Book review by Mary Struck, The Kohler Villager
FINISH by AJ Bocchini, Kohler High School class of 2010, leads readers on an inspiring and sometimes humorous journey that begins with his premature birth and diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy (CP), to triumphant moments as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The book ends with a post-college update and acknowledgments toward many who took him under their wing and encouraged him along his journey.
Born prematurely, nine-year-old AJ and his parents were told by a doctor that he would never walk. AJ left the doctor’s office with a chip on his shoulder and through hard work, determination and family support, AJ proved the doctor wrong for one special day when he walked down the aisle of his church using a walker for his First Communion. After that, however, he opted to use a power wheelchair for the sake of efficiency.
With his new set of wheels, AJ was off and rolling. As a child growing up in the small Village of Kohler, Wisconsin, his wheelchair was instrumental in allowing him to pursue and participate in sports, which he felt leveled the playing field in diminishing his disability. “When I was on a court or the field, the challenge was the opponent, not the CP,” AJ wrote.
The book also includes the story of how the name Anthony Joseph was shortened to AJ. He talks lovingly of his supportive parents and brothers, “the starting five,” who were instrumental in developing his passion for sports, and didn’t see him as having a disability. He was “just AJ,” who used a different mode of transportation to get around. He devotes a chapter to a special family member, “Ace,” a beloved golden retriever who decided he wanted to be a family pet instead of a service dog. Throughout his book, AJ acknowledges the many people who looked past his disability and became his second family, encouraging him to pursue his passion for sports.
Being an active boy who loved sports, AJ also hit a few bumps in the road with his wheelchair. His very first crash happened at a Kohler girls’ basketball practice, and he still has the scar to prove it. There would be several other harrowing crashes that would sideline him, including one that he swears brought him eye-to-eye with a fish as he feared for his life. One unforgettable mishap cut short a much anticipated fun-filled week at a wheelchair sports camp held by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that left young AJ’s jaw and spirit broken, but little did anyone know AJ would be back at the accident scene years later, letting it know it didn’t break him forever.
It was at college where AJ’s dedication to sports paid the biggest dividends. He experienced a couple more bumps in the road that tried to prevent him from pursuing his passion, including attaining a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a master’s in athletic administration. But with a little help and encouragement from his “second family” at the university, he found himself in the right place at the right time to experience some triumphant moments that most athletes can only dream about.
FINISH begins with AJ’s play-by-play account of two magical games played by the men’s college basketball team that he managed. During the final practice before one of the games, the coach called a huddle. He asked AJ what his final message was for the team. AJ wrote that he paused and looked up at the ceiling before replying, “We have come so far and overcome so much. We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year, and now it’s time to FINISH the deal.”
Read the rest of AJ’s inspiring story by purchasing a copy of FINISH at ajbocchini.com.
AJ currently works in guest services for the Milwaukee Bucks, after spending some time coaching in Racine/Kenosha.