As he shows in his recent uplifting memoir, “Facing the Challenge, Beating the Odds: The Jimmy Mulzet Story” (Archway Publishing, 2021), Jimmy Mulzet has done it all. From participating in the Special Olympics to running the New York City Marathon, from befriending Cardinal Timothy Dolan to meeting the Pope, the sixty-five-year-old Yorkville resident has overcome adversity to lead a remarkable life.
Mulzet almost died before his first birthday. “Six months after my birth, I began having very, very serious problems,” he writes in his book. “The back of my head swelled up like a balloon. I could not hold my head up, and my body was like a rag doll.” Mulzet, shortly thereafter, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Speaking about this moment on a recent early evening at his Upper East Side apartment, the native New Yorker says, “When I found out that I had the sickness, I never wanted it. I never wanted to be this way. I never thought that I was ever going to get better and be like this for the rest of my life.”
As urged by his parents, however, especially his Austrian immigrant father, Mulzet proceeded to mark several milestones. First, improbably, was the ability to walk. “One day I was outside with my father and Frankie [Mulzet’s older brother] and his friends,” Mulzet writes. “If Frankie could walk, then I would walk too! I knew God would help me. I put on the brakes and stood up out of my chair. When I got steady, I started to walk.”
Mulzet reflects from his home, “My father looked at me. He saw that my hands, my legs and everything worked perfectly normally, so he said, ‘There’s got to be a way to get him’ out of my wheelchair, on my feet and walk ...When I started to walk, and my brother got me on my feet, then I started different things. I wanted to get out. I wanted to explore. I wanted to be independent.”
A Full Life
In his book, Mulzet not only finds himself able to walk but also to lead a full life. In his Yorkville youth, for instance, he’d often ride the bus with a kind driver and happily attend church with his family.
It was when he got a bit older, however, when Mulzet made some significant decisions. One of his choices was, while working in the mailroom at CUNY, living on his own. As he writes, “It took me a long time to decide that I really was ready to move out. My father did not want me to. But you know me: whatever my father said, I did the opposite ... Eventually, he said, ‘Ok, go! But once you make your bed, you must lie in it!’”
It was also around this time that the recent retiree’s life took on a deeper meaning. Spurred by his indefatigable faith in God, the devout Catholic went on several religious retreats including a visit to Lourdes, France in the late ‘80s.
“This is where Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette in 1858. It is a place where miracles have happened, and people have been cured of their illnesses,” he notes in the book. On this trip, Mulzet also had something of an epiphany.
“I always asked God, ‘Why did you make me handicapped? I don’t like being handicapped,’” he writes. “But after all the places we went in Lourdes and all the prayers, it was as if God was telling me that I would be all right. But through the years, I talked to God so many times and finally began to accept my handicap.”
Meeting the Pope
Mulzet’s unwavering belief in God has undoubtedly carried him throughout his life. “I do everything on my own, thank God,” he says, knocking on his wood table. “Everything that happened to me, every good fortune, I always say is a miracle of God.”
On World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, Mulzet’s religious fervor grew when he met the Pope. On the book’s cover, in fact, and hanging in a frame on his apartment wall, is a picture of Mulzet being blessed by Pope John Paul II on that day, a halo of bliss practically hovering above his head.
Another dignitary who Mulzet met over the years is Cardinal Dolan. The Archbishop of New York even wrote his book’s foreword, which begins: “I am honored to call Jimmy Mulzet my friend, although, if I’m being honest, I would guess that everyone who has ever met Jimmy would consider him their friend.” The passage ends, “By the time you finish reading this book, I am sure you will consider him a friend as well.”
Over a hundred-and-fifteen pages, the author’s warmth certainly appears, yet his story finally becomes one of near stubborn resilience. “People always tell me, ‘No, Jimmy, you can’t do it.’ But do I listen? No, I don’t listen,” Mulzet says with a smile. “My father would say, ‘Jimmy, you can’t do this.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, I could. Let me try.’”
Standing in his doorway, Mulzet waves goodbye and returns to his life of retirement, ready for his next adventure.
“Everything that happened to me, every good fortune, I always say is a miracle of God.” Jimmy Mulzet