John Tartaglio of Milford, who lost both legs to an infection when he was a student at Foran High School, will be the inspirational speaker at the upcoming Kennedy Center awards ceremony.
“It Takes A Community” is the theme for the Kennedy Center’s 63rd Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting on Thursday, April 3 at the Holiday Inn in Bridgeport.
Tartaglio, an inspirational speaker and author of “From Tragedy to Triumph,” is this year’s keynote speaker and will be recognized as the 2014 winner of The Kennedy Center Vision Award.
The award is given to an individual who has the vision to elevate the human consciousness to believe in the potential of all people. Some of the past award recipients have included: Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, Mary Higgins Clark, Frank Deford and former Governor M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut.
“The Kennedy Center is proud to honor John Tartaglio for his community advocacy for people with disabilities on a local, state and national level,” said Martin D. Schwartz, President and CEO of The Kennedy Center headquartered in Trumbull. “He is truly an inspiration to others.”
Tartaglio’s inspirational story and journey started on Aug. 22, 2004, when he awoke with unbearable pain in his legs. He lost his legs to a bacterial infection at age 17 and contracted a disease so rare it’s only been documented 35 times.
Tartaglio was in the hospital for six weeks before he moved to a rehabilitation center where he had to begin his new life. At the rehabilitation center he received his prosthetics.
He went on to graduate from Fairfield University with honors and became the first person to run in the N.Y. Marathon without legs. Tartaglio still lives in Milford with his wife and new daughter and has just written a book of his journey, “From Tragedy to Triumph.”
The Milford community rallied around Tartaglio and his family as he was recovering and set up a 5 kilometer run and walk to help pay medical bills. He recalled that he made it his goal to walk a lap, which he did. It took him 45 minutes.
“After I did the quarter-mile walk and I walked to receive my diploma at graduation my therapist told me that he wanted me to walk two miles, but I didn’t believe in me,” Tartaglio recalled. “He told me that without hesitation I could do that. That shifted the way I thought about me.”
He spent months of grueling rehabilitation and his story went national as Oprah Winfrey arranged for Derek Jeter to surprise him at Foran High School. Tartaglio and his family later appeared on Oprah’s show. Tartaglio said Jeter’s appearance is “still a surprise” to him.
His business as an inspirational speaker was hatched while he lay in a hospital bed. Friends and family told him he’d be a natural at it. He began giving speeches while he was a freshman at Fairfield University.
“I try and empower people to do what means the most to them,” Tartaglio said. “I use my life story to tell them you can achieve anything you want. I tell them my goal was to live a normal life.”
For Tartaglio running in the New York City marathon meant he had to overcome his disability. “That is the reason why I did it,” Tartaglio said. “I tell people to make sure you have everything in line to achieve what you want. I felt it was impossible to be able to run a marathon and I worked really hard for it.”
Former Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. summed up Tartaglio best: “When I think of John, what immediately comes to mind is simply, Wow! So many thoughts … his medical team’s struggles to figure out what was happening and how to keep him alive; the strength and faith of his family; his incredible courage and always a smile; an entire community coming together to support him; the Derek Jeter visit and appearance on Oprah; his walk across the football field at Foran to receive his diploma; college days at Fairfield U; inspirational speaking; his marriage and now a beautiful baby, a proud father…. Wow! Determination, courage, victory! I am truly in awe of John Tartaglio.”
The Kennedy Center dinner will be Thursday, April 3 at the Holiday Inn, 1070 Main Street, Bridgeport. The social hour will begin at 6 p.m., followed by the dinner, annual meeting, and awards at 7 p.m.
For more information about John Tartaglio visit his website johntartaglio.com.
Tickets for the Kennedy Center Annual Awards Dinner are $45 per person. Register online at thekennedycenterinc.org or call 203-365-8522, ext. 213.