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Alex Montoya: On a Path to Change the World

Created: 12 May, 2017
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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5 min read

The sacrifices that parents make to ensure that their children have access to greater opportunities often includes the decision to send them away. For Alex Montoya, that decision was one that completely changed his life.

Originally from Medellin, Colombia, Montoya was born in 1974 as a triple amputee due to a birth defect. At the age of four, Shriners Hospitals for Children offered to help him move to the United States and get prosthetics.

His parents determined that they would allow him to move away to the U.S. and live with other family members so that he could be taken care of medically and gain an education in the U.S.

“The older I’ve gotten the more I appreciate how much of a sacrifice it was for them,” Montoya said, “For them it was a colossal sacrifice because they knew they were giving up the right to see me grow up.”

Today, Montoya, 42, is a motivational speaker and an author focused on educating and advocating for the disabled.
Montoya owns AMOtivational Communications: Motivational Presentations and Communications Consulting, company through which he travels to give talks about overcoming obstacles.

Montoya has also published three self-help books and will publish his first fiction book this year. His first three books, like his talks, focus on prevailing and learning to see the positive in the negative.

“I have really seen how being born with a disability has really shaped my perspective,” he said. “I’m grateful that I was born disabled because it gave me perspective, patience, and determination.”

His motivation and inspiration was not something that naturally came to him, he said his sister played a large role into what he does.

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As a four-year-old, Montoya recalls that his sister was excited that he was leaving to the U.S. But she told him that he had a greater purpose.

“She told me, ‘You have a mission; you’re on a mission to change the world. You’re going to have fun and you’re going to get these fancy prosthetic arms and a leg. But it’s not all fun and games, you need to change the world,’” Montoya said.

Five years ago his sister passed away after being diagnosed with cancer.

“Losing her was definitely very hard but it taught me a great message too. Just seeing her fight through her cancer really showed me the meaning of strength,” he said.

He said that when she first told him that he wasn’t sure what she meant but as he grew up he realized that he could serve as someone who could speak for the disabled.

After this realization, Montoya became an activist who fights for people with disabilities.

Prior to 1980, students with disabilities in San Diego were placed in separate classrooms or, in Montoya’s case, had to go to completely different schools.

He said that the students in the “disabled school” noticed that they were being segregated from the other students, so they asked their teachers why they couldn’t spend time with everyone else.

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As a result of their speaking out, a program was created to integrate the students. However, some teachers protested because they didn’t feel they had sufficient training.

“By the end of that first semester, [the other] kids had learned so much from us and we learned so much from them,” Montoya said.
His activism continued in college while attending University of Notre Dame. During his freshmen year, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Montoya and his friends raised awareness about the needs of disabled students and by the end of his senior year the university established a disabled students center.

Montoya graduated from Notre Dame in 1996 with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in theater. He got his masters in sports management from the University of San Francisco.

Montoya then worked for the San Diego Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the San Diego Padres before starting his own company.

“If you are a successful Latino or a successful person with a disability or a successful woman, you have a responsibility to help bring up the next generation and to constantly break down barriers and go places where maybe people before you have never gone,” Montoya said.

The moment that he is most proud of and refers to as the most “mind blowing and humbling experience” was carrying the Olympic torch in the 1996 games. His flame eventually traveled to boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the opening ceremonies.

He said that experience of carrying down a torch from person to person reminds him of life.

“I feel that the people [who] came before us had to break down doors and they had to break down barriers that made it possible for us to be here living out our dreams,” Montoya said. “We are responsible for continuing to break down barriers.”

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