At age 26, Tim Stoklosa of Old Orchard Beach has experienced a lot of life, though not from the fast lane he’d prefer.

In elementary school, Stoklosa struggled to keep up with the other children on the playground.

In high school, while his peers were getting their first cars, Tim was hitting the pavement in an electric wheelchair, powered by a joystick.

And when those same young adults were discovering independent living at a college dormitory or an apartment, Stoklosa was living in a nursing home, surrounded by elderly and frail residents.

Stoklosa has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that has slowly robbed him of muscular function and the independence his peers enjoy. As his intellect increases, Stoklosa’s mobility decreases. Unable to move anything but his head and hands, he needs 24/7 care.

But where Stoklosa’s physical abilities end, his imagination takes over. He chooses to see the world around him in a more positive, vibrant light. And as a graphic artist, he invites others to view the landscape through his eyes, in all of its vivid hues.

Stoklosa was raised in scenic Ocean Park. It’s been a long time since he was able to walk the shore there, but he still draws inspiration from its natural settings, creating seascapes and images of plants and animals.

A member of the Saco Bay Artists group, Stoklosa’s work has been featured in art shows, with some pieces fetching as much as $400. He is now working with friend and fellow artist Lauren Bates to put together a portfolio of his work and get the images out to the community in the form of prints, postcards and a calendar.

“Tim has accomplished much under adverse conditions,” Bates said. “Those who see his artwork are in awe of his accomplishments. The work is different and beautiful. He always makes the best of the situation by being present and staying involved despite some really terrible medical complications.”

A few years ago, Stoklosa the optimist nearly lost hope. His need for around-the-clock care landed him in a nursing home for 18 months.

The staff was caring and kind, but the home wasn’t equipped to care for someone of Stoklosa’s age or unique physical needs. With few contemporaries to interact with and even fewer creative outlets, Stoklosa struggled with depression and sense of purposelessness.

His family began lobbying to get state funding to create a group home for people like Tim, but complications with his breathing and a bout with pneumonia halted their efforts.

Stoklosa spent two and a half months in a hospital, a move that changed his life.

In lieu of a tracheotomy, he received one of the state’s first non-invasive ventilator units, and with it a chance at a more normal life. For now, the state would pay for nursing care. Stoklosa moved into his own apartment and now enjoys daily outings and doing his own grocery shopping. He also started taking college classes in art and political science, trading in traditional pastels and paints for digital art programs like Adobe Photoshop.

University of Southern Maine lecturer Susan Colburn Motta said Stoklosa’s versatility with the computer has allowed him to persevere when others would have quit.

“Tim is an amazing guy,” said Colburn Motta, who adapted most of the studio projects in class to bypass his physical limitations. “I love to see the looks on people’s faces when they see what he can produce with the limited use of one hand. All artists see the world in their own unique ways and communicate that vision through their art. Tim is no different — he has a vision and he pursues it every day.”

Stoklosa’s USM drawing teacher, Michael Shaughnessy, said it is not extraordinary drawing talent that sets Stoklosa apart from his peers. It is his drive to try new processes.

“The thing Tim excels at is in working intuitively with (software programs) and discovering new applications along the way,” Shaughnessy said. “He has really grown in his knowledge of the technology to become the de-facto technology person in class.”

USM digital art adjunct faculty Deborah Merrill said Stoklosa was one of her best students during sessions last fall, providing creative and unique animal portraits and “a stunning mandala of cathedral candles that was selected for the digital art show at the Robie Art Building in Gorham.”

“Tim left his disability at the door when he arrived in my class,” Merrill said. “Already nimble with the Adobe Creative Suite, he was a mile ahead of many other students. Tim showed extraordinary patience and acceptance in this busy classroom of able-bodied students. We were all inspired by his art, creativity and commitment to show up every week and do his best.”

Stoklosa’s presence in class also inspired Merrill to adopt a “paperless” classroom, with all lessons, projects and tests supplied via digital PDF files that saved students money on textbooks and was environmentally friendly.

Bates said she is most inspired by Stoklosa’s work ethic.

“Tim’s story is a reminder that life is what you make it,” Bates said. “The most difficult lesson in life is in accepting that you may be powerless over something and still move forward to make the best of your life with what you have. He’s definitely someone that I look up to.”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: [email protected]