An Improbable Tale of the High Seas

How Glenn Mikulak’s ship is taking him around the world

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report (used with permission)

For most people, me included, memories of a nice trip, whether it be on a ship or by another mode of transportation are generally recorded in our sometimes flawed memory banks or on photographs soon to be curled and yellowing in some forgotten scrap book.

But for Warren County High senior Glenn Mikulak, the memories of a 2006 trip with his late grandmother, Linda Hogoboom, on a Caribbean cruise ship were translated into an astonishing reconstruction of a cruise ship. On April 21st Glenn brought his ship, appropriately christened “K’nector of the Seas” of the Royal K’nibbean Line since it is made of approximately 10,000 K’NEX pieces, for display in the Warren County High lobby. The reactions of classmates, teachers and even Principal Ernestine Jordan mirrored my own reaction.

“That’s awesome!”
“Glenn, that’s incredible – did you draw a picture of it first?” “No, I just started building it,” Glenn replied.
“I couldn’t do that if I had my whole life to finish it,” one student exclaimed.
As we snapped photos and students passed by, crowds gathered, dispersed and re-gathered around the lunch hour bells. Whatever the changing makeup of the crowd, the tone of awe and respect for Glenn’s accomplishment never varied.

Glenn beamed like a proud pop, answered questions, pointed to moving parts at the stern rudder and props – “No, it’s not broken,” he explained to one teacher, “it’s supposed to move there.” I believe he said there were eight moving parts, mostly tied to the re-creation of the ship’s propulsion system.
The fact Glenn oversaw the event from his wheelchair underscores perhaps the added awe with which his classmates viewed his achievement. Glenn suffers from a form of Muscular Dystrophy known as Duchenne, an irreversible deterioration of the muscular system. As a consequence of his condition, Glenn’s has a reduced life expectancy and must face that fact each day of his life.
Glenn’s outlook is an inspiration to all, yours truly included. We asked Glenn how he does it.

“Designing and building is my passion,” he told us. “I try to use all that I have and make the best of it. I anticipate the cure in the future. While it’s getting harder and harder for me everyday physically, I am doing all I can. It’s discouraging at times but I am still creating and building. I hope I’m an inspiration to other people. This ship will be my legacy.”

A minor setback

In December of 2009 Glenn was hospitalized with congestive heart failure associated with his condition. By coincidence the First Lady was making an annual round of hospital visits in the area and put Glenn on her “Green List” of visits.
While Glenn had not yet awoken from surgery, Michelle Obama comforted his parents and offered them her support and prayers.
“The comfort the family received from the First Lady was unparalleled,” Glenda Mikulak told us. And while Glenn was disappointed to have missed Mrs. Obama’s visit he was glad his parents and friend Joe Bacik had someone to talk to while he was still under, in recovery.

“But we have the White House on Glenn’s radar – maybe next time, Mrs. Obama,” Glenda Mikulak told us, adding she was pondering an invite to graduation for that delayed “Green List” visit. – Hey, if you’re going to dream, why not dream BIG!!!
Once back from ICU about two weeks after that December 2009 setback, Glenn and his family began assembling a wish list, or as they jokingly call it from the film of the same name, a “bucket list.”

A Seafaring K’nextion

Recently Glenn began researching the new Royal Caribbean International ship “Oasis of the Seas,” the largest ship of its kind. A cruise was booked and Glenn began updating K’nector of the Seas in anticipation of his upcoming cruise slated for May 22nd. Easy Access Travel arranged a meeting at Royal Caribbean headquarters in Florida on May 21st and Glenn hopes to get a behind the scenes tour of “Oasis of the Seas” while at sea. However it pans out, the family is calling it “A Royal K’nextion.
Glenn finished his high school senior credits early and began devoting his extra time on refitting and expanding his initial six weeks of work on K’nector of the Seas. That “drydock” work took another three weeks, he told us.
Glenn’s mom documented Glenn’s “shipbuilding” achievement for us.

“The ship was built in 2006 following a cruise with Glenn’s Grandmother. While on the ship he got a behind the scenes tour of the bridge and met the captain. Thus inspired he came home and started building the ship out of K’nex, all from memory and photos.”
Now as an old builder of model airplanes and ships as a kid, this achievement made without benefit of a specific kit design or directions, is especially impressive. You sure you didn’t have some kind of guideline? I asked.
“No kit was used, all from my head, designed by me,” he assured us.
Gee Glenn, you’re making me feel like a model building dunce – and I thought I was pretty good at the time … well, it was a looong time ago, I admitted.

Glenn’s plan to enter the ship in a contest sponsored by K’NEX was nixed because he was over the age limit. However K’NEX management was so impressed by his achievement that Glenn was invited to tour the company headquarters and factory where he viewed the molding process. He had lunch with upper management (CEO and CFO) and the company’s design team and took home some souvenirs of the visit.

But with a career and continuing educational interest in engineering and a dream job as a part of the K’NEX design team, the visit and personal connections he made may have been the biggest prize of all. With plans to use the ship as a source of inspiration to others in postcards, posters and photos, his family re-contacted the company and asked for permission to use the company name in this context.
K’NEX responded with not only a release to use the K’NEX name and images but also offered the assistance of their Public Relations Department, as well as an invite back to the K’NEX Hatfield, Pennsylvania factory at his convenience.

Sailing your way?

Glenn will graduate from WCHS with honors on June 11th. And with K’nector of the Seas maiden voyage out of his house and into his school under his belt, Glenn would like to announce the availability of the ship and its captain to other similar venues, including area schools, hospitals and retirement homes. Glenn may be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

His mom points out that just as Forrest Gump was inadvertently able to travel the world through unexpected turns of fate, Glenn’s creation of “K’nector of the Seas” has taken him places he may never have expected to see.

On August 10th, 2009, Glenn was invited to National Harbor to tour the Harbor and Gaylord by The Peterson Companies. Operations there declared it Glenn Mikulak Day and he met with engineers and got another tour, this time of hotel operations, the engineering department, including the computers that control the building, the HVAC system and the laundry and boiler rooms.

Along with the College Access Network and the Warren Coalition, Glenda Mikulak has created the Linda F. Hogoboom Memorial Scholarship in memory of her mother and Glenn’s grandmother with whom he first sailed the high seas. The $1,000 scholarship encourages students to reach out to children with disabilities. It was recently awarded to Sara Kenney and Lynnze Hall Watkins.