PORTSMOUTH — Bicycle stunt rider Chris Poulos has taken risks his whole life,
“When I was 2 and a half years old, I took my tricycle and took off,” he told a few hundred Portsmouth Middle School students Friday.
His family, neighbors and the police all searched for him, only to find him more than a mile away pedaling down the middle of a busy street.
That scare didn’t put a stop to his mischievous streak, however.“When I was 4, my parents had to call the fire department to get me off the roof of my house,” Mr. Poulos said.
The 1991 Bicycle Stunt World Champion didn’t preach recklessness to these students in grades 4 to 6, however. Rather, his message was about boosting self-esteem, building character, preventing bullying and valuing friendship.
Of course, he had a few bike tricks up his sleeve, too.
Mr. Poulos, who lives in Narragansett but has relatives in the East Bay, has been a motivational speaker since 1988. He speaks to about 150 schools, youth conferences and youth-related organizations around the country each year. Eschewing statistics and 10-step programs, he uses anecdotes and personal stories to promote a positive outlook on life to young people.
Before Friday’s presentation in the middle school gym, Mr. Poulos said the the advice he shares with students is the same he gives to his own kids — a 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
“It’s not rocket science. I like to keep things simple,” he said.
After receiving a big hand during his introduction, Mr. Poulos shared his first words of wisdom to students: Stay busy — and out of trouble — by participating in activities you love.
“There are so many hobbies. Find something you enjoy,” he said.
In Mr. Poulos’ case, his parents finally found an outlet for his boundless energy: He got his first BMX bike on his sixth birthday. He demonstrated his first trick — riding the bike while sticking out his right leg.
“Hey, I thought it was really hard at the time,” he joked.
Besides doing something they enjoy, kids need to work hard in and out of school, he said. “No matter what we do in life, we need to master everyday skills. If I didn’t know the alphabet, I wouldn’t know how to spell,” he said. “Never stop learning, because if you do you get stale.”
Mr. Poulos asked students how they can earn respect. He received several responses, such as “Be a buddy, not a bully,” but not the one for which he was looking.
“One of the things I don’t hear from people is responsibility,” he said. “If you’re asked to clean your room and you don’t, you aren’t being responsible and you’ll lose respect.”
Making, keeping friends
The value of friendship was another focus of Mr. Poulos’ presentation. Using four student volunteers, he showed how simple it is to welcome a new friend into the fold — in this case, for a pickup kickball game. If just one person makes a connection, many more can benefit, he said.
“Justin just made four new friends and it was easy. It’s like a snowball — you never know what friends you’ll meet,” he said, noting that one of our greatest fears is being left out.
When choosing friends, Mr. Poulos added, students shouldn’t be shy in approaching kids who seem different. “I’m not going to learn something from someone who’s exactly the same as me,” he said.
As for social media, Mr. Poulos said he asks himself the same question before posting anything: “If I put that up there, is my mother going to be embarrassed by it or proud of me?
While he was sharing his life advice, Mr. Poulos spinkled in some bike stunts, much to the delight of his young audience. He popped some wheelies, “surfed” on the bike’s handlebars and even slam-dunked a basketball with some help from volunteers.
He ended his presentation by jumping his bike over three teachers — Jayna Lalli, Crystal Cavaco and Aaron Souza — who bravely lied down on the gym floor.
To learn more about Chris Poulos, visit www.chrispoulos.com.