Luca Patuelli overcame all odds to become a break dancer.
Born with arthrogryposis, a congenital joint and muscle disease that left him unable to walk as a child, he was told he’d be confined to a wheelchair for life.
In his 29 years he’s faced 16 surgeries, but not once did he let adversity take him down.
As a youngster he was a physically active as they come. He skateboarded, went rock climbing and even swam and dove for his high school team.
“Anything I saw I would repeat it and try to do it my own way,” said the Montreal-born Patuelli, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and spoke to students Wednesday at Confederation College, delivering an inspirational message that’s taken him around the globe and landed him on the Ellen Degeneres Show.
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Break dancing, he said, was just another challenge, an activity he turned to when his latest surgery made skateboarding too painful.
His first competition was disastrous. While warming up he broke his leg so severely he wound up in a body cast for two-and-a-half months, missing most of his senior year of high school.
His parents were furious, looking back at all the surgeries and wondering why he kept trying to push himself to his body’s limit and beyond.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to start dancing because it was a real painful moment,” he told the crowd, balancing on crutches he’s started to shed for longer and longer stretches these days.
But a move back to Montreal convinced Patuelli to give it another shot. He signed up for a local competition and hasn’t looked back.
“That day was the first time I touched the dance floor since the day I broke my leg,” he said.
“That day I came in fourth.”
Patuelli paused for dramatic effect before continuing his tale.
“There were only four dancers.”
Patuelli has taught himself to do a handstand, despite limited range of motion in his shoulders, and mimic moves of able-bodied dancers with his own twist. He’ll work for months perfecting a move, looking for ways to make his routines stand out.
And he exudes confidence.
“I’ve got my own walk. I’ve got a natural swagger walk,” he said, joking with his audience as he whirled around the stage, taking time to strut his moves for the packed student commons.
After all, practice makes perfect.
Patuelli kept at it and by 2010 was a featured dancer at the 2010 Paralympic Games’ opening ceremony in Vancouver.
Since then he’s joined forces with ILL-Abilities, a group of disabled dancers from around the world who put on shows. And, to give back to the community, he and his wife Melissa have also opened a dance studio in Montreal, where they teach students of all ages and physical abilities.
“Basically the message is no excuses, no limits,” he said.
“We want to be able to encourage people to live life with limitless possibilities. So if there’s something you face challenges with, try to find other ways to adapt that situation, adapt that challenge to find an advantage.
“People never assumed I’d be a dancer. I love music and found ways to create dance and do it my own way.”
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