Steven Sloan is a 50-year-old blind man who pushes himself in the gym every day so he can push the kids he teaches. He's an impossible-to-ignore example that even in a tough New York neighborhood, you can do what you set your mind and body to do.
It's the lesson Sloan says he learned as a teenager. An orphan and blind since birth, he bounced around a dozen public schools that didn't know what to do with him, before finally landing in a specialized school and giving himself what he calls "the talk."
"I said to myself, 'you know what? Nobody going to be able to help you but you, so you've got to make a choice,'" says Sloan.
Sloan's choice was to achieve, physically, because he loved sports, and also mentally, so he could find a career. His kids at P.S. 102, every one of them with a cherished nickname from their gym teacher — like "Scooter," "Baby Diesel," "Tractor Trailer" — get it.
"He taught us to accomplish our dreams and never give up," says the boy Sloan calls 'Baby Diesel.' "He set an example for us."
"Sportsmanship, teamwork, how to respect people," says 'Tractor Trailer' when asked what he's learned from his teacher.
And if it all sounds a bit like the Olympic ideal — "a sound mind and a sound body" — then it shouldn't be surprising that Steven Sloan was in Italy last week. Not as an everyday tourist, but along with his assistant Lorenzo Caldwell, he was selected as one of the torchbearers for the upcoming Torino Olympics. A celebrity on his first-ever trip overseas, Sloan proudly ran his leg with the torch raised aloft.
It was an extraordinary journey for a man who in merely trying to catch up to the sighted world, has touched and molded or even saved so many kids over the years — the kids who come closest to seeing the limitless world that he sees.