How One Inspiring Man Conquered His Learning Difficulties to Become a Teacher and World-class Athlete
By Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based Journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, RunUltra, and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright
June 27, 2016
Harvey Lewis is a world-class champion, a lean, mean running machine, and a high school teacher of Economics and Government. He is an Ambassador for Hope So Bright, working to raise awareness about autism and ADHD and he is engaged to his beautiful fiancée, Kelly. By any measure, he is a very successful man – someone to be looked up to and admired. But that wasn’t always the case.
When he was young Lewis was fat, in fact, he was the second biggest boy in school. He was also categorized as having learning difficulties and was put in a special education class. “I was put into the Learning Disability classes. I was embarrassed by it,” said Lewis, “It was rough. In first grade I got F’s on all of my English assignments. Writing was my worst skill. My teacher put me in the back because I was naughty. My parents had gotten divorced and my attention wasn’t there.”
Then a couple of things happened that were to change his life forever. The first thing was that Lewis went on a long hiking trip in Wyoming with his dad and the weight dropped off of him. The second was that he entered the Cleveland Marathon at age 15. Lewis finished the marathon, even though he had never run half the distance before and that gave him what he really needed, self-confidence. “That changed things,” said Lewis, “My mindset changed. I thought to myself, this means that anything is possible. It’s what you put into it. After that, I got all B’s and above for the rest of high school. There was nothing that was going to stop me.”
Lewis truly understands how children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD often feel. “They have lost hope. If you feel you are always going to fail, you don’t put in any effort,” he said. “It becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy.”
Lewis now teaches Economics and Government to 11 th and 12 th graders at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio. He works with up to 130 kids a day and many of them are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD. He says that as many as a quarter of them might say they have ADHD, for which the school has an excellent program in place, but you have to remember that kids are kids and that it’s generally hard for many of them to sit still hour after hour in a classroom.
Added to that, modern life has changed the family unit, the way we communicate and, most importantly, our diet.
“Kids now are living with instant, changing technology. They are scrolling through Instagram, then looking at Facebook or a video. Concentration is different. One thing I have observed is that kids who are in orchestra or ballet are able to concentrate better, they have a little bit more focus.”
Lewis also says that the way children eat is a real problem. “A lot of the kids come to school and they’ve had chips, soda, doughnuts, or a Frappuccino…It’s not adequate and it doesn’t promote concentration. It only provides short-term energy. These are unhealthy choices. Kids are not eating properly.”
Everyone agrees that children should eat a healthy, balanced diet, but with many kids now living in single parent homes or homes where both parents work, it can be a real challenge to make sure that food is home-cooked and nutritious. We live in an instant gratification world. This is something that Lewis believes we really need to prioritize. “We should have a serious push on teaching nutrition. Without that, everything else falls apart,” says Lewis.
Another major issue is fitness or the lack of it. “For some kids, walking to the bus stop is the only exercise they get. In lots of states, they have cut back on gym class because of budgets, which means there is no positive outlet for kids to expend their energy. The body is not regulated.”
Lewis continues, “I feel mentally and physically at my best when doing some form of fitness. Just 30 minutes a day. If we started off with yoga it could really have a calming effect. At the moment, we want the quickest solution for those with learning disabilities, just give them a pill. Of course, there are cases where that is necessary but it seems to me that we are not educating children about coping mechanisms, which will be beneficial to them throughout life.”
As someone who has actually walked this walk and has conquered his early problems to go on and have a full and productive life, Harvey Lewis is an inspiration to others. He believes that with the right support and attention, with correct diet and exercise, huge steps forward could be made for many children.
His story is one of hope and triumph against adversity. Lewis believes that his early struggle and the fact that he conquered his problems has given him strength in his later life and helps him when he is facing a challenging time or a really tough race. This is what he has to say, “I am thankful I went through it, it was a hell of a struggle but I had to get through it, and I did.”