Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli doesn’t like to call himself handicapped or disabled. He prefers “ill-abled.”
Patuelli prefers to be called ill-abled since he says people live in a society where bad is good, and ill is crazy, as in “Yo, that’s ill.”
Patuelli was born with a physical condition that shortened his leg joints so that he can’t walk without the aid of crutches. His determination and desire to become an icon for ill-abled people and fight misconceptions made him a worldwide celebrity and renowned public speaker.
After speaking in South Korea, Japan and Nova Scotia, Patuelli stopped by USF to speak about his disability and his love for break dancing.
“When I was a baby, doctors said I would never be able to walk, so they told my parents to buy me a wheelchair,” Patuelli told an audience of more than 100 people at the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater on Thursday.
Patuelli, who was born in Montreal, Canada, said his parents didn’t know what a wheelchair was, so they bought him a tricycle instead. Thanks to that, he said, he was able to learn how to use his legs.
Before performing at the Marshall Student Center, Patuelli gave a private break dancing lesson to theater and dance instructor Merry Morris’ class.
“Are you guys ready to rock?” Patuelli said as he took off his crutches and his leg equipment.
The students responded with a thunderous “Yeah!”
Patuelli described himself as being “Luca in life, but Lazylegz on the dance floor,” and went on to show the students how he earned such a nickname. The students looked on in amazement.
“This is my favorite kind of event. I have performed in front of 10,000 people, but I like it better when I get to interact one-on-one with my audience,” Patuelli said.
After Patuelli’s demonstration, the students got a chance to battle it out as they were divided into two breakdancing teams.
At first, they struggled to learn the moves Patuelli taught them, such as the backspin and holding their legs in the air, but 20 minutes later, everybody caught on as the room was filled with laughter and applause.
“It was a great experience. We usually do ballet and modern dance,” said dance major Brittany Miller. “(Break dancing) was a little challenging, but I got to discover upper body strength I didn’t know I had before.”
Morris said Patuelli’s personality was inspiring for her students.
“He is a great role model. His approach to life is a great example for everybody, disabled or not,” she said.
At his speech that night, Patuelli invited six dancers on stage to dance with him at the Oval Theater.
Patuelli is best known for his appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” where he thought he and his “ill-abilities” dance crew would get ejected.
He was wrong. Judge David Hasselhoff said that Patuelli’s talent was inspirational.
“Whether you got lazy legs or not, it’s still good,” Hasselhoff told Patuelli and his crew on national television.
Best friend Jed Klemow, who traveled with Patuelli to USF, said he is proud of everything Patuelli has overcome, such as 16 surgeries and a broken leg during his senior year in high school that shattered Patuelli’s skateboarding dreams and steered him to break dancing instead.
“It is quite a trip to be with him. He is a celebrity, he cannot avoid attention, that is just who he is,” Klemow said.
After leaving Tampa on Friday morning, Patuelli headed to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he will speak before vacationing in Malibu.
“Gotta catch those waves, man,” he said.