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Local Column

Heimerman: It is never too late to seize the moment, embrace your passion

Christopher Heimerman
Christopher Heimerman

Do you have a passion, but haven’t had the guts to try it? Think you’re too old, too entrenched in your rut?

Think again.

I’ve had one of the warmest, fuzziest mornings I’ve had in a while, and all before 10 a.m.

I already knew that Northern Illinois University alumnus James Stevko had a cool, inspiring story, after speaking with him last week. This morning, I caught up with his former mentor, Randy Newsom, the retired director of dance at NIU. We talked about how Stevko showed up at NIU as a music education major stuck in a dancer’s body.

Stevko first started dancing at age 18, and now he’s starring in the Yiddish version of “Fiddler on the Roof” in New York City.

“I had no business being in there with those dancers at NIU, but I was amazed by everything,” Stevko said. “I decided to change my entire life and what I knew. I was obsessed. I had to be. I didn’t have a choice.”

Newsom and I chatted about how Stevko’s story transcends the performing arts – that anyone can seize their passion and tap extraordinary potential.

But more often than not, they have to be given an opportunity. That brings us to another cool anecdote. Minutes after I got off the phone with Newsom, I found out Christine Malecki, the new director of the Penguin Project, was going over advertisements in the office, so I had the chance to meet her.

She’s taking the reins from Joe King, who I’ve known best as NIU’s spokesman, but the Penguin Project has also been his baby since its inception nine years ago.

The Penguin Project gives children with disabilities the chance to perform on stage, singing and dancing and generally living their best theatrical life. This year’s cast will perform Sept. 13 to 16 at DeKalb High School.

King and his wife, Barb, are now directing the Penguin Players, geared for people with disabilities who age out of the Penguin Project.

As does King, Malecki has a talented son who’s blossomed through the program. Since rehearsals for “Mary Poppins” started in April, however, she’s quickly realized that they’re all her kids now.

“I’ve just fallen in love with all of them,” she said.

Notably, Brad Garrett, a 21-year-old for Malta, who, for the first three rehearsals insisted he doesn’t sing and doesn’t dance, was showing his stuff in the kickline and belting out tunes Monday night.

“I teared up,” Malecki said, as she teared up again. “I mean, here’s this young man who stood there with his arms folded, and now look what he can do.”

Stay tuned for more on the Penguin Project and Penguin Players, as well as a feature on Stevko that will appear in Thursday’s Arts & Entertainment section of the Daily Chronicle.

But right now, take a moment and think about it: What is it you want to do, but you haven’t gone for it yet? Want to learn an instrument? Change your career? Wear white shoes after Labor Day? You rebel.

There’s this misconception that to do certain things, you have to start young.

I can’t think of a better example than tennis, in which many coaches insist that to be truly great, a child must have a racket in hand by age 4, and that their body’s time will be up by age 30.

Thank goodness Serena Williams shattered that myth for us.

Besides, you don’t have to be the best to be successful.

Heck, you don’t even have to be great, as long as you love it and it adds richness to you life.

That’s success.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at cheimerman@shawmedia.com.

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