
“I learned that anything you put your mind to you can accomplish and even make a change greater than yourself,” he said.
Student Mika Gaxiola learned that even in the worst of times there is always a way to find the strength to get back up and find the light in darkness.
“It inspired me because I had a very difficult summer and I was still feeling a lot of anger and negativity, but it helped me embrace that things happen for a reason,” she said. “It made me realize that there are tons of people who struggle so much more than me and getting to see that and hear his story encouraged me to find the positives and look at things through a new perspective.”
For student Kianna Maldia, the Life Goes On rally gave her a sense of hope.
“When he described his paralysis and explained that it was difficult for him to live he still fought through it all and played the game that he loves,” she said. “Even though he has paralysis he found his way to still play sports and become an inspiration to others.”
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