Simon Calcavecchia, children’s author and motivational speaker, talks to young people about disability, disappointment and overcoming
To say that Simon Calcavecchia has made the best of a difficult situation would be an understatement. A motivational speaker and children’s book author, he spreads a message of hope and perseverance throughout his work, simultaneously educating young people in disability awareness and the power of positive thinking.
For Calcavecchia, cultivating a positive outlook on life has allowed him to overcome challenging circumstances. At the age of 19, after traveling to Australia and joining a rugby team, he suffered an on-field injury that left his neck broken and much of his body paralyzed.
After dealing with the initial trauma of his injury, Calcavecchia emerged with a renewed sense of personal strength, refusing to let C5/6 quadriplegia sap his optimism. Determined to find the positive aspects in every challenge he faced, he weighed his options for the future.
“My injury gave me a lot of time to figure out who I was and what I was interested in,” said Calcavecchia. “I used that time to go to Evergreen and invest in my own personal growth.”
At Evergreen, Calcavecchia primarily studied psychology, but also explored his interests in other areas, such as philosophy and animation. His experience at the college helped him gain self-confidence that would serve him for many years to come.
“Evergreen was the perfect place for me to explore my personal interests. It gave me a space to learn, grow and ultimately begin to truly believe in myself” said Calcavecchia. “I wish I could do it all over again.”
Several years after graduating from Evergreen, Calcavecchia began volunteering in the Olympia community. Much of that work took place in local schools, where he had the chance to work with kids—an experience he credits with changing his life, and helping him find a deeper purpose in the world. It was during that time that he first began to contemplate writing a children’s book.
“After a few years of volunteering with kids, I realized that I had never seen a book in the classroom that had a character using a wheelchair,” said Calcavecchia. “It made me want to change that.”
Though Calcavecchia knew he wanted to write a book, he was unsure of how to do so. That changed, however, when he saw his friend Arturo Alvarez draw a small cartoon character.
“I realized that he could be the illustrator for the books that I was dreaming about,” said Calcavecchia.
The pair then set to work, combining Calcavecchia’s prose with Alvarez’s artistic prowess, to create their first book, The Adventures of Frank and Mustard: Stuck in the Mud. The book features Frank—a wheelchair-bound wiener dog—who, through perseverance and the help of others, is able to overcome a difficult situation.
Since publishing their first book, Calcavecchia and Alvarez have published two sequels—Differently Awesome and Wheels and Waves—and they are far from finished. Calcavecchia and Alvarez are currently working on their fourth book, and Calcavecchia says he plans on writing many more. He hopes to one day see his books in every classroom across the nation.
Calcavecchia’s writing contains a variety of important lessons, but he believes that the most important relate to treating people with kindness, looking beyond differences, and never giving up.
In addition to writing, Calcavecchia has become a skilled motivational speaker. Giving presentations at elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, he seeks to instill confidence and positivity in those who hear him speak.
“My goal during my presentation is to educate them about my disability, and to inspire my audience to do more with their life no matter the obstacles that they face,” said Calcavecchia. “It feels incredible to know that I am inspiring young kids to live up to their full potential.”
Calcavecchia has big plans for the future, both with regard to writing and motivational speaking; he hopes to one day be nationally recognized in both professions.