NORTON — He could have chosen another path.
Maybe no one could have blamed him had he chosen the one to be bitter. Be angry with the world. Feel like nothing would get better.
By the time he had reached his mid-20s, Ward Foley had gone through a stretch where a number of life experiences had gone wrong and painful.
Working at a donut shop, he slipped and fell on a 400 degree fryer, severely burning his hands. A few years later, he nearly was killed by a drunk driver. A few years after that, he was beaten so badly by a group of teenagers, a surgery was required that involved having bone taken from his hip and put into his neck.
That’s all part of a man’s life who was born with a condition known as Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. Defined by the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, arthrogryposis is congenital fixation of a joint in an extended or flexed position.
Basically, it’s a condition at birth that can leave a child without certain muscles and tendons. In Foley’s case, it was throughout his body. A third of children born with the condition die before adulthood.
Instead of choosing the path of bitterness, Foley decided years ago he would go in a way of looking deep inside himself and use that to help others. To be able to do it, though, Foley had to first accept himself.
It wasn’t easy.
“That was probably, if not the hardest, one of the hardest things,” he said. “With all the teasing and being made fun of, everybody goes through it in different ways. When I got to be a teenager, I think that’s when it affected me the most. Not knowing what I know now, like accepting myself would have been the best part, because then I probably would have been able to have had better relationships.”
As a man who has gone through approximately 40 surgeries from the birth defects, Foley has taken the disposition of looking for the positive, not the negative. This coming from someone who has gone through medical procedures that remove muscle — in one instance — from his chest and put into his arms to help him with movement. The procedures have left physical scars all over his body.
“It’s so important that everybody accepts themselves the way they are,” Foley said. “They have to love the way they are.”
It’s a message Foley takes with him as a motivational speaker. Across the country, Foley speaks at high schools, colleges and drug and rehabilitation centers, to name a few. He visits children with arthrogryposis and attends the national conventions on the condition. He’s even established a persona adults and children identify him as — Scarman.
The Scarman has become someone not just recognized in the United States, but internationally through Foley’s Facebook page and webpage www.scarmanusa.com. Through what has become a non-profit organization, one of Foley’s achievements is a small, blank cloth doll. It was devised through a drawing he once did when he drew an outline of a person and began drawing scars on it where he has had surgeries. The doll, which is sewn together by volunteers across the country, has been sent to children, most with arthrogryposis, in 57 countries — along with a coloring book titled “Color Me Scarman.”
“I tell Ward, ‘I want to be like you someday,’ ” said Monica Ovalle, a guest of Foley and his wife. Donna, this summer.
Ovalle is a native of Bogota, Colombia.
“I love kids. I love to help people, but sometimes you don’t know how. I can help people through my career, but sometimes you want to do more.”
Through the Scarman Facebook page and website, Ovalle — who was born with arthrogryposis in her legs — and Foley became friends. She is nearing a degree in physical therapy in Colombia. When she goes home, Ovalle will begin a program similar to the one Foley started. They already came up with a name, Scar Girl. The shirts have been made.
On the hat and shirt Foley wears, it simply says “Scarman.” By design, the way Scarman is done on the shirt, if a person turns the work over, it reads “Inspiration.” It was a design done by a patient at a drug and rehabilitation center Foley once visited. He sent it to Foley and gave him permission to make it his own.
Foley, 54, who was born and raised in Carmichael, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento, moved his family to Norton 18 years ago. His parents were born in Norton, and he wanted his family to be in a smaller, laid back community.
Through his life, Foley has had his ups and downs, but he’s persevered and hopes through a message he delivers, people can see there’s always hope.
“By me being able to share myself or my story with others makes all the suffering and all the struggles I’ve been through something,” Foley said. “That’s pretty much what it’s about to me.”