Submitted by Maureen Scudder, Northwest Catholic High School
Paralympic curler and Connecticut native Steve Emt visited Northwest Catholic earlier this month to deliver a powerful message – make good choices.
In the weeks leading up to prom and graduation, Northwest Catholic’s student body heard the message repeated – make good choices, make good choices, make good choices.
During one convocation, beloved Office Manager Peter Martin delivered a powerful keynote encouraging the students to think before they get in a car. He spoke as a parent, which wasn’t a leap for the students who think of him as a dad. At the following week’s convocation, President Christian Cashman drove home the point: “Always ask the question What would my best self do?” And at an all-school assembly this month, Steve Emt said it again: “Make good choices.”
Emt opened his speech with three important pieces of advice: 1. celebrate your successes; 2. learn from your failures; and 3. make good decisions. As his lecture unfolded, Emt offered even more words of wisdom. He told the students people will come into their lives – “guides” he called them – and they will give you good advice. Listen to them.
Emt travelled back in time to describe his athletic career before his life-altering accident. A self-described stand-out high school and college athlete, Emt regaled the audience with his storied career as a three-sport high school star who headed to West Point in 1988. That November his father died unexpectedly and the brave Emt tried tricking himself into believing he could continue on the same path without respite. Emt described the loss of his father as his “first major obstacle.”
Emt eventually left West Point and returned home to enroll at the University of Connecticut where an assistant basketball coach saw him play in a pick-up game. Soon after, Jim Calhoun called Emt and invited him to be a walk-on. Emt reminisced about these important years with great fondness and gratitude. He described his experiences as “incredible,” confident he was at the top of his game with many, many choices before him.
But on March 24, 1995, Emt made a terrible decision. He got behind the wheel of his pick-up truck drunk and rolled his vehicle on I-84, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Emt’s story held Northwest Catholic’s community riveted. To visualize Emt, an athlete, a UConn graduate, a young man with his future bright, lying near-dead in a ditch because of a tragic error, made its mark. Every detail Emt painted, from the Life Star transport to the six-hour surgery to his mother’s heartbreak, colored in an image the students could not erase.
Still, Emt’s story was not bleak. His first message might have been about bad choices, but his second about fighting back was equally potent. After conquering feelings of hopelessness, Emt rehabilitated, recovered, and continued to tackle tasks before him with intractable competitiveness. He became a teacher, a coach, and is now a Paralympic curler.
With all Emt faced, he remained grateful – grateful he lived, grateful he didn’t kill anyone that night, grateful for a chance meeting with U.S. Paralympic Curling Coach Tony Colacchio, and especially grateful for a message from Gold Medalist Lindsey Vonn.
In an interview, Vonn stressed the importance of being a good role model and a good teammate, and her message shifted Emt’s entire outlook on winning. He read Vonn’s words again and again until his frame of reference changed. Now Emt makes sure he supports everyone in the game – teammate and opponent. He prioritizes fun. He shares the axiom “there’s winning and there’s learning.”
The Northwest Catholic community appreciated Emt’s courageous and honest talk. Dean of Students Jennifer Montoney remarked, “Steve’s presentation had more than one message for our students – not only make good choices but respond to mistakes as learning opportunities.”
President Cashman echoed Montoney’s observations and added, “Mr. Emt’s presentation connected with our own experiences and expectations at Northwest Catholic – to respect the dignity of each person, to be resilient, and to make good choices.”
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!