Mike Simmel is a revered motivational speaker, sports entertainer, and CEO of the non-profit, Bounce Out the Stigma Project. Mike, often lovingly referred to as “Mighty Mike,” was a member of the famous Harlem Wizards professional entertainment basketball team from 2001-2014. Currently he performs at both National Basketball Association (NBA) and college basketball halftime shows, is a national spokesman for epilepsy awareness, and an ambassador for the Epilepsy Foundation’s “Athlete vs. Epilepsy” initiative.
Developing epilepsy at the age of two, Mike had to wear protective living aids to ensure his safety; he was also unable to participate in regular childhood activities in his early years. Mike was placed in the special education gym classes, as a result of his slow motor skills and development. At the age of seven, Mike’s dad gave him a basketball to help improve his gross motor skills and coordination. This plan succeeded and Mike was elated about his athletic future. Mike was seizure free for ten years; until the age of sixteen, when he had a seizure while attending basketball camp. Mike was devastated, as the camp requested to remove him. From this incident, Mike witnessed firsthand how exclusion felt; he vowed to support an inclusive environment for all children, on and off the court.
Mike and his dad developed the Bounce Out the Stigma project, which fosters and facilitates character building, social emotional learning, bullying prevention, disability awareness, goal setting, and empathy. The Bounce out the Stigma project, through its signature basketball camps and clinics for special needs children, promotes an environment where stigma is eroded, and all participants are welcome and included.
Mike is also the co-author of a semi-autobiographical children’s chapter book entitled, Mighty Mike Bounces Back: A Boy's Life with Epilepsy. In the genre of medical fiction, this story is magnificently written to help kids learn to live comfortably with their epilepsy and to take control of their experiences. The book also contains a child friendly resource section, that is extensive. It includes definitions of key terms, information on managing seizures, anxiety, and feeling different. Mike has been featured on national media outlets for his outstanding advocacy efforts and his unwavering mission to help children with special needs achieve their dreams.
Our Different and Able president and founder, Alexandra Nicklas, recently interviewed Mike about his career accomplishments, his life with epilepsy, and his mission to help others on and off the court. Mike’s journey has been one of a point guard. Point guards are expected to lead the team with a strategic offensive plan, make sure the ball gets into the right hands at the right time, and secure points for the win. Mike says, “Epilepsy is a condition just like anything else. In my experiences I have found that if you just get out and be active, you can truly feel good about yourself.”