‘Curse’ turns to motivation for man with no arms | NevadaAppeal.com

‘Curse’ turns to motivation for man with no arms

Maggie O'Neill
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Motivational speaker Alvin Law plays a snare drum at Carson High School on Friday morning. Law, who has spoken to more than one million students, was born without arms, but doesn't let it get in the way of his dreams.

He has no hands, no wrists, no forearms. No elbows, no biceps, no shoulders.

He has no arms – the 45-year-old motivational speaker from Calgary, Alberta, wears his watch on his ankle to track time.

“You don’t get to pick the life you get,” he said. “You don’t get to pick the conditions in which you were born. But you do get to pick your attitude.”

Alvin Law, a former all-state high school jazz trumpet player and later a radio deejay who rocked Canadian airwaves at night, was at Carson High School on Friday to speak to a group of leadership students gathered for the Nevada Association of Student Council’s annual state leadership conference.

“My challenges are no different than yours,” he said.

More than 700 students from 70 high schools across the state listened as Law, whose mother took thalidomide when she was pregnant, shared his story.

Thalidomide, which first came out of Europe in the l950s was distributed as a sleeping aid and as a panacea for morning sickness. It was banned in the United States in the early 1960s because it caused birth defects, particularly the stunted growth of arms and legs, in fetuses.

Law said his mother had a great attitude – his adoptive mother, that is, who at the age of 55 first held Alvin when he was 3 weeks old.

“My real mother was too devastated to take me home,” he said.

His real grandmother, extremely religious, insisted Alvin was a curse.

“They gave me up for adoption,” he said.

In his new home, his adoptive parents found challenges, including how to get Alvin to hold a bottle.

Little baby Alvin soon showed his parents the inventive way to do things and put his bottle between his feet and began to suck. His mother talked about that once in an interview.

“‘We stopped looking at what he didn’t have,'” he said recounting her words.

When it was time for Alvin to start school, his parents took him to register. He remembers the smell of doughnuts and coffee and the words of the principal saying he needed to go to the handicapped school.

His dad had his mom and son step out of the room.

“I was sure my dad had beat up the principal,” Law said, describing his dad as a weight-lifter. “A couple minutes later, he came out and said I was starting school there. You know what he did? He stood up to the principal.”

Alvin said his high school years were rough and his large puffy hair, braces and acne didn’t help.

“And my name was Alvin,” he said.

He went to college, married twice, wrote a book and became a motivational speaker. Along the way, his hero became Martin Luther King Jr.

“One of my favorite lines of his was not to judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he said.

In the course of his life, Law also learned to play the piano and the drums. He gave stellar performances on both at Carson High School, concluding his presentation with a self-written piece on keyboard called ‘Ode to the Old Bag Who said My Toes were too Short (to play).’

“It was really amazing,” said Luke Matheson, 16, afterward, a sophomore from Lund High School in White Pine County.

“I’m probably going to try not to judge people by how they look,” said Shelby Graham, 15, a sophomore from Pershing County High School. “I’m going to look deeper.”

The leadership conference is scheduled to continue today with a tour of the Capitol grounds and buildings and a dance at Carson High School tonight.

“There’s just a lot of positive energy (at the conference),” said Carson High School senior and outgoing student body president Gary Groth. “Everyone’s so into being here.”

Just as Law was – the man who drives a car with his feet and waves at people while waiting at stoplights – and insists he’s missing no body parts.

“I believed I had hands,” he says lifting up his feet. “And my handicap disappeared.”

• Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at moneill@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.