Gideon DiMeglio is just one of thousands of new freshman at SLCC this fall, carrying his fair share of credit hours at the South City Campus. He has been hauling books, texting new friends, and is now looking forward to turning 20. But, unlike other college students celebrating their birthdays, DiMeglio will be eating his cake with his feet.
“I call them my half legs,” says DiMeglio.
He has shortened legs with four toes on each foot. It was something he was born with and doesn’t know life with any additional limbs.
“I didn’t realize I was different until the second or third grade,” he says. “But I honestly didn’t care. If anyone asked me anything, I would just explain I was born with it and it’s just the way I am.”
As a youth, winning friends wasn’t as difficult as DiMeglio’s parents had worried. He had loyal buddies as early as kindergarten that palled around thinking “no big deal” of their disabled friend. But come junior year of high school, the teasing ramped up.
“I made sure to keep good friends around,” he says. “They stood up for me whenever someone would poke fun.”
The unified front worked, the teasing eventually subsided, more friends came along, and DiMeglio could focus on developing his talents.
“My feet became my surrogate hands,” says DiMeglio.
Over the years he developed skills that most people would deem impossible. One such skill is drawing, a creative outlet that dates to his childhood.
In fact, he is so good that he is majoring in visual arts with a focus on illustration and hopes to make a career of it. Using only his feet, DiMeglio can write, draw, eat, play video games, and even text on his phone.
DiMeglio’s wheelchair has seen a lot of mileage and served him well; he’s thinking it’s time to replace it, perhaps after he graduates. With a push of a button it automatically lowers, allowing him to scoot himself into the seat, roll upright and take hold of the joy stick with his feet to hurry along to his next class.
Out of the chair Gideon enjoys horseback riding once a week for therapy. His brother-in-law carries him in a special backpack for hiking and snow skiing adventures. He has gone rock-climbing and has been repelling in his wheelchair. In fact, he has even climbed to the famous “Angels Landing” in Zion National Park.
As for routine college work, prolonged writing does take a toll on DiMeglio’s back, and he has a student note-taker to help him keep up in classes.
“I don’t have any problems getting in or out of the buildings on campus,” he says. There is, however, “the occasional head bump to the door opener.”
DiMeglio frequently fields questions from the naturally curious and doesn’t mind answering them, provided that people are respectful.
“I don’t mind people asking me questions, but it bothers me when people assume that I need help when I don’t.” He said it also bothers him when people think they are being funny and shake his chair.
DiMeglio has a great sense of humor and likes to ignite fantastic mental images for children who approach him for an explanation of no arms.
“I tell them that I got attacked by crocodiles,” he said. “They love it.”
DiMeglio loves the college life and delights in making new friends. “Say hello,” he offers to any who sees him hurrying from here to there.
This fall, he is just another freshman, but one who, in the very literal sense, has a leg up on all the rest.