Those words were written 25 years ago to describe then 5-year-old Jake Hesselman. Little did anyone know how prophetic those words would prove to be throughout Jake’s life.
A bit of history
Jake was born in 1993 with a severe limb deficiency. From day one, his parents refused to allow the word “can’t” to define Jake’s abilities. They resolved to focus on the things he could do instead of the barriers and limitations he would continually face—a mindset that helped to empower Jake throughout his life.
Jake was a vibrant young boy with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, but his mobility was limited. The family needed a van to accommodate his motorized wheelchair and give Jake access to the world beyond his front door.
Members from Catholic Knights, Chapter 705 in Dubuque, IA, and staff from the Catholic Knights home office in Milwaukee, WI, learned of the challenge facing the Hesselman family. Together, they raised the funds required to purchase a properly equipped van in Jake’s favorite color—red!
“I don’t remember much of that time, but there are copies of the Catholic Knights article about the van fundraiser in my parents’ house yet today,” Jake chuckled.
The story could have simply ended there, but Jake agreed to attend a chapter dinner in May of 2023 to share more about his life and celebrate his 25-year membership with Catholic Financial Life (Catholic Knights became Catholic Financial Life in 2010).
“I couldn’t believe it—there were members there who were involved in the van fundraiser,” said Jake. He had the opportunity to share that he now owns and operates his own van.
“I want people to know that my parents are the biggest reason for where I am today, and I appreciate them so much,” Jake said. “They told me I couldn’t stay home all my life and not have any fun.”
Jake took his parents’ wise words to heart. In high school, he was actively involved and competed on the wrestling team, a sport that inspired him to reach farther than he ever thought he could.
“Wrestling is one of the most challenging sports to put your body through,” Jake said. “But once you do it, you get the mindset that anything else is possible.”
Jake started coaching football, wrestling and baseball while in college—pursuing his sports passion for 10 years before shifting his focus to a promising career as a high school teacher at Cornerstone Academy in Dubuque. Jake teaches chemistry, biology, physics and global science in an alternative program for teenagers in need of one-on-one interaction and intensive social, emotional and behavioral support.
“Instead of teaching in front of a class of 25 kids, I work with 14, and I love what I do,” said Jake, who knows first-hand the importance of winning the battle in your mind when dealing with adversity. He pours his fortitude into the lives of children who are struggling to succeed in school and in life. “I connect with these kids and let them know that on the good and bad days, I’m here for them.”
Ability is what matters
“I call myself handi-capable,” Jake said. “My family didn’t raise me to be disabled, and always said, ‘You can handle it. You just have to do it in a different light.’”
Jake has been living life in a different light for 30 years, and he’s still taking on new challenges—pursuing a second master’s degree. Jake also serves as Deputy Grand Knight of the Knights
of Columbus Council 8384, attends Catholic Financial Life chapter events, is active in his church, and volunteers in the community.
“You can overcome anything if you’re willing to put your body, mind and soul into it,” Jake said. His resolve is reminiscent of legendary wrestler, Dan Gable, who once said, and who Jake quotes as a sign-off to his emails: “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
What lies ahead for Jake is still unfolding, but the words written about him 25 years ago certainly ring true— there’s nothing holding him back from achieving his goals and living a full and successful life.
And, by the way—red is still his favorite color!