CATAWISSA RR - Southern Columbia Area teachers and staff agree: the story of Craig Dietz was an inspirational way for the employees to start their first day of the 2013-14 school year Thursday.

Dietz, a 39-year-old Harrisburg man who was born without limbs, was the special guest speaker for the staff assembly in the high school auditorium. While Thursday was the first day for staff, the students will return to school Tuesday.

His message, spoken to other districts, companies and organizations, is simple: Define your own potential and don't allow your circumstances to dictate how you live.

"Craig shows us that no matter the obstacles, we can overcome them. No matter the pitfalls (in public education), we can provide the best education possible," Superintendent Paul Caputo said following the 60-minute assembly.

Jenna Sellers, high school guidance counselor, said Dietz's story "embodies everything we're trying to teach our kids. Situations don't control us. Use them as experience to mold you."

Despite being born without limbs, Dietz has led an active life, participating in bowling, hunting, fishing and band. He graduated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1999. He passed the bar exam on his first attempt without any special accommodations.

In addition to hunting, fishing, skiing, bowling and playing volleyball, Dietz always had a passion for swimming. But, it wasn't until 2008 that he decided to start training for long distance open water swimming and completed the 1,500 meter swim in the Pittsburgh Triathlon in 40:20. In June 2012, Dietz became the first quadruple amputee to swim across the Chesapeake Bay, finishing the 4.4 mile rough-water swim in just under three hours. He has also competed in the Pittsburgh Triathlon every year since 2008.

High school office secretaries Nicole Heim and Marla Kremser were both impressed with Dietz.

"He was amazing," Heim said.

Dietz said he feels like he's reached his audience when they are comfortable enough to laugh at his jokes.

High school Principal James Becker said it was a great way for the teachers to be motivated.

"He really didn't let anything stand in his way to succeed or achieve his goals," he said.

On some level, guidance counselor Tom Donlan said, each person has some sort of a disability, and Dietz's testimony is proof of being able to overcome that.

"I think if you asked him if he had a disability, he would say no," Donlan said.

Dietz has lived independently since graduating from high school, and currently resides with his wife in Harrisburg.

His story has been featured on Fox News, ESPN and other local print and television media outlets. He will appear on the new Marie Osmond Talk Show in October.

Also, Caputo said, Dietz will be invited back later this year for a student assembly.