Celebrating Our Differences: Q and A with Simon Calcavecchia

I needed a way to get back to feeling like me again…My spirit came back, I was full of life and loved my purpose. 

They say, “write what you know,” and no one exemplifies this better than Simon Calcavecchia. Simon is a Seattle-area indie author who has used challenging experiences to inspire positive character creation and effective storytelling. In addition to being the author of three books with a fourth on the way, he’s also a motivational speaker. Simon travels to schools around the Pacific Northwest to share his story, his challenges, and his positive message.

We had the pleasure of having a Q and A with Simon this month as we celebrate our differences and look forward to International Day of People with Disabilities. This United Nations (UN) sanctioned day sets the intention:

To promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

UN.org

As we reflect on all that we’re grateful for this month and throughout the coming holiday season, let us also take time to understand how we treat one another, biases we might have, and ways that we can promote positivity and peace in our everyday practice. 

Simon Calcavecchia: Author & Motivational Speaker

Q: Can you give us a little bit about your background and your injury?

A: I played football in high school, but I wasn’t really supported in that and I didn’t stay passionate. This led me to play rugby and I fell in love with it. My coach was from Australia and when our season ended he offered to hook me up with a team in his hometown. I went for it and I loved it. I lived with a bunch of rugby players, visited beautiful beaches, and was training and just living it to the fullest. While I was there, a player gave me advice that I didn’t realize was dangerous, and I applied it to the scrum— the most dangerous part of the game. I broke my neck and my opponent’s shoulder and woke up with c5/6 quadriplegia. I was paralyzed from the chest down. I had numerous surgeries and when they were completed I got some movement back in my arms. I had tons of support from my family, my team, and people I’d met in Australia. 

Q: What did you do once you were done with rehabilitation?

A: When I came home from the hospital I found that I needed purpose. I decided to go to school and graduated from The Evergreen State College with a Bachelor of Arts. I then faced the challenge of finding a career. I worked with agencies who couldn’t even get me an internship and I was very discouraged. I reached out to a counselor. I needed a way to get back to feeling like me again. I began volunteering in my community and with kids in classrooms. My spirit came back, I was full of life and loved my purpose. 

Q: Was that what inspired you to start writing books?

A: I spent a lot of time volunteering with kids in classrooms. I wanted to become a children’s book author and write my own stories. Not once when I was volunteering did I ever come across a book with a character using a wheelchair and I wanted to create one and create change. Then I met Arturo Alvarez, an illustrator, and now one of my best friends, and we committed to making “The Adventures of Frank and Mustard: Stuck in the Mud.” My fourth book called “Monster Truck’n” will be out in January of 2020. I’m also working on a board book and thinking about branching out from Frank and Mustard a bit. 

Q: At Novel Effect, we were so lucky you already had voices for your characters… How do you think voices impact the reading experience and what are the benefits of doing read alouds for you as an author?

A: When I released the books, YouTube was becoming a pretty big deal. Kids really love the books, but they might not have the resources to buy the books. I wanted to share them with kids all over the world and YouTube presents an opportunity to do that without financial barriers. Also, I really thought it would be fun to create voices and become the characters. I had some experience doing audio production and creating content in college. I do the voices with my read alouds when I present to schools. But now that I have three books and lots of characters, it’s difficult to find the voices and bring unique qualities to each character. 

Q: You are a motivational speaker now and you speak at schools. How do you know that your story is making an impact?

A: I go to schools, talk to kids, and share my story. I see the books are making an impact because they’ve opened up conversations that teachers didn’t know how to approach. How do we work on inclusivity in environments? How do kids with differences feel included? I had been a public speaker, and a toastmaster; I love the experience of talking aloud, but what really drives me is the impact I’m making. In my speaking engagements, I show kids how I go about my day-to-day routines. I really give them insight into living life with quadriplegia. The kids feel sad, but they see that I’m passionate and living my life to the fullest. I show them videos of my adventures— flying, driving a monster truck, and a race car. I’m doing more than people do with a fully-abled body and showing that it comes down to a positive mindset when facing these challenges. My favorite part is teaching kids about kindness and inclusion. I think that students have an emotional reaction to my talks. These might not be emotions they’ve experienced before and they empathize with me. This might change their approach to differences.  When I’m done sharing my experience, I finish with a call out— I want to know I have the support that we can impact and make changes. I have the whole school screaming about kindness and inclusion. It’s an incredible feeling to know that they’re feeling it too!

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is on December 3. You can find Simon’s book, “The Adventures of Frank & Mustard: Stuck in the Mud” in your Novel Effect app here.