Jerry Traylor was born with cerebral palsy and has walked with special crutches his entire life.
Addressing the students at Will James Middle School on Wednesday morning and looking back on a life fully lived, he told them his condition never mattered.
"We can do great things even if we're not perfect," he told them.
To illustrate his point, Traylor told students about his decision as a 24-year-old college graduate to start running marathons.
He explained to students that he didn't start running marathons because he thought he would win. His choice to do it was about actively deciding to participate in life.
"You win by trying," he told them.
He ran his first marathon in Denver in 7 hours and 17 minutes. He went on to run 34 more, finishing his fastest marathon in 5 hours and 9 minutes.
During that decade of running marathons, Traylor decided to run a trail race ascending Pike's Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado.
Speaking to students, he described the grueling process of running a mountain trail littered with boulders while using crutches. This, he said, is the difference between winning and losing.
"The winner gets up just one more time than the loser," he said.
Traylor used a mix of goofy antics and humor to address the young teenagers, comfortably talking about his disability and the impact it's had on his life.
"I was going to be a stand-up comedian until someone stole my crutches," he quipped.
Traylor was brought to the school by the Billings West Rotary Club, a group he spoke to following his hour at Will James. Robin Hanel, club president, had listened to Traylor speak last week to a group of national Rotarians and was moved by what she heard.
When she invited him to come speak to the Billings West Rotary, he told her he'd do it on the condition that he also be allowed to speak at a couple area schools.
"He's inspired me," she said. "His humor and his heart make a permanent impact."
In fact, she said, after listening to his presentation last week, "I signed up two hours later" to run a marathon in September.
The students were receptive to Traylor's message, finding him inspirational, curious and maybe a little strange.
"He reminds me a lot of Forrest Gump," said eighth-grader Alyssa Burke.
It was while Traylor was atop Pike's Peak that he chose to run from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
In 1985 he headed off, making the cross-country trek in seven months. Along the way, he was greeted by cheering crowds and groups of supporters. He finished in New York accompanied by a parade.
He told the Will James students not to limit their potential and not to shy away from hard tasks.
"Fall in love with the difficult," he said.