Voices of the Bay: A Barrington Resident Finds His Words

Michael Obel-Omia sets out on a bike ride to raise awareness about aphasia

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Since suffering a stroke in 2016, aphasia has been a major part of Barrington resident Michael Obel-Omia’s life. A medical condition that affects speech and, for some, the ability to read or write, aphasia makes it challenging to communicate and be understood by others. Obel-Omia’s condition is referred to as fluent aphasia – he can form words physically but often it’s the wrong word or in the wrong order.

The irony is not lost on Obel-Omia, whose lifelong relationship with words can be traced back to earning a Bachelor of Arts in American Literature and a master’s degree in English Literature from Middlebury College; he was an educator at independent schools across the country and he’s an accomplished public speaker and writer. Since the stroke, Obel-Omia has worked tirelessly with speech and language therapists, attending the Aphasia Resource Center at Boston University. 

An accomplished cyclist and former instructor at the Bayside Family YMCA, Obel-Omia was able to reclaim his daily biking routine – despite experiencing some paralysis on his left side. He boasts a track record of pedaling for numerous fundraisers, and this month he’ll be raising money for one close to his heart when he participates in Stroke Across America.  Obel-Omia joins four others traveling 4,000 miles – 150,000 feet uphill over a three-month period – to raise awareness of strokes and aphasia. To support or learn more about the cause, visit his GoFundMe: Michael’s Stroke Across America Ride.

STATIC: It is very hard to speak. I have 1,000 ideas in my head. The words come out in the wrong order. I loved reading and reciting poetry. I can’t speak eloquently or elegantly anymore. It’s like I am the radio dial and it’s moving along and you hear the stsst [static] and then the dial hits a station and tunes in. That’s what it’s like when I hit the right word. 

MOVEMENT: I love cycling. When I’m cycling, I love it when it’s quiet. I am playing music, the wind is behind me. I imagine if I sailed, it would be that feeling. In my body I feel the movement in my thighs, hips, arms – you feel the pumping. It’s wonderful. With tenacity and hard work, you can get back on that bike again.

ADVOCACY: I don’t have a job anymore. For 30 years, I had been doing things I loved. Now I want to be an advocate. I want people to know about aphasia. I can’t use my words the way I used to. When I’m gone, I want people to remember you can do something [despite a setback].

GRATITUDE: I know I am blessed – I have a great deal of patience now. As a person, I am very frustrated and very angry because I can’t do anything I used to do, but when I sit down every night, which I have done for the past four and a half years, I write a little musing for 20-30 minutes about what happened that day and email it out to about 450 people. I write it every day. I tell them I am blessed, humbled, and I am grateful. I have to remember patience, patience, patience. I wake up every day and say, “Oh my god, I made it.” I’m lucky today. 

 

Know someone who might be a good fit for Voices of the Bay? Email Nina at YourHomeWithNina@gmail.com

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