Six year-old Hercules Stergiou is a kid on the move.
He has a new book out today, called All About Me – Hercules. With bright photos on every page, it tells the story of his year in kindergarten and all the extra things he does to live well with cerebral palsy.
When he met Beach Metro News to talk about the book on Thursday, Hercules ran out of his Grade 1 class at Bowmore Public School wearing black Batman-style wings on his shoes and flaming orange grip tape on his walker.
“I just ran all the way here,” he said, catching his breath before stealing a sip of his dad’s double-double coffee.
Vice-principal Peppi Minos came in a minute after following him down the hall.
“I don’t run after him,” Minos said. “I just tell him to slow down.”
“Oh, I never slow down,” he said with a grin.
Hercules got his heroic name from his Greek grandfather.
It’s actually his middle name – his first is Alexander – but everyone calls him Hercules, or Herc for short. It was his sister Desi who started it, shortly after Hercules was born.
Just like the ancient hero, Hercules had a tough start as a baby. He was born nine weeks early, and spent three months in intensive care.
So when he finally came home, Desi decided he had earned his hero name.
“He went from Alexander the Great to Hercules the Warrior,” said his mother Kristina.
Sambrook said that from all she has seen of her now Grade 1 student, Hercules is indeed a heroic boy.
“He’s teaching us how you take on a modern-day world, and with challenges,” she said.
“He’s making this work for him.”
But it’s not always easy.
In the spring of 2012, five months before Hercules was due to start kindergarten, his family moved to a house near O’Connor Avenue and St. Clair Avenue, across from Selwyn Elementary School.
“We thought, ‘This is great. Herc’s school is right in his backyard,’” Kristina said.
But when they tried to register him, she and her husband Jim found out Selwyn had impassable stairs.
“We had no idea that all schools aren’t even accessible,” she said.
After many sleepless nights and frantic emails, the Stergious found out about Bowmore, which serves as the accessible school for a large part of east Toronto.
It has a ramp up to the front door, and an elevator Hercules can take up to music class, the gym, or the library.
Bowmore also has a pool and swim classes – a great fit since Hercules loves to swim.
“I love it because I get to go underwater,” he said, adding that he knows how to kick, and how to blow bubbles.
But the best thing, said Hercules’ father Jim, is that Bowmore has the right attitude.
Hercules’ schoolmates offer to open doors for him, sometimes from a whole field away. At a school race last year, a pair of Grade 6 boys ran on either side of him to help him balance if he needed it. He has a buddy in Grade 7, who also has cerebral palsy.
“He feels wanted. He’s a regular kid,” said Jim.
“They don’t look at him as someone with a disability, and he’s happy as can be.”
Jim said the same thing goes for Bowmore staff and teachers.
Thanks to people like Rosa DesChamps, an educational assistant, Hercules gets whatever help he needs so that when he’s in class, he can focus on learning just as much as anyone else.
“It goes above and beyond,” Jim said.
When Sambrook approached Jim and Kristina about the book last fall, Kristina said a big reason they agreed is that the book will show other parents of kids with disabilities what that first year of kindergarten can look like.
That’s especially important for those families who may not have all the same advantages they do, she said.
“We want those kids to have the same opportunity and the same life,” she said.
Before he had to go back to class, Hercules was asked if he had a favourite photo in his book.
“Yes!” he said, flipping pages right away.
Some photos show him at home watering tomatoes with a water gun, or hanging out with his sisters Alli and Desi. Others show doctors fitting him for the special braces he slips into his Converse sneakers, and gulping a chocolate milk afterwards.
“Not this one, not this one, oh this one!” he said, stopping on a photo of him, Desi, and their puppy Duke.
After spelling out his dog’s name, “D-U-K-E,” Hercules flipped to his second favourite photo – a shot of him riding his bike. It’s fitted with special pedals that his dad made (and that Duke managed to eat sometime later).
With a class to get to, Hercules got up and said, “I’ll show you how to walk.”
“I’m not using my walker – I need some exercise,” he added, before walking unaided down the 60-metre hallway to his classroom.
Jim said six months ago, Hercules could walk just 10 steps before he needed a break.
“Something clicked,” he said.
It’s partly Hercules’ therapy, said Jim and Kristina, but also being at a school where he can push himself, knowing his fellow students will help if he falls.
“He’s an inspiration,” said Jim.
“The fact that he’s my son – he’s just incredible.”
Copies of All About Me – Hercules can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or phoning Gitta Berg at 416-397-2595. A limited number of copies are also available from Bowmore Public School.