He didn’t want to write this book. He really didn’t. This is how Berkeley entrepreneur, motivational speaker and now published author, Arash Bayatmakou, introduces his compelling new memoir, Little Big Steps: A Life-Changing Injury and the Inspirational Journey to Overcome the Odds. The book, which reads like a novel, tells of unbridled courage and achievement after a sudden and frightening life-altering event.
In July 2012, at the age of 30, Bayatmakou fell from a balcony and was told by his doctor that he would never walk again or regain full function of his body, that he was lucky to be alive. Little Big Steps chronicles his journey from the moment he awoke in the hospital through his tireless work aiming to refute that grim prognosis with his indomitable spirit.
Born in Iran, Bayatmakou left that country when he was just an infant when his parents decided to try to find a better life. After traveling for six years through four countries, the family arrived in California. Bayatmakou graduated from Berkeley High School in 1999, attended Boston University, then returned to the Bay Area in 2003 for work and to complete his MBA at the University of San Francisco. A year later, as a career in green technology began to blossom, he had the accident that would change his life.
Arash and I first met in 2007. I was teaching a weekly staff yoga class for an international adventure travel company based in Berkeley where he was working as a consultant and trip leader. He walked into the room, a warm, exotic and handsome presence with a bright smile and a friendly hello. He possessed the perfect balance of confidence and humility, a rare and endearing trait. He was athletic and fit, yet candid about his limited experience with yoga. The group of women who regularly attended class were clearly delighted to have him join us and an effulgent energy, a new enthusiasm, filled the room.
Since the accident, Bayatmakou has not traveled alone, having received support from friends and family. He attributes this to the strong community he has built from living and working in Berkeley most of his life. His parents still live here. He has also focused on trying to pave a better path of recovery for those who might sustain similar injuries. In 2015, he started an Oakland-based nonprofit, No Limits Collaborative, to provide exercise and therapy, support and resources for people with spinal cord injuries and neurological conditions. The successful collaborative has been working with UC Berkeley and its recreation and athletics department for over two years to provide training and instruction on how to work with students and staff facing a variety of disabilities.
Bayatmakou also works as a consultant and volunteer for SuitX in Emeryville and Ekso Bionics in Richmond, two companies that sprouted from UC Berkeley, and that are developing “exo-skeleton” solutions for patients confined to wheelchairs. He provides insights and practical feedback for the companies’ research and development teams.
When asked what inspires him, Bayatmakou said, “Anyone who has the courage and determination to challenge the status quo, to trust themselves and to pursue a goal or objective with the utmost commitment, diligence and faith inspires me.”
Seeking out various therapies to aid his recovery, Bayatmakou has also traveled to Maui to work with Body Wellness-Hawaii. And he continues to push the limits that were starkly laid out to him in that hospital room in July 2012. He took part in a five-mile swim at Donner Lake last September to raise money for his nonprofit, for instance.
“Your life is your own, don’t allow anyone to tell you how you can or should live it“, he said.
In such a diverse environment as the Bay Area, we have the opportunity to meet people with all kinds of stories. Some we encounter for brief seconds, others become acquaintances or close friends. And some we only meet through words on a page. Once in a while, those moments of connection shake us gently but so startlingly awake. Little Big Steps leaves large footprints for us to follow from someone whose path took such an unexpected turn yet who remains so full of light. It is not just a memoir but an inspirational guide for anyone seeking ways to embrace adversity, meet challenges with fortitude and grace while maintaining a sense of humor. Bayatmakou didn’t want to write this book. Who would? But we can be grateful that he did.
‘Little Big Steps: A Life-Changing Injury and the Inspirational Journey to Overcome the Odds’ by Arash Bayatmakou is available on Amazon. Visit his website, Arash Recovery, for more information or to book a speaking engagement. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.