Often times we meet adaptive athletes who defy convention by running marathons, playing soccer and football, or climbing mountains. All of our users have very unique and interesting stories to share. What motivates each of us, is often times quite different than the next person.
When we received an email one day from Michael Laurent, full of photos and stories about his love for his SideStix, we were thrilled. It’s always great to hear from new friends, using their SideStix to live fuller and richer lives. When we read that Michael, originally from France, was a coach for the Russian National Football Team, we were quite intrigued. Apart from the obvious language and cultural barriers, this guy really defies convention in his career choices!
What made you reach out and ask to be a SideStix Ambassador?
Michael – SideStix has been an incredible change in my life. In 2001, I lost my leg due to a tumour. Before I got SideStix my mobility was very limited. I may be resilient but I wouldn’t say athletic. Before I got my SideStix, I used regular crutches that you can buy at the market. I could only walk 500 meters before I was tired. Now with my SideStix I can walk 5km before I get tired. I really appreciate you Sarah, for making these.
Whenever I travel, and when I am on the airplane I try to keep my Stix close to me. Often times, I am asked to stow away my Stix. I always say “Please be careful, it is like my limb”. My Stix are like my BMW or Ferrari of crutches.
What attracted you to work in Russia?
Michael – To live and work in Russia is very difficult. Russian people are very pragmatic. If you can bring them something positive, you are welcome. I have been surprised by the differences between Russia and France (where I am from). I find in France there is a lot of discrimination for women, for Muslims, for Jewish people and disabled people. Each time I post updates online about my accomplishments and what I am doing with my coaching, I receive positive feedback from my friends abroad but rarely from my friends in France.
I must say we live in a time where there are a lot of political struggles between Russia and the USA. There is a lot of propaganda from both sides. But I have always found with Russian people they are very helpful. When I travel on the subway they always open a door or are happy to help me, without ever asking, if I need help. They just do it.
You may have heard a quote from the famous Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, “The hand that gives is above the hand that takes”. In France, people think first about their communities or corporations. Following far behind, is the common well being. I really dislike this vertical relation in France… I much prefer ‘win-win relationships’.
In Russia it’s very different. In Russia, when I enter the subway, someone is automatically standing in order to give me their seat, so that I may sit. I really struggle with this convention in France, so I prefer to be abroad.
You’ve traveled a lot, do you find some countries more welcoming than others?
Michael – The last time, I felt completely comfortable, and without a ‘disability’ was my time in Siberia. It was August 2015, I had made the trip from Moscow. I had stayed with a family who had experienced a lot of drama. I find that when people have experienced a lot of drama in their lives, they are more warm and welcoming. It seemed to me, because I was a person with drama amongst others with their own drama, I was welcomed. It was like that with small children too. There was a 6 year old girl that I had many conversations with about my amputation and my Stix. Small children are often more genuine. She was empathetic.
All over the world, I have met nice people and also very nasty people. When it comes to cultural perceptions, it can be hard because I can not change who I am. I can only hope their views can change.
Speaking of working abroad, I just signed a contract for the next 3 months as a Special Teams Coordinator and Quarterback Coach for the Team Belgium, Under 19. I graduated as a coach from the French Federation of American Football in 1995.
I love football because it’s the perfect analogy for life…. Team work, discipline, character, strength, leadership, fight, happiness, injury… the list goes on.
What is it like to coach for the National Russian Football team?
Michael – Coaching has been a very profound experience for me, since I help manage a national team. Some of these guys a 6’3 and 300 pounds! With me balancing on my Stix, it has been the best challenge of my life.
Do you find it difficult to coach those guys while on forearm crutches?
Michael – You can be the most wonderful teacher or coach, but not do well if the person in front of you does not want to communicate. In Russia, this team wants to communicate with me. My position is assistant line coach, and it is the most wonderful position. I am a good teacher, but in fact my Russian language skills can clearly be improved. I am more comfortable coaching in English… Sometimes, I jump between Russian and English, but they still listen to me. They listen because they want to learn and they want to work.
How do you keep your team motivated?
Michael – I tell them, “Be the best of yourself.”
I’ve said to my guys, you may wish to play for the NFL or the CFL but you might not be as good, and that is not important. If your best is only 15% of someone else’s best, than give all of your best 15%. There may be times when someone can give 100% but they only bring out 90%.
We are not only physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. If one day I walk 5km, it is not because I am physically strong, it is because I am mentally strong.
I ask my guys to focus on the next play only. There are not 70 plays, there is one play 70 times. Stay focused on the present and stay focused on your purpose. You become old when you stop learning.
Do you consider yourself a very spiritual person?
Michael – For me, I work with many Jewish people in the diamond business, and I find them to be deeply spiritual people. Over the years I have struggled with cancer, my amputation, and in 2007 my brother took his own life. I was once told, that I am not blessed by other people but by god. Through meditation, I have learned a lot about myself and about my soul. With all of my actions, I try my best to stay genuine. That is how I stay motivated.
What is your favorite thing about your SideStix?
Michael – My favorite thing about my SideStix is that they are extremely easy to use and to change. I’m not great at fixing things or building things with my hands. I am more of a scholar and a manager. I love all of the accessories for different places, and for how easy they are to change on my own. It has improved my self-confidence because I can make those changes all on my own. I may not be able to make changes on my car but I can make changes with my SideStix. The snowshoes, the sandshoes, the picks, and the rotating feet, I have used them all! My ideal day is spent walking in the forest, and SideStix attachments help me do that.
Do you have a message for other crutch users?
Michael – I think that this quote by Muhammad Ali says it best.
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Everyone has their own personal story and their own problems, so I find that this quote is the best I can give to anyone regardless of what they are dealing with.