Niagara Gazette — It was only a matter of time before Zach Anner became an inspirational speaker.
After all, he’s carved a pretty impressive path, winning that Oprah Winfrey-financed TV show for himself and all.
But, when he stands before a banquet hall filled with people in Lewiston this September, he won’t be inspiring them because of what he has accomplished. It won’t even be because he accomplished all of it while battling a life long physical challenge and being wheelchair bound.
Anner, 27, will be inspiring because despite the challenges he has faced thus far, he doesn’t ever plan to give up on his dreams.
When his Oprah show, “Rollin’ with Zach,” was cancelled in December due to lack of viewership, despite positive reviews, Anner simply rolled onto a new path. Confident of his concept of an engaging show about the challenges of travel, he and a small crew immediately began work on a new show called “Riding Shotgun with Zach Anner.“ At this very moment Anner and his team are in the midst of a North American adventure which is being broadcast on the Internet, allowing fans to interact and make suggestions about each city the team visits.
Anner will return briefly to the area on Sept. 12 to be the keynote speaker at the Rivershore, Inc.’s third annual Gala Dinner. He will be speaking to leaders, clients and friends of the nonprofit, an organization created to help people with disabilities to leading meaningful lives.
He certainly knows a lot about success despite challenges. Because, beyond his ability to perform in front of camera and be funny and engaging, his obvious challenge and the one thing that makes him so remarkable and inspirational is that Anner was born with cerebral palsy — what he jokingly calls “the sexiest of all the palsies.”
But what is truly remarkable is that neither he nor his family ever thought his disease would ever stop him from following his dreams to become a filmmaker.
“I never viewed my life in the context of a disablility,” Anner said during a recent phone conversation from his Williamsville home were he was readying to take off on his road trip. “I was just following my passion.”
His mother, Susan, who joined the interview on the phone after Zach was finished, noted of her son’s cerebral palsy, “I always looked at Zach as a whole person. It wasn’t a big deal to us.” And as for the fame that came with the show and the disappointment of the cancellation, she noted, “we never said, ‘wow, Zach’s a star.’ We were always very cautious, but we thought of it as a step that could lead somewhere.”
Zach, too, knows that he was blessed by the experience and that lots of viewers support him, as much for being watchable and likeable as for being all that despite physical challenges.
“It wasn’t until all that attention from the Oprah show that I really recognized it hadn’t been done before and a lot of people were waiting for something like this,” he said of his OWN show.
“When people started to throw the words inspiration around I thought, ‘Oh, really?’ he added. “Because I had never lived my life in the context of ‘I have a disability so what I’m doing will be judged by others perceptions of people with disablitlites.”
Anner, who two years ago created the light hearted audition video that won him the chance for his own show on Winfrey’s OWN network, was not new to television or video production.
A college film major at the University of Texas in Austin, he was raised by a videographer dad who was always shooting video of him and his brother, Brad. His mom is a theater professor at the University of Buffalo, so the ability to create shows and peform in front of crowds seems to be in his nature. His gumption however, seems evolved from he and his family believing he can do anything he sets his mind to.
These days, his mind is set on on the success of his new show, “Riding Shotgun with Zach Anner.”
“I think this show lends itself more to spontaneity,” he said. “It’s very much about involving the audience and letting them be in some sort of control every step of the way.”
It will be fun,” he promised. “I bet you sometimes it won’t be pretty, but it will be a great adventure.”
For more information on Zach’s new show visit www.therealzachanner.com. For information about the Rivershore gala at the Niagara Falls Country Club Sept. 12, call 754-7272.
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at 282-2311, ext. 2263.Contact features editor Michele DeLUca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.