Motivational speaker Ronnie Bachman visits Lee Middle School

BRADENTON -- In a few short minutes, a gym filled with more than 100 chattering middle-schoolers fell silent Monday afternoon. Students were mesmerized.

The eyes of all students at Lee Middle School were fixed on one figure riding around in a motorized wheelchair. A man named Ronnie Bachman.

Bachman had a microphone attached to his swift chair. His hands directed the chair between the aisles of children sitting on the gym floor. He wore a huge smile, a purple and black scarf and a black blazer with his shirt. And he had no legs.

“Stand up,” Bachman said. “Look at that. That’s a miracle. You stood up. If I say sit down, you would sit down. Why would you waste that blessing by picking on someone?”

He caught the students’ attention. And he had a powerful message to share.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain,” Bachman said.

A congenital birth defect led doctors to amputate Bachman’s legs when he was just 4 years old. Today, the inspirational speaker focuses on anti-bullying.

Bachman stresses the importance of accepting ourselves and others, preventing bullying and understanding the power of words. He chronicles his life and tells students that, like him, they will survive bullying and meanness.

Bachman was hired by car dealer Bob Firkins to speak this week to middle- and high-schoolers throughout Manatee County.

To hear Firkins tell it, Bachman is one of the best motivational speakers he’s ever seen. Monday, students seemed to agree. To students, Bachman stresses for students to know and feel good about themselves. And to the bullies he had a special message.

“You’re a scared person by picking on people,” he said. “Learn from me and do one thing: Be nice. It takes so much work to be mean.”

Lee Middle School Principal Scott Boice said his students grasped Bachman’s message of “no matter what life deals you -- you can overcome it.”

“This is the best time in your life right now,” Bachman said. “I’m telling you to be all you can be. Be the most positive influence. You are stuck with you.”

Occasionally, he would ask a student a question. He’d point out another student he wanted to share in his show. Another student he asked what she wanted to do with her life.

He asked students: “Do I look unhappy?”

As he approached students in the bleachers, one spoke up saying, “You look filled with joy.”

Bachman replied, “That’s right, my man. I am filled with joy. I want you to say ‘wow! Look at what he’s doing under the circumstances.’”

Bachman is also the founder of Walk this Way Foundation. After he explained how he wanted students to be overcomers, he asked them: “How many students want a Walk this Way bracelet?”

Hands flew up. Bachman told students that Firkins paid for each of them to have bracelets.

They applauded.

One student asked Bachman, “What keeps you going?”

“You guys,” Bachman said, “my family and my dog Gigi.”

His response earned another round of applause from students.