Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Following Dreams, Showcasing Abilities

At birth, Chaz Kellem was diagnosed with a rare bone disorder called osteogenesis imperfecta. A result of this unusual challenge is that a person’s bones break easily–so easily, in fact, that Chaz has had 40 broken bones and undergone 12 surgeries.

From an early age, Chaz’s supportive parents instilled a can-do attitude in their son by encouraging him to try new things and pursue his dreams. Since one of Kellem’s biggest goals was to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he obtained the required skills by attending Edinburgh University in Western, PA as a Sports Administration major.

When I interviewed Chaz, the first question I asked him was whether he had to convince admissions counselors that he could be just as successful as his peers without disabilities.

“I didn’t have any trouble getting accepted to Edinburgh,” Chaz began. “The problem I had was convincing others that I could earn a living with my major. This was such a new area that even OVR wanted me to go into something else,” Kellem said.

To help him further pursue his dream, Edinburgh was extremely open and supportive right from the start. They afforded Chaz leadership opportunities that enabled him to succeed and showcase his abilities.

“Through what I did at Edinburgh, I was able to pave the way for others with disabilities to come to my university and excel,” Chaz proudly explained.

Kellem graduated from Edinburgh in June, 2005 and was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates on a part-time basis in December, 2005 as a ticket sales representative.

Chaz related that working for the Pirates has been–and continues to be–a wonderful experience. He went on to describe the Pirates as “a first-class organization to work for, and PNC Park as a world-class venue to work in, especially when it comes to physical accessibility.”

“Teamwork is always evident in the Pirates family, whether in the park or at the front office,” Kellem stated.

Having been promoted several times during his employment with the Pirates, Chaz’s current position is Director of Diversity Initiatives. In addition to his career, Kellem’s ability-focused attitude has also instilled in him a love of adaptive sports. “I am the coach for a wheelchair basketball team and I play second base for Pittsburgh’s only competitive wheelchair softball team,” Chaz shared.

Given how busy Chaz Kellem is, I asked what he does to relax. “I enjoy the essence of silence as well as hard work,” he replied. “I try to spend time with family and friends as much as possible. I really love to live the Pittsburgh life and take in as many restaurants and attractions as possible,” he exclaimed.

I felt that my interview wouldn’t be complete, though, unless I asked about employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Specifically, I asked Chaz what advice he would give to persons with vision impairment who want to pursue sports careers.

“Be humble,” Chaz began advising. “Be humble enough to start from the bottom and work your way up, since success doesn’t come overnight. Also, keep the focus on what you can do; educate the public; give back by helping others; allow yourself to grow and keep the movement going. If we, as persons with disabilities don’t keep it going, it won’t continue,” Chaz concluded.

Do any of you work in the sports field or have friends with vision impairments who do? Tell us in Reader’s Forum what it was like for you or your friend to get the necessary training, find a job, and get promoted.

Sources: Chaz Kellem: profiles on Google, Linked In and MySpace; globalsolutions.org; interview with Chaz Kellem; miracleleagueofsouthwesternpa.com; mobilityworks.com; post-gazette.com article entitled, “Left Behind,” by Anne Belser: October 27, 2011; and unbreakabledrive.com.

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