MIDDLEBURY - "It's not what happens to you. It's what you do with what happens to you." This was the commencement message from Chris Waddell '91 as he addressed the 593 members of MiddleburyCollege's Class of 2011 May 22. With a relaxed smile and the ease of a veteran motivational speaker, Waddell gave the graduating seniors a lot to think about.
"I know that all of you have great plans," he said, speaking without notes from his wheelchair at the center of the stage. "Some plans are better formed than others, but don't be bound solely to those plans. Life is fluid. Sometimes when things don't work out, it's the greatest gift of all."
Waddell spoke from experience. As a promising young skier at Middlebury in 1988 he had a skiing accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. A year later, he was back on the slopes, and two years later was a member of the United States Disabled Ski Team. He went on to become the most decorated male skier in Paralympic history, winning 12 medals over four games, and spending a total of 11 years on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team.
Waddell is one of a select few who has medaled in both summer and winter games. In the fall of 2009, Waddell became the first paraplegic to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro unassisted, and in 2010, he was inducted into both the Paralympic Hall of Fame and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.