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Zack Power

Baila Rosenbaum

Bright. Charming. Personable. Inspiring. Quadriplegic. All these describe Zack Pollack whose motivational speeches have galvanized scores to become better, stronger, and happier people.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

zack

NOTHING LIKE FRIENDS When Zack says he loves life, it’s largely due to his wonderful friends. Counselor Michael Celler pushed Zack’s wheelchair through a 13-mile run and then carried him over the finish line for the gold, while buddy Avraham Fried narrated a film clip about Zack and heroism.

Bright, charming, personable. These aren’t the first adjectives you would use to describe a quadriplegic young man who depends on others for all his physical needs. But then you probably haven’t met Zack Pollack, whose motivational speeches have inspired scores to become better, stronger, and happier people.

What kind of image pops into your head when you hear the words “motivational speaker”? 

Chances are you thought of either your favorite rav or rebbetzin or a super-hip TED Talks speaker — someone who’s polished in both attire and speech, someone you’d like to emulate at least in some small way. 

One image that probably didn’t come to mind was someone who is incapacitated by cerebral palsy — someone confined to a wheelchair, someone whose speech is compromised, whose words are unclear. 

Yet it’s the second description that outwardly describes Zack Pollack, a 22-year-old semichah student at REITS who has already built a career as a successful motivational speaker. With a powerful message to share about the harmful effects of bullying and the love that is spread through inclusion and friendship, Zack is determined to not let his CP get in his way. Or as he puts it, “I’m a kid that wants to give chizzuk to the world.”

Listen to My Story

Zack’s struggle started before birth. While pregnant, his mother Barbara developed a condition called pre-eclampsia, forcing Zack’s delivery at only 24 weeks and at a weight of one and a half pounds. Zack spent almost the first four months of life in the hospital until he was stable enough to join his parents, Barbara and Larry, and brother Rudy in their Passaic, New Jersey home. After eight months of tracking his progress and noting delays, they got a diagnosis: cerebral palsy, a condition defined by impaired muscle coordination (spastic paralysis) and other disabilities. It’s typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. 

“It was shocking to hear the diagnosis,” Larry remembers. “But when we asked the doctor what it meant, he just said, ‘All I can say at this point is that he’ll never be an athlete.’ We didn’t know CP would affect him to this degree.” The Pollacks left the doctor’s office and drove straight to Hackensack University Medical Center to find out what therapies would be available to Zack and how best to address his needs. 

Despite his severe physical and intellectual challenges Zack had a happy childhood, supported by family, friends, and the warm Passaic community. He enjoyed summers with Camp HASC and maintained close relationships with the staff all year long. But there was an additional hurdle to face when the cute, towheaded boy became a teen. Zack suffered from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. The curvature was so serious it affected his internal organs and required major surgery to correct. “It was a risky operation but there was no choice,” Larry recollects. “His condition was life threatening.” 

“My back was like a pretzel,” Zack explains. “When you have scoliosis with CP, not only is the back curved, but the muscles are tight and pulling in different directions. I felt like there was a 10,000-pound weight on my back.” 

Zack was 14 years old when he bravely said goodbye to his parents and prepared himself for a ten-hour surgery that resulted in two titanium steel rods being placed from his neck down to his lower back. Thankfully, the surgery was a success. Zack came through with not only a straight back but an epiphany: “Life isn’t just about living. You have to live life with purpose and make the most of every day. If you believe in your strengths, your weaknesses will disappear and your strengths will prevail. It’s not about what you can or can’t do, it’s about how you do it.”

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