Peter the great: New Bedford man’s positive outlook, determination inspires others

By Sean McCarthy, Contributing Writer

Posted Apr 28, 2018 at 7:17 PMUpdated Apr 28, 2018 at 7:17 PM


The tattoo on his left shoulder says a lot about Peter Bruce.

“Defy the Odds.”

Born with Pierre-Robin Syndrome, a disability that left him with no arms below his elbows, a missing left leg and a deformity in his jaw that once made it difficult to talk, the 28-year old New Bedford resident is living up to his creed of “leading by example.”

And while his physique might appear to be a limitation, his goals and desires show he’s not going to let any hurdles stop him.

“I have no arms, yet I can do great things,” Bruce said. “I can affect things around me for a greater good.

“If people look past the deformities and disabilities and look at the spirit of a person, amazing things can be done through love, patience and kindness.”

And his pursuit of those goals is something that’s having a positive effect on the people around him.

“Peter takes away any excuses to feel bad about myself,” said Colin McCarthy, a club manager at Planet Fitness in Fairhaven where Bruce works out five days a week, two hours a day. “After seeing Peter, I think, ‘What’s my excuse to feel negative about something?’”

Whether he’s driving, cooking, playing drums or working out at the gym, Bruce is unencumbered by any challenge that comes his way. He usually takes on his struggles with a smile – an approach that has worked for him throughout his life.

“You can’t get too pessimistic around Peter,” McCarthy said. “He’s happy, he’s got his goals and he’s going to break through whatever barriers he has in order to achieve them.”

Whether he’s at school, at church or at the gym, he leads his life wanting little more than to live and be treated like anyone else. He doesn’t seek special treatment.

“Peter holds himself to the same standards as others,” McCarthy said. “People are taken aback by him when he comes in the gym, they think he can only use the treadmills. But he’s got his own straps that he brings with him so that he can do any of the exercises that anyone else can do. He can do a full body workout – people are amazed to see him do the bench press.

“It’s unorthodox but it’s refreshing.”

Bruce has embraced his ability to inspire others to be more determined; to overcome obstacles no matter how daunting; to defy the odds.

“I try to be selfless in my heart,” Bruce said. “I don’t want a pat on the back or have someone buy me something. My payment comes when I can change someone’s opinion and encourage them to do something they thought they couldn’t. I want to prove to people what they can do.

“I’ve realized that the greatest regret we can have in life is not doing more to help others,” Bruce said. “You’ll feel bad when you realize you could have done something to help or encourage others. Your outreach could be someone’s medicine. If you’ve struggled you realize how important it is to help one another.”

Bruce has driven his own car since he turned 18. He doesn’t use any adaptations or adjustments, relying only on his birth arms. He is able to manipulate the turn signals, wiper blades and radio without a problem.

He has played a full drum kit in his church band at King of Kings Church in New Bedford for more than a year, holding the sticks in straps fixed to his arms.

“People are surprised to see me do these things but it mostly causes curiosity, they want to see what else I can do,” Bruce said. “People love to see me flip a coin.

“Growing up I was consistently defying the odds,” he said. “My parents raised me not to make excuses to them or anyone else. My father worked hard for what he had and encouraged me to do the same. I had difficult situations growing up and I had my doubts and insecurities, but I realized that it was who I was on the inside that was important, not who I was on the outside. I want to be judged on the way I choose to live my life.”

Adopted from the Philippines at the age of three, Bruce said his goals and desires in life are similar to most people in their mid-20s – a family, a house and a career.

“I want the life that most people want,” he said. “But right now I’d just like a girlfriend.”

Bruce’s independence has been winning admirers for a while. Throughout school, he strived to do things that were easier for his classmates such as writing, reading a book or tying his shoes without falling behind. In high school, he continued to inspire those around him by competing in football, volleyball, and track.

His spirit and determination won the admiration of Louis Rosario. The two were best friends until the age of 12 when Rosario moved to Michigan. They have remained in touch.

“Peter was a tough kid growing up – he had to be,” Rosario said. “He never felt sorry for himself, his motivation and self-esteem always overcame his challenges. Every time he fell, he got back up. He has a fake leg and no arms but he’s anything but a handicapped individual. He does his best to meet and exceed everyone’s expectations. He’s a gift from God – he empowers others.”

And Bruce showcases his spirit and confidence at the gym, where he uses his experience to guide other clients when they may be in need of assistance.

“His positive attitude makes him easy to approach,” McCarthy said. “He’s very knowledgeable about physical fitness so he can show other clients how to try different exercises that work for him. He’s in really impressive physical condition.”

It’s all part of Bruce’s life goal to use his abilities to help others and, ultimately, make the world a better place.

“Having the goal of helping others inspires me – I want to challenge stereotypes,” Bruce said. “When people act on my advice and get positive results it may surprise them and encourage them and give them a better attitude.

“If I can do that, then I’ve done my job.”

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