With a hitch in his step and smile that breaks hearts, William Gerstacker Jr. is succeeding at getting ahead in life.
The cards weren’t always stacked in his favor. At seven years old, his love of superman led him to jump from a moving truck to fly just like his hero. William hit his head on the pavement and his life took a dramatic turn.
“I was in an accident in ’77 … I don’t remember much. I was in a coma for 6 weeks and my lungs collapsed during that time, but I made it through,” recalls William when asked about the tragic incident.
He remembers starting school again two years after the accident and learning to tie his shoes at the age of 12. In light of the constant daily struggles, he stayed motivated and was able to graduate high school just shy of his twentieth birthday.
“After I graduated eighth grade I went to a military [high] school. They tried to kick me out my first year because I couldn’t march,” grins William while retelling the story. “My dad told them they couldn’t do that. I just finished the next 4 years, and graduated.”
The ongoing challenges and uphill battle did begin to catch up with him. In his twenties, William struggled with an unhealthy lifestyle that led to alcoholism and depression.
“I was drinking a lot. Twenty years later, I said, I didn’t want to be in this place, this situation. I quit drinking, and started saving money, quit smoking, and I cut the fat,” said William.
When asked how he stays so positive, he said, “Keep going, and don’t give up. I just knew that there was something better out there for me if I could stay on track and keep on moving forward.”
Most people with moderate to severe TBI face challenges that will force them to adjust to a new reality. Now at 48 years old, William walks slightly off-balance, speaks slowly and takes a minute to process information. William is also gracious, funny, hard-working and intelligent.
His BCFR Support Coordinator Holly Estrem is consistently impressed with his inner strength and looks forward to their meetings.
“William is really independent. William is an inspiration to others, he has such a great attitude. He has overcome a lot of adversities in his life that a lot of people may not understand, but he continues to persevere,” said Holly.
William has been served by BCFR for 24 years. When Holly first met him five years ago he was between jobs due to a fire that destroyed his place of work at that time, Dollar General.
“He was unemployed for a couple years, he decided he wanted to continue working. We connected him with Vocational Rehab here in Columbia, he found Walmart as the perfect fit for employment,” said Holly.
Other than his physical walk, his West Broadway Walmart Supervisor Dawn Moritz said other employees don’t even notice he has a disability.
“When I ask William to do something, I just expect the job will get done. I don’t think about his disability. All of our jobs have standard operating procedures, he knows them so well that when we have someone new join the team he assists us in teaching procedures. He enjoys being around other people, and sharing his knowledge,” said Dawn.
Dawn has worked with William for four and half years, and believes his positive attitude is an example for others.
“You take for granted sometimes how easy just walking is. Latching equipment, changing out the mop brooms may take him a little longer than someone who has full function of their hands. When you walk in the door every single day, and you have a hill to climb, and a smile on your face – he’s an inspiration to all of us,” said Dawn.
William is determined to stay on track and keep motivating others to do the same. He wants others to know, “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. If you don’t succeed, try and try again. Eventually, you will succeed and get ahead in life.”