That’s how I roll

Todd Shearon
By Todd Shearon January 23, 2018 20:01

Justin Artale smiles wide during an interview in the accessible suite at the WFCU Centre. Photo by Todd Shearon.

By Todd Shearon

“You’re an outsider.”

“You’re not like us.”

“You don’t belong.”

One of Windsor’s most notable advocates for disability rights, Justin Artale, has spent his whole life being told these things.

But Artale does not need a reminder.

“I get that every day.”

Born three months premature which resulted in cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia, he isn’t what one would expect of a Memorial Cup champion.

Describing his disability as all four limbs affected, with the spastic meaning “this arm may come up and fly for no reason.” He held his left arm down with his right hand.

“But we’re going to try and keep it down so we don’t bop anybody,” with a laugh and a wide smile.

Artale works security and arena operations at the WFCU Centre.

He insists his contribution was very small, but when he thinks of the 2016-17 championship, he can say he was a part of that team.

Known as ‘Knight Rider’ around the rink, a nickname given to him by the late Spitfires’ captain Mickey Renaud to put a little “sugar in his tank,”Artale helps motivate the players and encourages young fans lined up in the player’s tunnel to yell ‘Go Spits Go’ as they make their way to the ice.

Windsor Spitfires Corporate Sales Executive Matt Haddad says Artale takes pride in his work.

“He gets behind them and takes a lot of pride in that element,” said Haddad. “It’s an integral part of what we offer on the sales side as part of the experience. We rely on Justin to be the man behind the man.”

Artale offers a friendly fist bump to a member of the press while working his post at the WFCU Centre prior to a Spitfires’ game. Photo by Todd Shearon

It’s not actually a paying job for Artale.

“It’s my volunteer position. Although I treat it very much like my job.”

If you ask his age, Artale says, “I’m old enough,” with a laugh and a smile.

Born in London, Ontario in 1979, Artale moved to Windsor when his father found a flexible full-time midnight job to help deal with the special needs of his son.

Artale’s family calls them “Generous Motors,” who hired his father.

Artale says his story, “isn’t a very exciting one.”

Roger Faubert disagrees. He is not surprised at what Artale has accomplished and believes Artale has created opportunities for himself as he went along.

Faubert was the first television producer and director of Windsor’s Easter Seals telethon and got to know Artale from a young age.

“He’s a constant reminder that I might not be able to put skates on, but I’m a champion too,” said Faubert. “He’s earned that position. I’m grateful and happy he’s recognized as a result of that. He wins the championships behind the scenes and he makes those hockey players, without saying a word, realize what it is that they have and how lucky they are where they’re at.”

Artale got involved in the telethon because he was a kid being helped by Easter Seals. He was the Windsor-Essex spokesperson in 1988 during a tenure which began when he was only eight-years-old and ended just shy of 2006.

Most of that time was also spent corresponding with 20,000 disabled youth and young adults throughout the province on a daily basis. He was the provincial council youth representative.

“My job was to bring forth the issues and concerns and actively get a resolution,” said Artale. “It may not be the ideal resolution. It may not have solved the problem. But at least it was action. It was more than words.”

Artale says public facilities like some universities don’t understand the words “adaptation” and “inclusion.” This inspired him to act as a moderator between the schools and the individual or student to find a resolution for both parties.

The public battles were always a lesson learned for Artale, but personal struggles often took the hardest toll on him.

Simple things like feeding oneself and using the washroom are a daily challenge because, “you don’t always stand up right, if you know what I mean,” Artale said with a laugh.

“The bowl moves when it sees the cereal box coming and the pitcher doesn’t always cooperate with the glass,” says Artale.

Artale considers himself both a glass half-full and a glass half-empty kind of guy.

“Not because I’m a pessimist. It’s literally because I never know whether I’ll hit my intended target or not. And yes, more often than not the dish always runs away with the spoon,” he added.

At the end of the day Artale is just trying to fit in and find his place in the world.

“There are days when I accomplish that and there are days when I struggle. I’m just like anybody else.”

Artale feels part of the trouble is his feeling that he can’t slide too far the other way because people depend on him to be reliable in being the one who lifts everybody up.

“I can’t lift you up if I’m down in the dumps,” Artale said. “(My biggest personal goal) is just not to lose hope.”

Artale recently lost a great influence in Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who’s words “really resonated with him, especially in the song Somewhere I Belong.”

“His lyrics were so profound, so deep, so honest and so raw,” said Artale. “He was doing it to tell everyone around him no matter how bad you feel there is a place for you. There is somewhere you belong. I’m very sorry for the loss of Chester Bennington.”

Artale was constantly told he would never amount to anything and that there are schools for people like him because he doesn’t belong.

“Well where do I belong?”

“You’ve got to keep finding that inner motivation. For me it was that I wanted to prove myself to everybody.”

Today Artale says he is finally comfortable enough in his own skin to say he is exactly where he belongs.

“It may not be what I envisioned. Don’t get the two confused,” said Artale. “You always have to change your vision because nothing happens the exact the way you want it. You just try to find your niche. I found it and it happens to be with sports.”

Of course, he gets a little help from friends, family and other people he encounters, but it is basically “word of mouth and not being afraid to put myself out there.”

“Justin speaks with clarity and makes you feel comfortable,” said Faubert.

“He makes you want to know him and he makes you want to know beyond the challenges he has. You get to know his heart. You get to know his soul. You get to know his spirit and his humour. He’s got it all.”

Artale takes a break to enjoy a Windsor Spitfires game with his girlfriend Kimberly Harding at the WFCU Centre in Windsor. Photo by Todd Shearon

Artale has recently found another great success. Love.

“I’m more in love right now than I have ever been in my entire life,” Artale said. “My girlfriend Kimberly (Harding) is the light of my life.”

The couple first met at what is now known as John McGivney Children’s Centre, later reconnecting in 1992 when they attended St. Thomas of Villanova high school.

After years of friendship, Artale finally had the self-confidence it took to be in a relationship.

Harding has Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, which is more severe than Artale’s disability, so he is always willing to help her in any way he can. He doesn’t look at it as “doing for,” but as “helping somebody in the same situation.”

“Her hands don’t work as well so I hold her cup for her. I help her with a spoon on occasion,” Artale said. “I don’t want her to feel like it’s a burden on somebody to ask for help.”

Haddad says he could tell Justin was happier than usual at the beginning of this season.

“I must take some notes!” Haddad thinks he can learn some things about love from Justin.

Artale and girlfriend Kimberly Harding have been dating for just over a year.

Harding says she loves Justin because he makes her laugh.

“He’s not the type to worry about doing things for himself, he’d rather do things for other people.”

The couple simply enjoy each other’s company and have fun together going places like the mall, casino and dinner to share a laugh.

“I one day want to move in with him and marry him,” she said. “We just want to be there for each other. I love him.”

Faubert says he is not surprised Artale has found love.

“I’m happy to see he’s now got that whole rounded element in his life that we all search for.”

Just when he thought life couldn’t get any better, Artale was able to witness the Spitfires win the 2017 Memorial Cup at home in the WFCU Centre.

“It was a dream come true,” said Artale. “I was ecstatic. My emotions went positively through the roof. I had never been so happy in my life. Just the euphoria, the jubilation and the stress relief,” he added with a giggle.

“It’s never always about the payoff. But for your psyche you always want to be feeling good,” he said, “I was finally able to achieve something on my own merits and I actually belonged.”

You could imagine it would be hard for Atale to stay positive.

“I just try to set forth a good example and make life easier for the ones who come after me,” said Artale. “It’s about setting a path so they might not have to work or advocate as hard. We are all human beings. We shouldn’t have to fight every step of the way for basic human rights.”

Artale isn’t looking for pity parties or empathy. He’s comfortable with himself.

He just wants people to understand what he is going through.

“I have made peace with what I am and what I do,” he said. “And if I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, that’s okay with me.”

Artale’s message to the world would be: “the world has a habit of making room for those that know where they’re going.”

And Artale definitely knows where he’s going.

“It may not be to save the world. It may not be the next cure for cancer. But it’s good enough for me, because I’m the one walking it, or wheeling it, because that’s how I roll (laughing) and that’s perfect enough for me.”

Artale insists, “We can accomplish anything we set our minds to no matter what it is. No matter how insurmountable it may appear. We can always rebound.

“The only time you can’t rebound and make amends is the day they finally put you in the pine box. Up until then your story hasn’t been written yet,” he said.

Artale says he used to hate the word “fail” but has come to love it.

“Have you ever taken a close look at the word fail?

F-A-I-L. First Attempt In Learning.”

Artale says that every time you fail you should look at it as a first attempt at whatever you are learning and always give it another try.

“And if it doesn’t turn out the way you want it,” said Artale. “Maybe it turns out the way you need it.”

Todd Shearon
By Todd Shearon January 23, 2018 20:01

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