How can you not like Mark Hunter?  Seriously, I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like – or outright adore – this man. He’s competed at the Interdistrict Public Speaking Competition Contest six times, and this was his third trip to the World Championship.  In 2007, he took 3rd place, and I’ve never seen anyone so happy to receive a third place trophy.  Seriously – check out the photo – – he positively radiated joy.

This year, Mark came out on stage and delivered a message of such significance, one that touched both our heads and our hearts, that there was really no question; he was going to be our new World Champion.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mark’s story, you should know he was paralyzed at the age of 22 during a waterskiing accident.   He’s confined to a wheelchair, but the man is NOT handicapped.  In fact, he proved during his speech that being in a wheelchair can actually give you an edge in delivering a speech.

Mark opened with a quote from Don Quixote, and said he wanted to ride off on his trusty steed. As he delivered that line, he pushed his wheels and then used his hands to mimic holding a pair of reins, and bounced up and down gently … it totally looked like he was riding a horse.  Try doing that while standing without looking like a moron!

Mark used his wheels again when he, imitating a horse lifting its front legs,  delivered a quick interjection of “Yee Haw!” and actually popped a quick wheelie.

In front of 1,500 people in Mashantucket, Connecticut, Mark Hunter was awarded first prize in a contest which 30,000 from around the world entered.

And in his conclusion, as Mark was speaking with deep power and conviction about “if we are to change the world, you have got to change it from in …. ”, he was rolling across the stage from right to left, and executed a quick spin on the word “from” so that he was then zipping from left to right.  “you have got to change from in” – SPIN – “here ” he placed his hand on his heart……  Dude, it gave me chills.

I cannot emphasize enough how much you MUST see the video of Mark’s speech.  He proved that a wheelchair isn’t a handicap to a speaker; used correctly, it can be something amazingly powerful, and you can do things with it that a speaker simply could not do on two feet.

And then, there was his message.  Mark talked about how at 22, he suddenly saw the world from a new angle – “that of a consummate navel gazer”.  He retreated, and wanted to become invisible.  He asked himself, “Do I want to fit in, or stand out?”

And then he went to the source of all answers … his Nana’s kitchen.  (Watch this section especially for his masterful use of humor.)  The nutshell version of the story is that she had a sink full of green tomatoes soaking in water, and one bright red apple rolled off the counter and dropped in the water.  His Nana said, “look at the sink – tell me, which would you rather be? Just another green tomato or that red apple?”

His response?  “I want to be … the water.”  Which, of course, made us all laugh … but then he explained.  The water embraces and encompasses all – both the tomatoes and the apple.  It’s like love … “liquid love”.

And as Mark said, “when we love with the intimacy of water, our differences don’t exist.”

“From that ordinary kitchen,” he concluded, “came an extra-ordinary lesson.”

WOW. Wowowowowowow … wow.