Ever think of kids with fetal alcohol syndrome as human puzzles with missing pieces?
Myles Himmelreich does every day.
The motivational speaker from Calgary is a noted mentor, consultant and advocate who uses his experience of living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to inspire national and international audiences.
He shows kids born with fetal alcohol issues how to do the impossible: be a success.
The puzzle metaphor is central to his message.
At the end of a two-hour presentation Tuesday morning to 65 kids with FASD and their teachers and parents at the Canad Inns Polo Park, the Calgary personality had already chalked up one major feat: He got their attention.
The entire audience, including kids who can't concentrate, were riveted to their seats. And more than a few said afterward Himmelreich's life story offered them something they needed to hear.
"It's really inspiring. It's tough to live like this," said John Budgen, 13.
John was at the conference with his mother and a brother, who like him also has FASD. "I can relate," nodded John's brother, Steffan, 14.
The 13-year-old then held out a laminated piece of paper with a typed message and a puzzle piece attached to it and read the typed words out loud as if the words explained everything.
"Look, it says it right here," John said, reading, "We are a human puzzle and we didn't get all the pieces when we were born. It is up to us to find the other pieces and complete ourselves."
The quote belongs to Himmelreich, part of his personal brand, handed out at every presentation.
It explains exactly what FASD feels like to someone who lives with it, John said.
Perhaps the most impressive hurdle Himmelreich faced is the one he sailed over last fall, and it's the final part of his presentations now.
This hurdle happened just after he landed his greatest success, a full-time job as an FASD consultant with the Alberta government.
And it could have destroyed him.
Last October, Calgary police released a grainy photo that showed Himmelreich, along with a statement they were looking for the man in the photo as a suspect in a sexual assault. It ran all over the local media.
It's the kind of publicity no public speaker seeks, and since Himmelreich could prove he was speaking at a conference in Vancouver at the time, it should have been easy to clear up.
Himmelreich told the story in Winnipeg Tuesday -- how he called the detective in charge, how he was forced through a humiliating arrest scene at his gym and cuffed in front of his friends, all before he could see the detective.
Worst of all, he was released without any official confirmation he'd been falsely accused. What he did next turned an embarrassing public episode and potential ruinous criminal record into a public success story that cleared his name.
Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, in the audience Tuesday, nudged a reporter as Himmelreich launched into the ordeal and said "Listen to this. This is a powerful story."
Himmelreich said he didn't fall apart, nor did he sue the police.
He hired a lawyer, sought help from family and friends and gave the whole miserable incident a lot of thought.
Then he went to the police, got a TV interview with the local Global station and did what he does best: talk about the arrest, how a false accusation can damage an innocent person and offer a face-saving way for the police to make amends without spending a penny.
He gained a lot of new allies to his cause and a promise from the Calgary police to attend a talk of his on FASD.
"You know," Himmelreich said after the presentation, "I could have overreacted. As I sat in that van, I thought 'I can act differently or I can act in a way that it is going to make a change.' I sat in that van, and I knew I needed to do the right thing, which was keep calm and just keep moving forward."
That story alone showed how to turn a weakness into a strength, and it's a message Chief said he wants kids with FASD and professionals who work with them to hear. "One of the biggest challenges we face is to help people deal with the stigma of FASD... the best way is not to tell people they can overcome the challenge but show them they can."