The rain had to stop.
If there's a rain delay, there's no ceremonial pitch, and Sean Stephenson had practiced for this moment for almost three months.
Finally, it let up just enough. Stephenson's father picked him up and carried his 3-foot-tall son halfway between the White Sox home plate and the pitcher's mound at U.S. Cellular Field. He laid him on the ballfield. Lying on the ground, Stephenson rolled his body to increase the momentum and whipped out the first pitch.
A perfect strike right down the middle.
"The catcher was surprised," Stephenson recalled. "He had to jump up."
For Stephenson, it was more of a metaphor.
"You can either live life in the stands or live life on the field," he said. "I choose to live on the field, to be a part of the action."
Stephenson was born with the most severe form of osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease. Nearly every bone in his body broke during the delivery, and doctors told his parents he was likely to die within 24 hours.
He has endured 200 painful fractures and used a wheelchair his entire life. He rides in a child's car seat. And his arms are so short he can't touch the top of his head, which makes that perfect pitch all the more remarkable.
But his condition hasn't stopped Stephenson, 30, from becoming a psychotherapist with a private practice in Oakbrook Terrace, an in-demand motivational speaker and the author of several books. A television docudrama on A&E is in the works.
"Ninety to 95 percent of my life is pure joy," he says, grinning widely.
His new book, "Get Off Your 'But:' How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself" (Wiley, $19.95), hit the shelves last week. He signs copies Friday, May 8, at 7 p.m. at Borders, 16th Street and Route 83 in Oak Brook. The dust jacket includes blurbs from former President Bill Clinton and TV talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel ("Sean Stephenson is the Yoda of personal development, with less pointy ears.")
The self-help book weaves in stories from Stephenson's own "one-of-a-kind" life. He grew up in LaGrange with wise and supportive parents who taught him it was OK for feel sorry for himself - but only for 15 minutes, until the kitchen timer went off. Though he was often stuck at home while his fractured bones mended, he was a "radically outgoing" kid who loved school. He started making pocket money for public speaking when he was still in high school. And when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him a wish, he didn't ask to go to Disneyland or for front-row seats at a sports event: He wanted to meet Tony Robbins, the personal-development guru who became his mentor.
"The first time I saw Sean was when he was speaking," recalled Kate Pancero, now a close friend. "The way that he captivated the crowd was unlike any speaker I've ever seen. To see this 3-foot-guy take over the stage is really incredible."
He's a great natural storyteller, and really funny. And his physical condition gives instant credibility to his message: Mentality creates reality. Happiness is a choice. Compare leads to despair. It's not whether you got a good hand or a bad hand, it's how you play.
"When I roll onto a stage, you won't hear people yell 'Easy for you to say, Sean,'" he said. "It's not easy for me to say."
Clients come to his Oakbrook Terrace office for full-immersion therapy, an intense 12-hour session designed to "bring out the real issue and deal with it on the spot, as opposed to stretching it out," Stephenson said. He does extensive preparation before each session, so he schedules only four clients a month. A graduate of DePaul University, Stephenson is working on his Ph.D. in clinical hypnosis from American Pacific University.
His book, he says, gives people the tools to overcome their fears and insecurities and live happier lives.
"My book will change you if you're ready to do the work," he says.
Everybody has a "but," he says: But I'm too busy. But I'm not attractive enough. But I'm 3-foot tall and in a wheelchair. Over the years, Stephenson has figured out how not to let his "but" stop him from pretty much anything.
Like dating, for example. After several early heartbreaks, he realized: "Women don't want a man to look a certain way. They want to date a man who makes them feel a certain way," he writes.
He's got a big, loyal group of friends that he and Pancero dubbed his "Seantourage." And why wouldn't he? "I'm a blast, and I say that as humbly as possible."
But there's more.
"I know that I can go to him with anything," Pancero says, "and get no judgment - just understanding and great advice."
Nor has his condition stopped him from becoming physically fit, with a six-pack that pops. He belongs to the gym in his office and also works out at home - 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 leg lifts off a Pilates ball and 20 minutes of cardio, lying on his back and moving his arms and legs around with weights. He believes that's one of the reasons his bones aren't breaking anymore.
Stephenson, who turned 30 this week, has his own "bucket list" of 31 things he wants to do before he turns 31. He's already checked off a few biggies - the book, the TV show, throwing out the first pitch at a major-league baseball game. Also on the list: Experience zero gravity. Meet the Pope or the Dalai Lama. Visit the pyramids. Go on a date with Natalie Portman. And pose nude for a college life drawing class.
"I'm willing to bare it all to make the point our bodies are beautiful no matter what the container looks like," he said.
An ambitious list, but if anyone can do it ...
"Everyone is entitled to live out their dreams," Stephenson said, "to live a life of abundance and happiness."
If you go
What: Sean Stephenson signs copies of his book, "Get Off Your 'But:' How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself"
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 8
Where: Borders, 16th Street and Route 83, Oak Brook
Info: (630) 574-0800
Brittle bone disease
Osteogenesis imperfecta is a genetic disorder. People with mild cases may have few symptoms, while those who are severely affected can have hundreds of fractures.
Short stature: People with the most severe form of the disease are extremely short - usually no taller than 3-foot-6 - with disproportionately large heads.
No cure: Treatments include physical therapy and exercise; braces; orthopedic surgery, including implanting rods in the legs; and some medications. Fractures are less frequent after puberty.
In the media: Best-selling author Jodi Picoult's new book "Handle With Care" (Atria, $27.95) is about a 5-year-old girl with a severe form of osteogenesis imperfecta and the wrongful birth lawsuit by her mother that tears the family apart. M. Night Shyamalan's 2000 film "Unbreakable" featured a character with brittle bone disease nicknamed Mr. Glass. Osteogenesis imperfecta has been a storyline on the TV series "ER," "Scrubs" and "Bones."
Learn more: Osteogensis Imperfecta Foundation, oif.org.