When an Ending Arrives in the Middle: A Story of Perseverance

Ron Turcotte 2It took only a few seconds for his career to end and his whole life to be altered. Some time would pass before the reality of this set in for him.

His life up to that point trained him to persevere. Born to a large French-Canadian Catholic family, he grew up without running water or central heating. With his brothers, he fished and hunted for food to help keep his family fed. He left school at 13 to join his father working as a lumberjack to provide for the family.

At 5’1’’ and 128 pounds, he was a small lumberjack. Though it wasn’t ideal for a  lumberjack, his size proved to be a great asset to his future. Knowing the risks of logging, his father put him to work with the horses rather than the more dangerous work in the forest. The young boy learned to be patient with the horses and build up the confidence they needed to complete the work.

The life of a lumberjack was not what he wanted. Looking around, he realized that lumberjacks work harder than most but never escape the struggle of earning a living wage. He saw it as a hard life with little reward. Not willing to live out that fate, he left the trade in the late 1950s. Eventually, he found work as a hot walker, someone who cares for race horses. His days of working with the logging horses soon paid off. When someone recommended that he become a jockey, he took their advice and soon was making money by winning competitions.

In 1971 his career reached a turning point when he met a big, clumsy, calm-tempered horse that would carry him to some of his most glorious victories. He earned a name for himself in the world of racing. Like logging, racing horses was hard work. The difference was horse racing provided the money that logging never would. And, he loved horse racing.

In 16 years, he earned over 3000 victories including the Triple Crown. Just before his 37th birthday in 1978, his career ended in a matter of seconds. Moments after leaving the starting gate, his horse lost its footing and he was hurled to the ground. He remained conscious and knew his injuries were disastrous. Later, he would learn that he was paralyzed from the waist down.

In the weeks following the accident, he remained hospitalized while undergoing numerous procedures. He grappled with the fact that he would probably not walk again and the reality that his successful career was over. While still in a back brace, he trained at the gym and made plans for how he would get around without the use of his legs. In a 1978 interview with People Magazine, he assured the reporter that his injuries would not prevent him from enjoying the outdoors or horse racing. He continues to love the sport and has become a devoted fan.

By the time he was injured, he had developed a reputation as a great horseman. He used his influence and wealth to became an advocate for jockey’s with disabilities. To this day, he raises funds for disability programs and works with the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund (PDJF).

Ron Turcotte 1If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you probably recognize the story of Ron Turcotte who rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown victory in 1973. Turcotte and his wife now live on 400 acres near the area where he grew up. He regularly returns to Belmont, the site of his famous winning ride on Secretariat and the place where his career came to an end. In June 2014, he told a reporter for New York Daily News: “The accident is behind me,” he says. “I take what comes along. I’ve never looked back, and I’m not going to start looking back now.” One way or another, he continues to love horse racing and find ways to be involved in the sport.

The Courage to Follow a Dream

At birth, the doctor told his parents to put him in an institution. It was the 1960s and the community was not equipped to handle children with disabilities. His parents declined and raised him at home along with his other siblings.

At home with his family, he loved watching television shows like Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. From an early age, he dreamed of being on an actor. His parents saw his enthusiasm and encouraged him to pursue this dream.

When he reached school age in the early 1970s, they met with a hurdle. Public schools were not ready to mainstream students with disabilities. His parents found a private boarding school that would give their son the education he needed to pursue his ambition.

Summers were spent back home at a summer camp on Long Island. While there, he met two professional musicians who worked as camp counselors. They introduced him to the love of music which would last for a lifetime.

After graduating from high school, he worked as an elevator operator and spent his spare time doing volunteer work and acting. During this time, he landed a role as a zombie in a reenactment of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This fueled his love of performance and he continued to pursue his interest through taking night classes and reading up on his favorite actors.

In pursuit of his dream, he started attending auditions. In 1987, he won a role in a TV movie. Based on this performance, the network created a TV show that would center around him as the main character. In the show, his character is determined to be included in the community. It came at a time when the idea of inclusion was just beginning to emerge. That show ran for 4 years and earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

Since the show, he’s played in many TV series and movies. His position as an actor has given him a platform for disability advocacy. He became an ambassador for a well-known non-profit. As an ambassador, he has been able to promote independence and inclusion for people with disabilities. His time is split between doing basic office work and promotional work.

He is also a member of a folk band with the counselors from the summer camp he attended as a teenager. The trio sing songs that promote disability awareness and inclusion. They’ve sold thousands of albums and much of their proceeds have gone to the Very Special Arts, an organization that offers art programs to people with disabilities.

By now, you may have guessed that we are talking about Chris Burke, best known for his role as Corky on the TV show Life Goes On. He is also on the staff of the National Down Syndrome Society as a GoodWill ambassador.

Chris BurkeIn  1992, Burke co-authored a book about his life. He talks about the different ways that people view him, some with fear, others with pity, some (like his family) with love and friendship. His supporting family helped him realize that Down’s Syndrome did not need to prevent him from pursuing the things that he loves, music and acting.

In a time when exclusion was the norm, Burke’s parents refused to send their child to an institution. Keeping him home with the family gave them the opportunity to recognize his innate ambition and talent. Burke now encourages parents of children with disabilities to support them in their ambitions. He knows the value of a supportive family.

Next month, check back for a story about a man who started as a short, slender lumberjack and became a world renowned athlete.

“The Only Perspective That Matters”

He was a miracle baby. Born two months early in the 1950s, he spent his early days on life support in an incubator. The incubator saved his life but not his eyesight, which was lost due to the complications.

Music was both a love and talent from his earliest years. As a child, he played piano, harmonica, and drums. With a friend, he formed a duo that played at dances and parties. Ronnie White of the Miracles overheard the young boy playing harmonica and introduced him to the world of professional music. By 13, he had signed a contract with Motown and wrote a song that became a radio hit.

He was a success from the beginning. Before his teen years were over, he co-wrote much his own music and music for other groups, such as the Miracles and the Spinners. By the time he was 21, he had self-produced an album. As he explored his musical talent, he felt stifled by Motown, which had the final say in his music.

At 21, he created his own publishing company and renegotiated with Motown so he could have full artistic control over his music.  Armed with creative freedom, he paved a new way in R&B music. His innovations on the synthesizer produced a unique, new sound that topped the charts.

His formidable musical talent also gave him a platform for addressing the issues close to his heart.  At the height of his career, his music often addressed social issues such as poverty, drugs and war. His music was known for having a social conscience.

In the midst of this success, he was in a serious car accident that left him in a coma for several days. Within the year, he was back at his music career although the accident permanently damaged his sense of smell.

During his career, he has been the youngest person to have a number 1 hit, won several Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, and the Academy Award for Best Original Song among other awards. He has learned 9 instruments and is hailed for shaping the sound of pop music in the 70s and 80s.

As his sphere of influence grew, he used his wealth and position to promote causes that were important to him. Most notably, he successfully campaigned for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to become a national holiday. In addition, he sponsored a home for children with disabilities, became active in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Charge Against Hunger Program, and the anti-apartheid movement.

In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, he was asked if his disadvantages made him the success he is today. He responded, “Do you know, it’s funny but I never thought of being blind as a disadvantage… I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it.”

Generated by  IJG JPEG LibraryWho is this musician and activist? Stevie Wonder. In the 70s, his musical innovation led the way for a new sound in R&B.  His success in music gave him a public platform for speaking up about social issues. How did he achieve all this success? By recognizing that his innate talent didn’t need to be stifled by what people would often consider to be ‘disadvantages.’ Incight applauds everyone who refuses to let limiting beliefs stand in the way of their potential! Thank you, Stevie, for being an inspiration to us all.

Keep an eye out next month for the story of a man who got his start as a zombie in a Thriller reenactment and moved on to fulfill his dream of acting.

2nd Annual Golf Tournament & Handicrapshoot

Incight hosted the 2015 Incight Golf Tournament at Langdon Farms on Monday June 8th.

Big thanks to the golfers, sponsors and volunteers that joined us to make this event a huge success!

Check out this blooper real of Incight’s tournament contest hole, the Handicrapshoot TM.

The Handicrapshoot TM is a disability simulation and awareness experience. It doubles as a fundraising contest too. Teams pay to participate. Each player is assigned a physical impairment to play the par 3, 6th hole of Langdon Farms. Vision impairment goggles, noise cancelling headphones, single-handed swing, or seated in a wheelchair. After they complete the hole, they draw a from a bucket of golf balls that have a 0, 1, or 2 painted marked on it, and that number is their score for the hole.

Players love the contest and find it to be a rewarding personal discovery experience.

Handicrap TM is an anti-stigma campaign. Handicrap TM has two definitions; 1) A Limiting Belief Adopted as Reality, 2) An Unfair Judgment Based on Perception. Everyone has handicrap TM – we all learn to believe things about our self and others, that is not true and keeps us from being our best. The stigma that surrounds disability is mostly the result of handicrap TM.

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Seasonal work to seasoned worker: A big amount to gain from this small employment opportunity

With summer approaching, it’s time to think about plans for this exciting season. Whether you are in transition between careers or planning for summer school or camp, an alternative to the traditional would be to find and apply for seasonal work. Not only can seasonal work help pad your wallet, but it could actually be a simple way to jump-start your long-term career. Consider the following:

The beauty of seasonal work is its low commitment level. Its limited duration offers glimpses into a specific industry or line of work, which may intrigue you or leave you thankful for the quickly dwindling weeks. Seasonal work can help you develop a clearer picture of what type of work you enjoy and what type of work environment is optimal for you—very important criteria for both the student solidifying a clear career goal or for the professional planning a career change.

If you choose to find employment as a seasonal worker, don’t hold back—embrace the opportunity! Seasonal work is a great arena to show your enthusiasm and willingness to learn. If approached with the right attitude and work ethic, seasonal work could do one of two things for your future—both good of course. Take a moment to imagine things from a boss’s perspective. Say a full time position opens up and qualified candidates are needed. As the person doing the hiring, you have options. A capable and enthusiastic worker that you know and have observed wins out over someone who simply looks good on paper. The hiring decision is easy, because it saves time and a working relationship is already built. According to a careerbuilder survey, 77% of employers plan on considering their summer staff for permanent positions. But oh – your #1 candidate has a disability? Not an issue at all! This candidate performs duties successfully and with a fantastic attitude in spite of their challenges. Get the picture?

Ok, now out of the boss’s brain space and back into your own. Keep in mind that your supervisor has connections in his or her industry too. Your boss is your “foot in the door”, eager to help you get to wherever you see yourself in the industry. Did you know that up to 80% of full time jobs are obtained through networking? (More on that in this great NPR story). Definitely a noteworthy statistic when thinking about full-time work.

As we’ve seen, a lot of good can come from trying out summer seasonal work. Now, here are some links to get you started in your search:

  • Seasonal positions on indeed.com
  • Browse craigslist to see what you can find. It’s a popular site to post to, and a real variety of work is available to you here.
  • Portland Parks & Recreation posts often to fill its seasonal employment needs. If you love being outside and organizing activities, then this wide array of opportunities is perfect for you.
  • Seasonal and temporary postings with the Forestry Service are ideal for the job seeker with more of a natural setting in mind. Note that USFS postings are on the government’s main job page. Include with your query, “USDA-Forest Service” and your location to find current listings.
  • Or, get out there and NETWORK!!!

How to Become Batman

We have posted this show on our Facebook page and the staff at Incight has been talking about it since it was first broadcast on NPR’s new show Invisabilia in January this year.  If you haven’t had time to listen to it, take some time now.

Listen Now ›

At Incight we meet amazing people who believe in their own potential and believe in potential of the people around them.  By understanding that our potential is truly unlimited and in our hands, it will be realized.

In so many stories we hear about individuals who defied the odds. At Incight, we want to fundamentally change the game.  The odds are not against you, rather you are limited only by the opportunities you see for yourself or that others see for you. When we see challenges as hindrances, we will struggle. When we see them as opportunities, we will succeed. By achieving, or even by failing – we succeed by learning and growing stronger. If we start expecting the best from ourselves and those around us – we will ALL rise to those expectations.

We will be celebrating the people in our community who embody that spirit by honoring them as Hall of Fame Inductees and Heart of Change Award Winners. Join us on Tuesday, May 12th, at 7:30am for Incight’s Hall of Fame Breakfast. Bring a friend to learn more about Incight and the Game Changers in our community.

RSVP Today ›

In Honor of MLK

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


We look to the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He teaches us that, in spite of our limitations, we must always improve upon ourselves.  He urges us not to focus on what we can’t do and instead do as much as we can.  Dr. King was speaking to us as individuals, as much as he was speaking to us as a society.  Despite our societal limitations, we can improve upon ourselves and as individuals we can make our society better.


We are humbled by Dr. Martin Luther King’s service to our country and to the civil right’s movement.  At Incight we believe in the potential of every human being and the potential of our society as a whole.

Homecoming Gala a Success!

October 4th, 2014 was a night not to be forgotten! Incight friends and family poured into the Kridel Ballroom at the Portland Art Museum sporting gear reminiscent of High School days – football jerseys, letterman jackets, cheerleading outfits, and homecoming dresses – to celebrate ten amazing years of Incight services at our biggest party of the year.

Executive Director Dan Friess, channeling his inner Gym Coach to MC the event – along with Student Body President Scott Hatley and Board Chairman Jerry Carleton as the Homecoming King – shared some of the amazing successes and stories from this year. We are thrilled to announce that we raised nearly $200,000 this year – thanks to our amazing family of donors! Save the Date for next year’s Gala on October 3rd, 2015!