QUEST speaker encourages resilience.
“It’s not what happens to you. It’s what you do with what happens to you.” If a tour group had walked passed Hard Auditorium during the QUEST assembly, they would hear those two phrases being chanted out numerous times by the entire school. It's the motto seven-time Paralympian Chris Waddell lives by and encompasses the work of his foundation’s Nametag program.
Waddell was a skier at Middlebury when a skiing accident during his freshman year left him paralyzed from the waist down. Having been taught he could do anything in life if you were willing to work hard enough, Waddell was determined not to let the injury slow him down. Nearly a year later — 362 days to be exact, he was back on the mountain learning how to monoski. From 1992 to 2002, Waddell won twelve Paralympic medals in slalom, giant slalom, downhill, and Super-G. In 2000, he also earned a silver medal in track and field. He has been honored by the Dalai Lama as an “Unsung Hero of Comparison,” and in 2009, Waddell became the first nearly-unassisted paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro.
During the Nametag program, in the QUEST assembly, students heard Waddell’s story and watched clips from his documentary One Revolution. They learned about Waddell’s success in the face of adversity, the 4 S’s of resilience — self, situation, support, and strategy, and how to respond when times are tough. "The greatest gift my parents gave me was the opportunity to fail,” shares Waddell. “I would try something and fail, and they wouldn’t fix it for me. I had the opportunity to learn.” Waddell encouraged students to look past the nametags and limitations that they have been given and create a new label that represents what they want to become. Each student received a nametag. Wadell encouraged them to display their nametag with the "name" of their choice on a notebook, mirror, or laptop — anywhere that would remind them of who they wanted to be. He looked past his paraplegic nametag and became a monoskier. “If I had never had my accident, I would have never become the best in the world at anything,” Waddell said before having the students repeat his motto again.
After the presentation, students explored resilience, self-awareness, inclusion, and perception in small groups. They discussed the importance of acceptance and being a part of a good team, similar to the one Waddell had when he climbed Kilimanjaro. They recalled what Waddell had said in his speech, “nobody climbs a mountain alone. Everyone does it as part of a team.” The groups, led by QUEST leaders, also talked about the fear of the unknown, the importance of taking risks, and a positive mindset.
"Chris' powerful message motivated me and my fellow students to reflect on obstacles in our lives and find ways to not only overcome them but to be inspired by them," shared Ellis Perryman ’23, a QUEST student leader. "We are prepared to face future challenges with the tools we learned about."
Waddell’s visit and the Nametag program was generously funded by Dena Cocozza and Keith O'Hara P ’13, ’15, ’16, ’18, ’20. The QUEST program is the cornerstone of our student life curriculum that equips our students with the skills, values, perspectives, and habits of mind they need to survive and thrive in a world that is always changing.