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There's no "can't" in Brandon teen's vocabulary

Some see the wheels before they spot his brown hair and handsome smile.

Some see the stick shift and buttons before discovering how wonderfully giving he can be.

Some see his power wheelchair and question his abilities, but that just fuels his drive.

"Everyone doubts you if you're in a wheelchair," said Ben Carpenter, a Brandon resident and junior in King High's International Baccalaureate program.

It's difficult to discern what's most impressive about Ben's statement. Is it the absolute absence of malice in his voice, the distinctive optimism of his attitude or the convincing comfort of his words that erase the doubts he referenced before they can even form in your mind?

Perhaps it's all three. But make no mistake, Ben, 17, leaves no doubt about who will win in his struggle against spinal muscular atrophy. He will succeed on his terms while helping others in ways both big and small.

In fact, he's already helping. Ben has established two nonprofits including Ben's Mends, which refurbishes old books and donates them to charitable organizations.

He also has worked extensively with Junior Achievement of West Central Florida, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Shriners, serving as the patient ambassador at the 2011 East-West Shriners College Football All-Star game in Orlando.

Trust me, he's just getting started.

His can't-slow-down attitude and his big-hearted efforts helped him become the first of 41 people honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation as a Community Hero at its home opener last week.

A $50,000 check in Ben's name went to Junior Achievement, which nominated him. The Lightning shared his story in a video on the 34-by-24 JumboTron and included accomplishments such as the fact that he captains the Tampa Bay Thunder power wheelchair soccer team.

When 19,207 fans gave him a standing ovation, Ben called it "mind blowing."

Richard George, president of Junior Achievement for West Central Florida, accepted the check and explained that his board gave him permission to divide the money among the other nonprofits that have helped Ben along his journey.

"He's too big for one organization," George said. "We're just honored to be a part of it."

Junior Achievement first came to know Ben as a fifth grader when he attended its BizTown program, in which students learn basic economics by spending the day in a mini city operating different businesses and managing their bank accounts.

"I was the mayor, and at the end of the day I had to give a speech," Ben recalled. "It was a pretty good speech. There was zero unemployment and no inflation."

Public speaking stands out as one of Ben's gifts. The same year he went to BizTown, he won a 4-H oratorical contest.

He's served as master of ceremonies for both an annual breakfast and the U.S. Business Hall of Fame Luncheon for Junior Achievement, and he's done so without a script.

He's the most articulate teen I've interviewed in 25 years, and one of the most articulate people, period. He could be on television tomorrow. But instead of broadcasting he hopes to get a job as an "imagineer" at Disney and design theme park rides.

"He wants to design rides that go fast," said his father, Jim Carpenter. "He knows he may design some rides he can't ride, but he's cool with that."

Jim Carpenter said he and his wife Teri never told Ben he couldn't do something, so Ben doesn't believe there is something he can't do. I don't doubt him.

That's all I'm saying.

>>Fast facts

Lightning Community Hero

During every home game this season, the Lightning Foundation will select a Community Hero, and the "hero" will receive $50,000 to donate to an eligible 501(c)(3) organization that represents the Hero's cause. At its first three home games last week, the team honored Brandon's Ben Carpenter (Junior Achievement), Tampa's Hugo and Alicia Keim (Chair Scholars Foundation) and St. Petersburg's Richard Spayde (Cure On Wheels). To learn about the nominating process, visit lightning.nhl.com.

There's no "can't" in Brandon teen's vocabulary 10/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 22, 2011 5:31am]
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