Be on the lookout for Joey Mullaney ’13
by Allie Goodrich ’13
Joey Mullaney ‘13 has been busy.
He’s got a book on the way—a memoir, hopefully out next spring. He’s got a blog up and running, he’s kickstarted his career as the motivational speaker he aspires to be, and on Tuesday, April 17, he returned to Lawrence Academy with his twin brother Sean Mullaney ‘13 for the “Live Action Leader” series to share and reflect on his story with current LA students.
Now that he was back on campus were there any favorite memories that came to mind?
“The Dunk, dude,” Sean suggested.
“That’s, like, an easy answer.” Joey thought for a minute. “Really, just being around the Quad and stuff at lunchtime.
“I miss that.”
But let’s get back to “The Dunk.” Because there were many moments precipitating that instant so poignantly captured in the giant photo now hanging in the student lounge, as well as in a video which has amassed over 90,000 views on YouTube.
It was something special, but it almost didn’t happen.
The initial idea began as a lay-up. “Kev [Wiercinski, the [varsity boys’ basketball head coach] asked me to do that. I said no, I didn’t want to do it,” Joey reflected. “I probably should’ve said yes.”
“I was in history class I think, and then for the next twenty minutes, I was thinking about it in class. So I texted Kev just saying, ‘I’m in,’ and then Kev was so pumped he came to MacNeil, and it was me, Sean, some of the basketball guys.
“Kev came in and was like, ‘Hey, I’m really excited you’re on board, do you want to shoot a lay-up?’ And I go, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’ He was like, ‘So what are you going to do?’, and I was like, ‘Daquan [Sampson ‘13, who is 6’8”], he can put me on his shoulders, and I can dunk the ball, and that’s the only case.’ So he was like, ‘Alright, I’ll figure it out.’”
This is just one prime example of the Joey Mullaney mentality: Why go for the lay-up when you could go for the dunk?
But such a mindset, like any muscle, is something that has taken work and persistence to develop: “I went through a lot of hard times to get there and to get where I’m at now.”
He points to a critical event during his junior year, which gave him the confidence to make the decision to dunk down the line.
“I was an extremely shy kid,” admitted Joey over lunch in LA’s Dining Hall, shortly before speaking to the students in MacNeil Lounge. “I like getting to know people, but I was afraid really to be myself.
“Back when I was a freshman and sophomore I walked everywhere, [but] my disease got to the point where it got too tough and very noticeable my junior year. And that was really hard for me, because kids saw me as Joey, and I didn’t want them to really see me as a kid who can’t walk, kid who’s disabled, kid who’s going to die one day. I didn’t want them to pity me, so I didn’t want them to know what was wrong.”
“I didn’t tell people I had FA, but everyone knew something was wrong, so junior year, his [Sean’s] assembly, remember that? That was like the turning point in my life.”
Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) is a debilitating, life-shortening, degenerative neuro-muscular disorder. About one in 50,000 people in the United States have the disease, which begins its progression in the toes and gradually works its way up, diminishing the muscles in the body.
Together, Sean, Mrs. Margraf, and Mr. Culley approached Joey to suggest a special assembly to address what was going on. At first, Joey was resistant to the idea, but later they “kept talking about it and decided it was the best move.”
“It was definitely tough,” added Sean, who graduated from Bowdoin last spring and is currently applying to law school. “But the community—it was awesome the way they responded to it and helped out, and I think that was a nice microcosm of what LA is, and how special the community is here and how everyone really tries to help each other.”
Although he chose not to be in attendance himself that day, Joey said, “Those ten, fifteen minutes really changed who I am.”
“It made me become much more confident in myself, and much more willing—not able, but willing—to do as much as I can.”
Fast forward to sailing on a boat in the Caribbean during Winterim, becoming a peer counselor, being voted class speaker for graduation, and, of course, the dunk. Then the next stop: Quinnipiac University, where, despite new transitions and challenges, he quickly enmeshed himself in social and academic life. He served as an orientation leader for new students, joined the Student Government Association (SGA) as a sophomore, landed himself on the SGA executive board as the vice president of public relations, and was elected student body president his senior year.
In a blog post from January titled “Adjusting to Change,” Joey wrote:
“I have learned to embrace the unknown. More specifically, I embrace the fear of the unknown. I have found that as fearful as I might be of the challenges to come, I have to face them head-on. I also feel excited, nervous, eager, happy, afraid– the list goes on. So while my emotions are firing and my brain is wiring, I start to think of a proper response to stress. How I should handle everything is a mystery until I get there. Yet I know I will be required to make some adjustments. And that mystery – and the new challenges I will face – are what make me feel most alive.”
Yes, Joey Mullaney has been busy. Between the book on the horizon and enrolling in graduate school in Boston, Joey is just getting started. And as for being a leader?
“I don’t think I’m a leader. In my mind, I still have a long way to go.” Then he paused. “So be on the lookout.”