Chris Hendricks ’07 talks to students at St. Mary’s School in Raleigh, N.C., after delivering an anti-bullying message as part of the Breaking Down Barriers program.
GETTING THERE Survival is a word Hendricks knows well. As a child, Hendricks underwent a series of treatments and surgeries related to his cerebral palsy. He frequently needed a wheelchair and in high school weighed less than 90 pounds. He endured physical and verbal taunts from other students and still bears a scar underneath his chin, a wound opened three times by school bullies. Persistently ignored, harassed or underestimated, Hendricks spent most of his high school years very much alone. “I could see in the eyes of the people around me that they were afraid of me,” he says, rubbing the scar. “But when I got picked on or beat up, it was a form of attention. At least someone acknowledged my existence that day.” Hendricks saw college as an escape, a way to completely reinvent himself. Elon was the first school he visited. “I walked on campus and I just knew,” he says. “This was the place for me. I wasn’t used to people being so welcoming. Everyone treated me like a person and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. I couldn’t go down the sidewalk without someone saying hello.” At Elon, Hendricks talked to everyone. He wielded humor as a tool to boost his confidence. “I realized that if I could create comfort for myself, I could create comfort in others, and that’s how I was going to form relationships.” He befriended a football player who introduced him to the gym, where he fell in love with exercise. He undertook a daily workout regimen that would put most athletes to shame: two hours in the gym, an hour of swimming and another hour of racquetball, a pursuit Hendricks still jokes about. “Imagine a kid who can barely walk chasing a ball bouncing at 60 miles an hour around a room,” he laughs. “I guarantee you there’s a YouTube video of it somewhere with a million hits that I’m getting no credit for.” Over the course of his freshman year, Hendricks underwent an astonishing transformation. He gained more than 50 pounds, mostly muscle from his intense workouts, and left his wheelchair behind. With his own physical struggles and successes as fuel, Hendricks threw himself
into his studies as an exercise/sport science major and planned to become a pediatric physical therapist. He believed his personal experience with physical and social struggles would allow him to be not just a therapist for children, but a mentor as well. That all changed his junior year when he first picked up a guitar. Through music, Hendricks found a new outlet for his thoughts and experiences. “I was passionate about having a voice. I was passionate about having something to say. I realized my message didn’t apply just to people with disabilities,” he says. “It applied to everyone.” While finishing his degree, he started playing at open mics and Battle of the Bands competitions. Slowly he started booking gigs, and the Chris Hendricks Band came into being. In 2011, Hendricks hit the big time when his single “Noise” was chosen as the theme song for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. And recently, many years after a childhood spent attending shows at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, N.C., with his dad, Hendricks performed there for a sold-out crowd along with popular band Delta Rae.
BEYOND THE MUSIC Though his music reflects his life—his battles and Herculean efforts to overcome them are apparent in his lyrics—singing wasn’t enough for Hendricks. He began to see instances of bullying in the news, stories about teenagers committing suicide after intense verbal and physical abuse by peers. Suddenly, bullying became a buzzword. “It’s like the adults woke up one day and said, ‘Hey! Bullying is happening! That’s bad! We need to fix that!’” he shakes his head and says quietly. “But I can tell you from expe-
rience that it’s been happening for a long, long time.” Wanting to do something about it, Hendricks started the Breaking Down Barriers program, which keeps the band busy with a packed schedule of events like the one at St. Mary’s School. They are reaching hundreds of elementary to high school students through a series of in-school presentations that weave performances of Hendricks’ pop-rockalternative music into an intensely personal delivery of his anti-bullying message. Hendricks doesn’t walk into a room full of kids and tell them not to bully each other. His delivery is much more nuanced. For him, it’s about encouraging students to find their own passion and drive. Hendricks found his through music. “It took me a really long time to figure out that I mattered … that I mattered whether the people around me wanted me to or not,” he says. Passion leads to confidence, and it’s a lot harder to be afraid of those who are different when you’re sure of your own identity, he adds. “People who picked on me grew up to be perfectly legitimate adults because they found themselves.” Hendricks has certainly found himself in his music. His diagnosis has not closed a door, but instead served as a guide to his life’s work as a musician and educator. When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, he replies, “On the road! Touring, for sure. Maybe overseas.” But more importantly, he sees his disability taking a backseat. “I see the music swallowing up everything else. The music and the message will be the same.”
Visit chrishendricksband.com to keep up with Hendricks and the band.
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The Magazine of Elon, Winter 2013