62-Year-Old Musician who Uses Wheelchair Will Walk Across Stage at Graduation

DAVIS -- Watching the University of California, Davis commencement band it's hard not to notice something different about one of their trumpet players, Michael O'Hearn -- after all, he’s three times the age of most of his bandmates.

But ask 62-year-old O'Hearn and he’ll tell you he’s just as youthful and wide-eyed about his future in music as anyone else in the ensemble.

"You know, in life you learn different things," O'Hearn said. "You hear stories of people that are older who say, 'I want to do something. I want to fulfill this dream.' I found the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do."

O'Hearn has been playing the trumpet since the seventh-grade. After high school, he thought he could make it his career.

But after adjusting his playing style, he felt he’d gotten worse. Eventually, he put music aside and entered the workforce as a salesman.

That is until he started having trouble walking.

"I started using a cane," he told FOX40. "Then it declined, got worse. When I started getting into my 50s I started eventually using a wheelchair."

O'Hearn suffers from adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare genetic disease that affects his muscle control and motor skills.

Since he relies on his wheelchair, he couldn’t work the same way. But the disease did give him time to rediscover his passion -- his old trumpet.

In 2014, he enrolled in a music degree program at UC Davis.

"My first encounter with him I didn’t know he was a student. I thought he was a community member coming to help out," said senior Jordan Roberts.

"He instantly greeted me kindly and was very friendly," said senior Leone Rivers.

While his disease was debilitating, O'Hearn said there was something healing about being around younger musicians.

"I even feel younger, I don’t feel different," O'Hearn said. "You know, I feel better. I feel a part of things."

This Saturday, after four years of rediscovering who he is, O'Hearn will get his diploma.

But he has no intention of using his wheelchair to get across the stage.

"My intent to walk to receive my diploma isn’t just physical, I want to show people that I’ve done something," O'Hearn said.

With the help of Roberts and Rivers, he’ll be walking across the stage determined and one step at a time.

"When it's a fight it's different. When I was younger I never thought of this type of life, never thought this would happen to myself," O'Hearn said. "I don't want it to hold me down, I don’t want it to hold me back. I want to play, I want to be a musician. I want to be active."

O'Hearn is ending this journey on his own terms and on a high note.

He manages and plays trumpet in a jazz band. He says after graduation he looks forward to continuing that.