Paul B. An loved to play soccer, despite being the slowest player.
One day, his uncle noticed that when he ran, he would trip over his own feet.
Shortly after that, he was told by doctors that eventually, he would not be able to walk anymore.
A fourth-year business administration student, An was born with a disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), which destroys muscles as time passes, significantly reducing life span.
He was diagnosed with the condition at 7 years old and by the age of 11, he had to start using a wheelchair because it became difficult for him to walk.
“When I was young I suffered from a lot of depression,” An said. “I couldn’t play sports like everyone else, couldn’t walk, so it got to me when I was young. But then I realized through help of family and friends, realizing my life was blessed … I could use my disability to help others.”
An had the support from his friends and family, but he felt he had no ambition and believed his future would not lead him anywhere.
His father’s death during his first semester at Mt. San Antonio College helped An have a breakthrough.
“His passing made me realize that life was too short to waste it,” An said. “In order help my family deal with such a loss, I would have to step it up. In order to make the most out of my life, I would have to leave a legacy … be a person that helps people understand the reason why they are living and how amazing life can be.”
With this inspiration, he decided to start planning.
He is currently working with Associated Students Inc. (ASI) on “United with Differences,” an event meant to promote awareness and create an understanding of the reality of living with a disability.
An said the event will include five speakers chosen from students, staff and faculty members who have a wide variety of disabilities.
Jennifer Greenberg, ASI president, said, “I think it is a great idea and am glad that there is a student who is so passionate about this form of social justice work that he would reach out to the entire campus to generate support and excitement.”
Brian Garnadi, a fourth-year accounting student and director of finance for the event who has known Paul since they both attended school at Mt. Sac, said he is truly inspired by An.
“Paul himself is one of the strongest persons that I know, spirit-wise. He just has a good amount of courage to give out to people, that’s why we are doing this event,” Garnadi said. “He puts his mindset into something and he does it really well. I really admire him for that.”
Growing up, An said he did not meet anyone who shared a similar disability, but now he is determined to help people who have disabilities and those who have no will to live.
Aarick Sepulveda, a fourth-year public relations student and member of the public relations team for the event, said despite knowing An for such a short time, he was immediately engaged with him.
“The same physical disability he has, my cousin has … my first impression connected it to almost this sense of like I already knew him. I know him [and] this sense of family already because of my connection to my cousin. [It is] just crazy you know, that was exciting,” Sepulveda said. “I sit here and complain about me or about whatever it is and then I look at him and I am like, ‘Man he is super happy’ … it just realigns my thought process.”
An said he aspires to become a motivational speaker after he graduates.
“I want people to realize no matter what happens, life is amazing whether you have a disability or not,” he said. “Never give up, because life goes on.”
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