At the age of 13, Lodi native Freddie Almazan was shot in the head, which led to paralysis on the right side of his body and face. After struggling with depression and self-esteem issues, Almazan developed a path for unconditional self-acceptance, which he has used to inspire youths as a motivational speaker.
After graduating from the University of California Los Angeles, Almazan knew he wanted to share his story to help young people become confident and resilient in the face of adversity.
Almazan sat down with the News-Sentinel to discuss his goals and his journey as a motivational speaker.
Following is lightly edited version of the interview.
Q: Can you share your story and what got you involved with motivational speaking?
A: Like most 13-year-olds I wanted to be accepted. I got involved with people that were in gangs. One day when I was walking home I was shot in the head and became paralyzed through the right side of my body, and face. I had to learn to walk, talk, and use my body all over again. I struggled with my confidence I started harming myself, and I was running away. It wasn’t until I took a trip to Brazil and spoke at a conference that I learned I have been doing nothing but running away from problems and that nobody can fix my life but me.
Q: You took your experience and decided to use it as a source of inspiration for others, What allowed you to be so forthcoming with your story?
A: What really motivates me is to speak is giving youth information I never had. I always felt alone and depressed and everyone told me to see counselors or to talk to a psychologist. They do help, they are resources but they are not your magic. I needed to be taught to take care of my emotional well-being on my own, but no one taught me how to rely on myself, nobody taught me how to be emotionally independent. I want to help young people and give them the advice I never had.
Q: You’ve said that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Why do you think it is important for people to know that?
A: I was molested by one of my mother’s boyfriend. I held that pain in my heart and I resented my mother for what happened. I was so angry and still holding onto the pain they caused me. But when I forgave him for what he did, I was liberated. I discovered the person I was allowed to become because when I let go of the pain my life changed. For youth that hear my speech, they really connect to this. It is the most impactful message for them.
Q: You focus on working with students, but do you think your story could touch a wider audience?
A: Of course, I have given speeches at conferences, and I recently spoke at a prison.
Q: Why do you think your story resonates with people?
A: I really focus on the idea of perspective. Perspective is very crucial. If you hate your life and focus on the negative things you will succumb to the self-destructive behavior. When we are going through things we look for people that will sympathize with us because we don’t want to hear the harsh truth that we need to change our mindset. It takes a lot of courage to be honest and vulnerable about personal struggles. I struggled with the negativity, but I am still here. There are things that happened to me, that changed me, but how you react affects you.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a motivational speaker?
A: There was not a moment when I knew. I was actually in Brazil I was feeling like I wanted to do something with my life but I did not know where my life was headed. I held a lot of anger in my heart. It was not until I was speaking at a teacher’s conference in L.A. I told my story and I thought people were going to pity me, but teachers were asking me advice on how to talk and connect with students. From there I understood that people were learning from me, and that is when I knew I had something to offer to the world.
Q: You focus on teaching people about their self-worth. Why do you think people struggle with that?
A: It’s different for everyone, but I think when we look at the root of it, we can see that social media impacts a lot of self-worth, especially for young people. Social media has replaced how we socialize with each other, and it has changed how we get involved with each other. For young people, there is more of an emphasis on how people see them versus how they see themselves. They constantly check their posts to see how many likes they get, how many followers or friends they have and that gives them a distorted view of themselves.
Q: What can people learn from your story that can help motivate them?
A: That it starts with them. No one is going to change your life for you. You have to learn to turn the negatives into positives and focus your energy on making your life better and being proactive.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the future as a motivational speaker?
A: Right now I speak locally, but I would like to reach larger crowds and travel internationally to speak. I am also focusing on writing and publishing a memoir.
Q: What is the takeaway people have when they hear you speak, and why does that matter?
A: I have gotten testimonials about my speech, and most of the people that hear me speak relate my story to them because it reminds people that they have the power to change their life. I think people, especially youth, victimize themselves a lot, and constantly ask ‘why me, why me?’ When they hear my speech, I focus on motivating them (youth) to stop having a victim mentality and to adopt a victor mentality. I believe having the right mindset is important because everyone has potential to do great things.
Q: How can people get in contact with you to learn about the work you do?
A: I have a website where people can contact me, and request information for speaking engagements. My website with a short bio and a demo of my speech, with audience testimonials.
FREDDIE ALMAZAN AT A GLANCE
Education: Lodi High School, San Joaquin Delta College and University of California, Los Angeles
Website: freddie almazan.com