| This is the 74th story of Our Life Logs |
1 | My Story Begins
In Sweden in the year 1968, my mother was in the emergency room after she had been beaten by my father. The doctors rushed to her aid in a frenzy, not only because she had suffered domestic abuse, but also because she was pregnant with me. The details of my birth have been hidden from me, but I do know that the doctor took me away from my mother because I was not breathing. The staff tried to revive me, but eventually gave up. I was placed among the other newborn children who were pronounced dead. But my story was not over.
Forty-five minutes after I had been placed among the deceased, a nurse noticed I was breathing. She hailed a doctor who then surveyed my state of life. The doctor told my mother that I was not expected to eat normally, walk, or even turn my own body while I was in bed. He said I would need constant help to live on earth.
The doctor wrote in the journal diagnosis: severe cerebral palsy.
In short, cerebral palsy is a motor disorder that has occurred from damage to the nervous system. Those with cerebral palsy cannot control spasms in their muscles. The affectedness of the symptoms varies from person to person.
From birth, my body was twisted. My feet pointed inward, transverse to Charlie Chaplin. My hands were tied like a boxer. I spoke badly, because I spoke when inhaling, instead of exhaling. However, I could think and perceive the world, like any other being on earth.
• • •
My mother left my father when I was 2 years old, and later remarried. My mother and stepfather were loving, and hospitable. I grew up in a home where everyone was welcome. Many family members and travelers from different countries came and went. Some stayed with us for a few months, and some stayed with us for years. These people opened me up to new ideas and ways of life.
I always dreamed big, disregarding my obvious obstacles. When I was 4 years old, I wanted to be a rock climber after I saw a man climb Mount Everest on TV. The vertical mountain walls fascinated me. My mother discouraged me, because she did not believe I could make money from this.
2 | My Beloved Mentor
When I was 7 years old I wanted to be a pianist. However, my twisted hands made this impossible. At that age, I did not know that things in life could be impossible. I wanted to become a pianist and managed to persuade my mother to send me to music school. For 10 years I went to my music teacher and mentor Abdelrahman “Abdo” Elkhatib. Abdo said I could not pass a mirror without correcting my body. He always told me, “you should not resemble the leaning tower of Pisa, so stand straight!” Abdo said that when I watched TV, I should force my fingers on my thighs and not have my hand tied. I did exactly as Abdo said. With his guidance, I learned drums and other percussion instruments, and of course, the piano. I practiced three to four times a week with my mentor, and gradually spread my crumpled hands, learning new songs and measures. I learned so much from Abdo. He taught me that music is about shaping all the ups and downs of life in notes, and I knew he was correct.
Abdo retired as a music teacher in 1986 and had a final concert. I played at this concert, on the grand piano, in front of 500 listeners.
3 | Heart of an Athlete
When I was ten years old, in the year of 1980, the pictures from Olympic Games, in Moscow, rolled on the TV. I was mesmerized by the skill and dedication of these athletes. From my guidance from Adbo, I was gradually getting stronger. And so, I decided to train for the Olympic games.
I woke up very early each morning to train before school. This morning run happened every day for nearly 15 years. After school, I usually went to my music teacher, and in the evenings, I practiced Judo. Thirteen years of Judo training gave me a natural way of learning to open my crippled hands to grab my opponent’s Judo clothes while we spared. My feet were trained to turn outwards to balance when throwing a human with a Judo throw. This laid the foundation for the whole of my sports career.
At age 20, and after 10 years of training, I came to hear of something called Paralympics. This is a major international event involving athletes with a variety of disabilities. I sought to join the national team and was picked up almost immediately. My assigned field events were short distance running, 100 and 200 meters, and long jump. I loved to jump high jump, but it was not a contested event within the scope of the Paralympics. Even so, I decided to pursue this new sport with all my might.
My training increased, I practiced full-time, 40-50 hours a week. During the fall’s heavy training periods, I would practice between 70-90 hours a week. My trainers taught me that a sprinter always walks on his toe and he never puts his heel in the down in the ground. Every step, every breath, and every movement were a training session.
• • •
Sixteen years after I first decided to become an Olympic athlete, I reached my dream. I was in the finals of the 100 and 200 meter races, and the long jump event at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
I walked up to the starting line for the long jump, looking ahead towards the pit of sand. As I looked to the stands, I heard the murmurs of 68,000 people who were waiting for us long jumpers to complete our competition. It had been raining and we heard cracks of thunder. As I began moving my legs towards the pit, I could no longer feel the drops of cool water. Then it happened. I met the wooden board, perfect, with my left foot. Then the air voyage and the movements of my acrobatic body flew into the sand. The judges begin to measure the distance from the wooden board to my landing.
The scoreboard spun, and finally pictured my distance: 4.98 meters (13.123 foot). I beat world record.
But I felt lost. All the straining from my title-claiming movements caused my abdominal muscles to cramp. Like a coal-black fog veil, as I was always swept in to the pain.
• • •
I took time off from my athletic career. Between 1997-2009 I did various assignments as a life coach. While keeping the same tenacious heart I had grown into, I was excited to inspire others to excel. Guiding in all walks of life was easy for me. I grew up with all the different people who lived with us, made it easy to put myself into different life situations. To act and talk to people became a part of my life, too. It became like a small theater performance when I performed. I did many public speaking appearances and remained full of passion.
4 | The Pain Returns
I found that my mentor Abdo died summer 2013. He did talk about me, to people all over the world. He shared storied of his mentoring and about my music creation. At 91 years old he had become a legend, perhaps most famous for writing the National Anthem of Saudi Arabia. When his countryman, from Egypt, author Naguib Mafouz received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, Abdo performed at the Nobel dinner in the City Hall of Stockholm. I started composing music again, an endeavor that would have made my music teacher happy.
Sitting with Abdelrahman “Abdo” Elkhatib, the noted Egyptian composer, compose the music for the National Anthem of Saudi Arabia. (From left to right: Me, Adbo’s wife, Adbo, my first wife.)
But all too soon, cramps and pain began to take over my life. My cerebral palsy induced muscle twitching consumed my body. I was constantly in pain. I could not put on my socks some days because it hurt my body. In 2009, I left my country of birth with a one-way ticket to Thailand. The heat and humidity of my new country healed me. I was painless. I was able to rekindle old passions and pursue interests again.
5 | The Way in Life
The person I am today is a free person. My calendar is empty. This means no meetings are booked and will go 6-7 months before I meet with a client or advisee. I have begun to focus on what I want in my life. I have met challenge, I have overcome obstacles, and now, I wish to express my experiences through my art and music creation. I choose to live a more isolated life with my creation, and I am happy. Only time will determine if people will seek to hear my music, or see my art, or to watch my film creation. Regardless, I have found my way in life.
This is the story of Mikael Avatar
Born with severe cerebral palsy, Mikael didn’t let his disease stop him from chasing his dreams. He learned to play the piano at an early age even though his twisted body made it nearly impossible. Then, as he was determined to be an Olympic athlete, he spent numerous hours of training and sweats to reach his dream, eventually beating the world record in long jump. Today, Mikael lives in Rayong, Thailand, by the sea. There he creates his art, his music and makes art films. He still has life coaching with people and gives speeches around the world.
This story first touched our hearts on March 13, 2018.
| Writer: Mikael Avatar | Editors: Colleen Walker; Kristen Petronio; MJ |