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Disabled breakdancer creates buzz after Paralympic opening performance

When Luca Patuelli propelled himself on his crutches into the cavernous and sold-out stadium, he was, from the vantage of many people in the seats, tiny and disabled.

VACOUVER, B.C. - When Luca Patuelli propelled himself on his crutches into the cavernous and sold-out stadium, he was, from the vantage of many people in the seats, tiny and disabled.

But when the pulsing beat throbbed into music at the opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games, Patuelli's centre-stage platform rose and he became a larger-than-life figure, transcending his worlds of break-dancing and positive messaging about life with a disability.

He was just good. Really good.

"The guy's insane," mutters the videographer who filmed Patuelli's performance and posted it on YouTube.

Patuelli, whose stage name is Lazylegz, hoists his body up on his crutches, using them like a gymnast's rings to do handstands. He swings his legs in unison, drops the crutches while he's in the air and lands in a somersault, rounding the move off with pushups, with his body, legs and feet suspended parallel above the ground, his arms doing all the work.

He spins on his elbow, the rest of his body hovering. He stands on his head and moves his legs to the beat.

Any suggestion that Patuelli might be somehow diminished by the lack of fully co-operative legs was completely forgotten by those at the opening ceremonies who watched as the breakdancer took the centre of a hip-hop dance troupe.

Mission accomplished, he says.

"I guess I've learned that when people see me dance, that I'm out there having fun, my crutches are used as an extension of my arms, they're not used because I need them," Patuelli said in a weekend interview with The Canadian Press, the rush of the Friday concert still in his voice.

"Yeah, I need them, but what people might see as a disadvantage, I use as an advantage."

The 25-year-old Montrealer was born with arthrogyrposis, a muscle disorder that affects his legs.

He was put on crutches at age three, "dragging my body around using my upper body to pick myself up and walk."

At age eight, he was diagnosed with severe scoliosis, curving his spine.

In one of 16 surgeries, eight of his vertebrae were fused and titanium rods inserted.

But he spent his childhood swimming, diving, skiing and especially skateboarding. He skated on his knees and was good enough to get a sponsor from a local company in Bethesda, Md., where he spent much of his youngest years.

"My dream was to become a professional skateboarder," he said.

But another surgery on his knees changed the angle of his legs to improve his ability to walk.

It messed up his skateboarding career.

"The vibratons of the board bothered my scar, my feet started dragging against the asphalt. So I didn't feel comfortable skating any more," Patuelli says.

At the time, he says he had "absolutely no clue" what breakdancing was about, but some of his skating friends urged him to try it.

"I fell in love with it the minute I started."

Patuelli carefully watched the moves of more able-bodied dancers and figured out how to adapt them to his superior upper-body strength.

"Right now, I'm learning how to fly off the crutches and land in different moves," he says.

"My personal goal at the end of this year is to land a full-front flip off my crutches onto my hands."

That and doubling the half-kilometre distance he can now walk without aid. He says after years of training his upper body, he figures its now time to train his lower body.

Last spring, he graduated from Concordia University with a degree in marketing. Part of what he's marketing is himself - he's developed a career in motivational speaking, with engagements around the world. His motto: "It's about taking the bad and making it good."

But he speaks of his art with the enthusiasm of an athlete looking for the next challenge.

Performing at the Paralympic opening ceremonies, he says, was a "dream come true."

A Vancouver fan he'd never met thought of Lazylegz as soon as he heard the Paralympics were coming to Vancouver.

The fan hunted down the ceremonies' production company and suggested Patuelli as a possible act.

It's been the biggest fulfillment of yet another of Patuelli's goals.

"I have lazy legs and I'm not shy to show it off," he says.

"What I want to prove to people is that everything is possible. We shouldn't let our insecurities get in our way."

-with a file from Tamsyn Burgmann

 
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