By Jeannie Blaylock
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- So, who's right?
Gus Egerer says the folks at Cerebral Palsy of Northeast Florida (now New Heights of Northeast Florida) are his heroes.
They call Gus their hero.
Both sides are right.
Gus says he gets incredible joy out of volunteering at the New Heights center on Beach Blvd.
The clients there call Gus their hero and their big brother.
Gus is a black belt in karate, something he achieved after he lost his arm.
Now he teaches folks with disabilities how to defend themselves.
He shows them how to punch in the Adam's Apple or the nose. He says a bloody nose is very effective at slowing down or stopping a fight.
Patricia Thornton says Gus is a fun-loving person with a HUGE heart.
"He truly believes just because someone is disabled does not mean he has to be a victim," Thornton explains.
So how did Gus lose his arm?
When he was 20, he was working to earn extra money in a meat plant so he could buy a military dress uniform. He was three weeks from joining the marines.
But then his arm got caught in a meat grinder.
The week before one of his co-workers was pulled into the same machine and killed.
So Gus says, the second it happened, he yanked his arm out of the machine. "I didn't even pass out," he remembers.
In the hospital he taught himself to tie a tie with one hand.
Years later he severely hurt his back in a fall. Now he gets a morphine-like painkiller through a pump implanted under his skin. Still, he hurts just about every day.
But he doesn't give up. And he shares his will of steel with other disabled folks.
"He doesn't judge us because he's disabled, too," explains one of the clients.
He does have a soft spot, though. Gus keeps track of everyone's birthday and brings custom presents.
He dances on holidays and encourages shy folks to get out there and "shake it, baby."
When we met Gus, he gave out presents to everyone.
Vern got a bag of pink marshmallows.
"Oh, yes. That's something I love, and Mr. Gus always brings me marshmallows," Vern says with a huge smile.
Gus says he was "totally surprised" to learn he had won a 12 Who Care award.
His attitude is always more than humble, although he kicks it up a notch for one topic.
He says people who are not volunteering should get going.
In his words, "get off your butt and do something."
Gus says his wife Lynda is his ace assistant. She's amazed at all the work he does.
But no matter how much Gus credits everybody else, he is winning the award for good reason.
He may have only one arm, but he has a heart the size of a tank.
First Coast News