If you ask Vinnie these days what his favorite activity is, he'll tell you, with a big smile on his face, "it's swimming at the North Shore Pool." He continues: "How can you not love it? The weather is great, the views are wonderful, people are friendly and you get a breath of fresh air."
At 64, Vinnie speaks proudly of his business as a skilled artisan builder. He has been a professional craftsman for 32 years. He owns and manages "Architectural Specialties, Inc" which specializes in designing and building unique architectural structures, furniture, and stained glass creations for discerning clients of both residential and commercial properties. Until the recession took its tole, Vinnie was constantly engaged in projects, working out of his custom-built shop. Today, he wonders if he'll ever return to the work that he loves.
Vinnie was born with Inherited Spastic Paraplegia, passed down from his father and grandfather. It is a degenerative genetic disorder characterized by progressive stiffness and weakness in the legs. It began with Vinnie when he was in his late 40's. Now he has limited functionality of his legs, getting around with a specially designed tricycle, and crutches. He can also drive a stick-shift car, and uses an electric scooter. "This slowed me down, but it didn't stop me. I have to concentrate more when doing things that I once took for granted and did automatically, like dressing."
His disability has never been a detriment to his work. His talent and versatility are highly regarded, and he was in constant demand for his unconventional and handsome creations. "People hired me because they wanted something special, so I felt challenged to come up with something cool...I designed projects that I would like.
I complete 75% of the work in my shop, the remaining 25% is on-site installation."
Fresh out of Northern Illinois University with a degree in industrial arts, Vinnie at first intended to teach. He applied to numerous schools in his area. And in the meantime, "people started asking me to build things for them: doors, windows, furniture, cabinets and metalwork, both utilitarian and ornamental. I learned how to build stained glass windows. It's easy for me to switch materials. I am a very good designer and draftsman." Below are some samples of his work:
And most of all, Vinnie is grateful for the pool. He started swimming years ago when he took his children for swim lessons. He was busier then, and could only come on weekends. As his work waned Vinnie had more time for the physical therapy that the water provides.Now you can find Vinnie at the pool almost daily (except when it's under 70 degrees F.!) "Being in the pool is a big relief, getting the weight off me. I'm able to walk without using crutches. Floating is very comfortable. Hanging off the sides of the pool and stretching without my feet touching the bottom feels very good." His words convey a sense of joyful freedom.
Vinnie is a wonderful influence to all who know him. He wonders why others with similar conditions don't take advantage of swimming and the mental and physical stress relief it provides. He enjoys the social interaction with everyone he meets, and values the opportunity to be outside in an activity that brings him unrestricted movement and independence. His appreciation is infectious. Ask Vinnie how the water is on any given day, and his answer will be, "perfect."
He hasn't given up the hope of getting back to the trade that means so much to him. "When I had work I felt very accomplished. People called me because I have a reputation, and they wanted something special built. My projects were custom built, usually one-of-a-kind, special circumstances, and sometimes no one else was interested in doing the work because it was too complicated." He even speaks of partnering with his son and daughter, who are now in their twenties. They learned the skills from Vinnie as they worked with him "in the shop" on some projects.
As the economy caused others to limit their discretionary spending, Vinnie has had time for improvements to his own house. "There was no way I was going to put this fancy work in other people's houses and not my own!" Vinnie doesn't let his disability interfere with any aspect of his work, his recreational activities, home improvements or chores.
"My drawings sell me and my work, and being disabled doesn't discourage people from hiring me. What I can't do, I'm very good at directing people to do. I have a very strong belief in personal and professional creativity and problem solving."
Vinnie's story is an inspiration to others, disabled or not. Follow your dreams, live your life fully, work around any limitations and always keep alive the hope of a new opportunity. For architectural specialties work contact Vinnie at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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