Chesterton Tribune

Mike Leopold honored with Exchange Club ACE award

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Chesterton High School senior Michael Leopold was recently awarded the 12th Annual ACE Award (Accepting the Challenge of Excellence). ACE is given to a CHS senior who has faced a challenging, difficult time and persevered to graduate. The Duneland Exchange Club gives this award to recognize students for their achievement.

Michael was born September 9, 1993 and is a lifelong resident of Chesterton. His parents are John and Brenda Leopold.

Michael was diagnosed with Tourettes syndrome, a neurological disorder, at 9 years-old. Tourettes is characterized by multiple physical tics and at least one vocal tic. Physical tics are sudden, repetitive, uncontrolled movements and vocal tics are involuntary sounds in the nose, mouth and throat. There is no known cause of Tourettes and there is no cure.

While some cases are mild, Michael’s Tourettes is moderate. His main tics are physical, can be severe and frequent. He also has a mild verbal tic. The severe tics involve his arms, legs and head. The muscle tics can be painful and Michael’s tics are always changing. Each day is different in terms of intensity. Michael has had days when the tics are severe and they last all day until he goes to sleep. Those days are challenging, because he has to mentally gear up to go to school. The bad days come in waves and can last several weeks.

By far his hardest year was 8th grade. He had severe arm ticking and severe head jerking, so he couldn’t write or type, and had to dictate his homework to his parents. His head jerking got so bad he ended up with whip lash.

Michael said the physical tics are what impact him the most because of the severity and pain. He said school has been challenging: his arms and muscle contractions have made writing very difficult, and there have been times when he couldn’t take notes in class. When his tics are severe he can’t focus on the lecture, because of the ticking and the pain it’s causing. When he is reading, he will get a head jerk and lose his place. He said a great deal of time is lost because of this and his homework takes two to three times longer than for the average student. It is normal for him to start his homework immediately after school and work until he goes to bed. He believes strongly in education and is willing to work this hard.

Because Michael has Tourettes he would be allowed to have his school load reduced, but he’s refused because he wants the same work load as everyone else.

He says there is little he can’t do because of Tourettes, but there have been a few things. He was in track, but he kept having leg tics, causing him to fall. Instead he became involved in other activities, including speech and debate.

Michael said he’s been a fortunate person with Tourettes, because he hasn’t been made fun of or bullied at school and that’s not the case for many with Tourettes. He said kids started making fun of him in 4th grade and he talked with his parents and they all agreed the best thing was for Michael to speak to the class about his disorder and educate them. It worked. He said another reason he’s fared well socially is because of his parents, the teachers at Duneland and his friends.

He said he’s especially grateful for his 4th grade teacher, Brian Norris from Jackson Elementary, because he really taught him to be comfortable with his Tourettes and gave him the love of learning. He also said his group of friends throughout school have been a support system. He noted in particular his friend Jon Vincent.

Kathy Jackett, secretary of the Tourettes Syndrome Association of Indiana, said “Michael was in 8th grade when asked if he would consider becoming a Youth Ambassador for the Tourettes Syndrome Association. He accepted and traveled to Virginia and Washington D.C. for training. Watching him evolve into this dynamic speaker has been an honor.”

Brian Norris, Michael’s 4th grade teacher said “Michael was one of those rare students I’ve had the privilege to teach in my 35 years in the Duneland Schools. He was as much a teacher to me as I was to him. I was so proud of him several years later when he came back to do an in-service for Jackson staff on overcoming Tourette’s.”

Michael is in the top 5% of his class and earned the Academic ring. He took every AP class offered and spent the summer of his Junior year taking a class through Stanford University. He’s an Eagle Scout with three Eagle palms. He’s the co-captain of Speech and Debate and Vice President of German Club. He’s two time National Qualifier for Speech and Debate (2010, 2012), an Individual State Runner-up in Lincoln-Douglas debate (2012). As a spokesperson for the National Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) he’s educated over 40,000 people in several states about Tourettes. He founded Tic to the Top, an organization dedicated to assisting and motivating students with Tourettes, and established

At age 14, Michael traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress for passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which subsequently passed. He participated in the largest-ever Tourettes genetic study through Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Michael has always been college bound and Yale University was always his first choice. There were a record number of applicants this year- almost 30,000. Only 1,900 students were accepted. Michael is one of those and is now Yale bound. He plans to double major in Economics and psychology. He hopes to one day either work in human resources or business consulting.

The motto on Michael’s website describes his journey-- “Tic to the Top is dedicated to empowering individuals with tic disorders to attain excellence.”


Posted 5/18/2012