If you’re at the Childress Klein YMCA uptown, you may end up meeting Eric Setzer.
How do you act when you encounter people with physical disabilities? Do you look the other way or do you stare?
When I started working out in the mornings at the Childress Klein YMCA, I noticed a member there who was in a wheelchair. Our paths usually crossed every morning – he was finishing up with an ab workout, I was starting mine with stretching and a core workout.
I admit that, on more than one occasion, I thought, “Why is a guy in a wheelchair working out at a gym?” I just kept my iPod earbuds tucked in my ears.
After some time, I noticed that he would spend a lot of time talking to other members. Topics ranged from current events to history to politics to sports. I remember hoping he didn’t talk to me. I had a workout to finish.
More time passed. We made eye contact and established a daily head nod.
Finally, the day came where the guy in the wheelchair said, “Hey, my name’s Eric. I see you here every morning.”
The guy in the wheelchair is Eric Setzer. He has been coming to the Childress Klein YMCA in the mornings to work out and find fellowship for years. Setzer was born and raised in Hickory.
In 1984 he was 22, an industrial engineering student, and working as a supervisor at a furniture factory when he had a stroke with a brain hemorrhage.
Unknown to Setzer at the time, he had an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in his brainstem.
A rise in blood pressure caused the AVM to burst in his neck. After the stroke, his IQ was assessed at 69, considered extremely low. Many people, including doctors and his family, told him he could not return to school.
Four months after his stroke, Eric enrolled in Catawba Valley Community College to take accounting and business courses. In 1994, Eric moved to the Queen City and obtained an associate degree in human services from Central Piedmont Community College. He made the dean’s list.
He wants to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in social work.
As for his YMCA routine, Setzer shows up at the gym for himself, to keep himself as strong as possible. He lives alone and gets around Charlotte via public transportation. But, he also comes here to make a point.
“I want to break preconceived notions that others have about people with disabilities,” Setzer said. “Giving up is not an option.”
He also volunteers with the Mecklenburg Advocacy Council for People with Disabilities as a voice for the disabled.
“I wish some things were different, but there are no regrets,” he said.
Now, my workout is not complete without a healthy dose of Setzer prodding me for my views on anything and everything. If I missed a workout, he wants to make sure everything is fine. Then, on with the conversation du jour.
Sometimes it just takes a conversation to break down prejudices and pre-conceived notions. Has that opportunity presented itself to you? Good. Make eye contact, take out the earbuds and introduce yourself.
Gregory Kurts works with Wells Fargo Securities. He is an avid reader, banjo player and Bob Dylan fan. Follow him on Twitter at @Pope662.