“People are my life,” said Peter Root of Rockland.

Many know Root from seeing him at Rockland’s Wal-Mart, where he has worked for the past three and a half years. Others know him from his volunteer work at Penobscot Bay Medical Center and the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

The 44-year-old Rockland resident has met many members of the Midcoast community, having lived in the Midcoast all of his life.

Over the course of his life, he has found that working with people is his passion.

“You learn from people,” he said. “If you take the time to talk to them, you’ll learn something from everybody. That’s why I like meeting people. Especially the elderly.”

Root is the youngest of the five children of Dr. John Root and Charlotte Root. He grew up in Rockland and attended Rockland schools.

He was born with spina bifida, a developmental birth defect, which he describes as a hole in his spine where the tissue did not connect. He is paralyzed from the waist down. He was also born with hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by excessive buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

“There are always challenges, but I’ve learned to overcome them,” he said.

Root remembers being carried up and down the stairs in junior high school because there was no wheelchair ramp or elevator. He said he has seen tremendous improvements in accessibility thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act. “Today they wouldn’t allow that to happen,” he said of his school experience.

He said he was able to learn to be independent thanks to help from people such as his best friend while growing up, Bill Eustis of Rockland.

“He introduced me to the world,” Root said. “He challenged me to become independent and do things for myself.”

For example, Root remembers Eustis showing him that he could go down the street by himself as a child to visit his grandparents. Going forward in his wheelchair down Beech Street hill in Rockland, Root said, he could flip over if he hit a rut, but he and Eustis figured out that going down backward, the bigger back wheels on the wheelchair could handle the ruts.

“He never treated me any differently than anybody else,” Root said of his friend.

Another milestone he remembers is taking driver’s education with Tom Cox at Rockland District High School in 1984.

“That gave me my freedom,” he said.

Root now drives a Chevy Monte Carlo.

The Rockland man started his job at Wal-Mart as a greeter. He now works in the fitting room area where he answers phones, opens packages, makes price changes and carries out other duties.

“I love it,” he said of his part-time job. “I like everybody I work with.”

From 1984 to 1987 he worked at The Courier-Gazette as a part-time billing assistant. He worked with Jim Smith back then, and Smith now works with Root at Wal-Mart.

Root later worked at Schooner Bay Taxi for a time as a dispatcher.

He said he also has enjoyed volunteering at the Owls Head Transportation Museum. Root has given tours, worked in the gift shop and provided security. He said he would have to tell people not to smoke or bring food into the museum or touch the planes and cars.

“I loved it,” he said.

Root has also volunteered at Penobscot Bay Medical Center. He said he would visit the patients and read them their mail. Sometimes the work would involve getting patients water or taking their samples to the lab.

As with working at Wal-Mart or volunteering at the museum, he found that it was working with people he enjoyed. In some cases, he could learn from them. In other cases, he knew what the people were going through.

“I’ve had many major surgeries,” he said. “I’ve conquered it all.”

Root said the key to handling life’s challenges is staying positive.

“It’s your attitude,” he said. “If you have a good attitude about life, you can conquer it.”

Midcoast Experience is a new regular feature on VillageSoup and in The Herald Gazette that highlights the stories of friends and neighbors in the community. Anyone who knows someone in the community who has an interesting story is asked to please contact Daniel Dunkle at 594-4401, ext. 269 or by e-mail at ddunkle@villagesoup.com. Please mark the e-mail subject line “Attention Dan Dunkle” to make it stand out.