Tony Lombardo of Forked River, New Jersey, is the epitome of a fighter. Tony is the son of Italian immigrant parents. His mother came to this country in 1938 and his father in 1950. He grew up in Brooklyn and lived there most of his life. He met his wife while he was in college and as a language major, used his fluency to enter the export field of business. He became a father in 1980, but soon thereafter, his life changed forever.
“The first symptom was double vision, followed by dragging my left foot and leg as I walked. Eventually, I started using a cane and then a walker,” he said.
The symptoms that Tony experienced baffled doctors for years. Finally in 1987, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the Einstein Medical Center in the Philadelphia. He described this period as emotionally taxing, as one could well imagine. MS is a nervous system disease that has the potential to affect the brain and spinal cord.
Even though his life was completely altered by the illness, Tony’s story is one of strength and courage. Rather than letting MS hold him back, it instead propelled him to inspire others with his words of courage.
Lombardo learned from others’ challenges and tales of how they overcame obstacles and used them as “a means of paying it forward.” Mentors in his life have helped him continue to push forward, even in the face of a debilitating illness. He acknowledged that he was something of a ‘basket case’ for a period of time, following his diagnosis, but then he heard the story of a Viet Nam vet and his tale of heroics. It became one of several stories and people that helped Tony to change his life. He established the social impact organization, “Let’s Hear Your Story” which takes in stories of courage and conquering setbacks and shares them on his website.
Lombardo authored the book, “On Both Sides of the Fence…How to Successfully Lead a Fulfilling Life Despite the Presence of Any Physical Challenge” several years ago to share his story and convey the message to never let life’s obstacles hold you back. He has many plans to expand his initiative as well and many other ideas with which he hopes he can inspire others.
Always positive, despite having been confined to a motorized wheelchair for the past 18 years, one of Tony’s many sayings is, “It’s not funny, but you have to laugh.”
He began motivational speaking seven years ago, beginning at the high school and parochial parish level. In time, he found his way on to radio programs and television, spreading his message of hope, perseverance, self-reliance and inner strength. Not only does Lombardo have a successful business, he is also spreading an incredibly valuable message. Even with an illness that has affected him as severely as MS, Tony remains positive, upbeat and full of life. He greets everyone he meets with a smile and is inspired by those who have dealt with their own struggles, while he himself is truly a source of inspiration.
His “nuts-and-bolts” business, as he calls it, is made to lift up others, as many have done for him. He prides himself on the fact that he has never used MS as an excuse to remain stagnant, but has rather used it as a force to continue forward.
As he also likes to say, “Everyone has a story to tell. It takes someone strong to make someone strong.”