David Hirsch talks with Air Force Vet Bob Roybal. Bob and his wife Michelle are parents of Brody Roybal, a forward for the U.S. Paralympic Hockey Team. Brody, 19, just won his second gold medal at the Paralympic Games in South Korea.
Dad To Dad 10 – Air Force vet Bob Roybal raises a gold medal winning Paralympic athlete.
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. The Special Father’s Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers.
Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org that’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: Hi, I’m David Hirsch.
This is the Special Fathers Network podcast. Stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: And I’m Tom couch. David’s guest today is air force vet. Bob Roybal. Bob and his wife Michelle are parents of young superstar Brody, a member of the US sled hockey Paralympics team who was born with no legs. I think it was the doctor actually.
Bob Roybal: He said he doesn’t have any legs and we’re like what?
Tom Couch: But that didn’t stop Brody. He’s now at two time gold medal winner as the US sled hockey team just triumphed over rival Canada in a last minute heart stopping victory in the winter Paralympics and beyond. Chang South Korea.
Team USA gets it done. The free paid complete Paralympic cold. Again, my name is Brody Roybal. I am a forward on the US natioal sled hockey team. The first time you say sled hockey, it’s different than any of the Sable sport you’ve ever seen before. Most of your day you spend in a wheelchair and you have limitations, stuff like that, but once you’re out on the ice, you get to adjust, skate as fast as you want. Get to be aggressive shooting. I mean, just everything about thinking. I absolutely love it.
Bob Roybal: We treated him pretty normal. I mean, we, we didn’t treat him special at all. Just like all his friends and his cousins and everything. He played T-ball. With the regular able-bodied kids in the neighborhood.
Tom Couch: As you can tell, Brody’s father Bob is a special father and he’s David’s guest today on the Special Gathers Network podcast.
David Hirsch: Being a father is very important to me. Being a good father means being a successful role model for your child, helping them be happier, more fulfilled, and productive members of society. I’ve started a number of charitable organizations designed to increase the role of fathers. One of them, the Special Fathers Network.
As a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers, raising children with special needs.
Tom Couch: So let’s get to it. Here’s David’s conversation with special father Bob Roybal.
David Hirsch: We’re in Northlake, Illinois, and I’m thrilled to be talking with Bob , who was a former us air force veteran. Bob, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for this Special Father’s Network.
Bob Roybal: Thank you, David.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Michelle, are parents to two boys, Spencer, who is 16 and Brody, who is 19, who was born without legs. So let’s start with some background. Um, you were born in Germany and you grew up in California. Tell me something about your family, including your siblings.
Bob Roybal: Um, my father was in the air force. That’s how I ended up being born in Germany. I lived there till I was about three years old, and then we came back to California. And my dad stayed in the air force for I believe, about another two years, or maybe two or three years. And then he got out and, uh, he was a firefighter. And, uh, I have an older brother who’s two years older than me.
And, uh, we, we lived in Southern California for a little bit, and then we moved, relocated up to central California, said, and that’s where I spent from the time I was about five years old all the way until I was 17. Like. Join the air force.
David Hirsch: Okay. So to a certain extent, it sounds like you had followed in your dad’s footsteps.
He was in the air force. You went from, was it high school right into the air force?
Bob Roybal: Yeah. Yeah. That, that’s pretty much it. I joined because I wanted to travel and see the world, and he joined because he didn’t want to go to Vietnam
David Hirsch: at the same place, but for different reasons. Right. Okay. So how would you, uh, characterize or describe the relationship with your dad?
Bob Roybal: That’s very good. I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like to, you know, be in the, he still lives in California, but you know, when, when we do see each other, it’s like, no time has passed. You know, it was a good relationship growing up. No, he was always there for anything and everything we needed, you know, taught us how to play baseball, basketball, you know, everything like that, you know?
David Hirsch: did you ever think that you wanted to be a firefighter?
Bob Roybal: I actually did. Yeah. That was, that was actually my goal when I joined the air force was to join the, uh, be a firefighter. But, uh, I’m colorblind. Yes. And I did
David Hirsch: not be a firefighter. If you’re
Bob Roybal: not in the air force, you can’t. Okay.
Yeah. And I didn’t even know I was color blind until when I went and enlisted and everything, and then they said, because you, you can’t, you know, work on the flight line and everything with planes and everything. And then the job I did, I did the same thing. Anyhow, I worked out on the ramp and. You know what the tower and everything, cause you gotta be able to look at the tower lights and everything and
David Hirsch: color makes a difference.
Bob Roybal: Yeah. But I’m not, I’m color blind, but it’s not like, like you think I don’t see gray, you know, I, I can, I have trouble seeing certain colors, you know?
David Hirsch: Okay. So not all colors,
Bob Roybal: it’s just the dots. When you look at those dots, I can’t see something. Okay.
David Hirsch: So going back to your dad, uh, when you were growing up, uh, maybe this would be through high school before you went into the military.
Um, are. Are there any thoughts or stories or things that your dad said or did that really stick in your mind as far as, uh, you know, what his values were or the reputation that he had?
Bob Roybal: He always, you know, told us to be honest, to be hard workers. Both my parents, they work, you know, for a living. They were, you know, a middle class family and, uh, that, you know, they just instilled those, those sort of values in us.
You know, that, you know, we, my brother and I both had to, you know, we got jobs when we were. Of age, you know, 15, 16 years old. We both started working and had to pay our own way for certain things and just to teach us a little responsibility.
David Hirsch: Okay. So work ethic was really important. He probably demonstrated that by example, as opposed to telling you, you need to work more.
Bob Roybal: Right, right.
David Hirsch: Excellent. So after high school, you went into the air force. Uh, give me a brief, uh, sense of what your career was, uh, in the air force and then beyond.
Bob Roybal: Um, when I joined the air force, I, uh, I enlisted, I was a air transportation specialist and basically it was anything that you put on an airplane from people to tanks, to helicopters, to anything goes on in a military airplane.
That’s what we did. I spent three years in Germany, two years in Portugal, a year and a half in Turkey, and a year and a half in Guam. And
David Hirsch: which would you say was your most significant of the four locations that you served in?
Bob Roybal: Probably Germany was probably the eye, the most memorable. And you know, I did a lot while I was there.
There was so much to do in Europe, you know, as far as traveling and I, okay. I couldn’t even tell you how many countries I saw while I was there, you know? And they’re all, all of our awesome places to be stationed at. That was one of the reasons I joined the air force was I wanted to travel and okay.
That’s why I never wanted to come back to the United States. You know, every time my assignment would come up, I always put in for an overseas one. Again,
David Hirsch: if I remember, you had mentioned that you actually met Michelle. Who was also in the air force?
Bob Roybal: Correct. Where was that? I met her in Guam.
David Hirsch: So that might be the most significant.
Bob Roybal: Yes.
David Hirsch: I stand corrected.
Bob Roybal: Yeah.
David Hirsch: That was the biggest takeaway from being in the military.
Bob Roybal: Right, right. Um, yeah, we met in Guam and, uh, got married there and then, uh, she got pregnant and, uh, she got out and then she came back to, uh. Illinois. I live with her parents until we were ready to go here. I still had a couple of months left in Guam and, uh, she was kind of due to have the baby at any time, so she wasn’t sure, you know, so she wanted to be back here.
So she came back to be with her parents and, uh, she, she was a administrative assistant, you know, when, when she was in the air force.
David Hirsch: How many years did she seve?
Bob Roybal: She served for six years. Six years?
David Hirsch: Yeah. So a little bit less than you. Yeah. So did you make it back for. Your first son’s a delivery?
Bob Roybal: I did. I, uh, I came back for a 30 day leave and I kinda planned it around the due date and I was here for about three weeks and she still hadn’t had the baby yet.
And so they ended up scheduling and inducing. So she would have it, cause I had to go back.
Well, well let’s just, uh, I’ll just say that, uh, it was a very significant experience for you, right? Uh, when Brody was born, what, 19 years ago? Yeah. So why don’t you sort of. Share with me what that was all about.
Well, it was a, as far as the whole pregnancy had gone.
Everything was, uh, a typical pregnancy. She had gone for ultrasounds and they had given us, you know, measurements for all his limbs and everything and said that everything was going just as planned. Everything’s normal.
David Hirsch: You knew you were going to have a boy or a girl.
Bob Roybal: Uh, I, I believe we did know we were having a boy.
I believe we did find out, I don’t know how they, you know, the measurements they were giving us for. You know, legs and everything. So I don’t know how much we can trust what they were saying, you know, as far as whether we’re having a boy or not. But, uh, so when it came time to have the baby, uh, our family doctor was out on vacation that weekend, so we went in with a, basically a sub doctor that came in to fill in, you know, everything was going fine, and when he came out, you just knew that something wasn’t right.
You know that immediately, you know, you’re expecting the doctor to say it’s a boy. You know, here you go, and you hold them and everything. And it was just like, right when he was born. Everybody just had a look of it, just like the room just went quiet and everybody just, you could just tell that something wasn’t, something wasn’t right and, you know, and then my wife started screaming, you know, what’s wrong?
What’s wrong? You know? And they just said it was a boy and then they took him away. And like wrapped him up and took him away. And we were like, you know, what’s, what’s going on and this and that. And then, uh, I don’t know if it was one of the nurses or one of the doctors, I think it was the doctor actually.
He said, did you guys know? And we said, no, what? And he said, he doesn’t have any legs. And we’re like, what? And I mean, that was just like the furthest thing that you’d expect your doctor to say to you, you know, after you just had a child, you know, and.
You usually are counting fingers and toes and you’re not thinking anything along these lines.
And so that was a, it was, it was quite a shock that night, that first night. Cause then they, the doctors called in, every specialist in Chicago came down that night, you know, there was geneticists and all these special doctors, orthopedic doctors and everything came down just to check them out, you know, because it’s like, it’s unique.
Yeah. It’s not, you know, often that they have, this happened, you know. And they checked them all out and they said that, you know, as far as they can tell, everything’s good. He said, it’s just missing two legs, you know, I mean, his organs and everything are fine. Everything functioned fine. So I just said that, you know, this is, this is what it is.
David Hirsch: What was going on in your mind or Michelle’s mind that first night or the first couple of nights is your sort of, uh. Overcoming the shock of it
Bob Roybal: all.
That’s all it was, was a lot of shock. It was just a lot of, you know, we called our family, my parents at the time where I believe, I think they were living in England at the time, and, uh, you know, told them, and it was Memorial day weekend, so all of her family was all camping together and called them, and everybody rushed to the hospital.
My parents flew in from England, you know, it was, you know, it was a big. We didn’t know what to expect. You know, this was just like the furthest thing. Like I said, that, you know, we weren’t expecting this at all and we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t, you know, and it was just shock cause all, it was a lot of crying and a lot of shock.
And you know what’s going to happen to them. You know what, you know, what’s his quality of life going to be? Your dis, all these things are running through your head and you just, you don’t know. You don’t have answers, you know?
David Hirsch: Was there any advice you got from any of the docs early on that, uh, influenced.
You know, you’re thinking or helped you sort of get through this difficult period of time?
Bob Roybal: I think once we went to the hospital at the Shriner’s hospital and we saw, you know, other kids that had, you know, different things, you know, different disabilities or whatever, then you kind of start to see that, you know, you’re not the only one.
You know, there’s, there’s other people that are going through things just as like, you are worse than you are. Once you see that, then you kinda awesome. Not that bad. You know, like, we’re going to get through this. It’s not going to be too bad.
So what were any of the media issues that you faced, uh, that for six months, the first year, if you can remember back?
Um, what seemed like the biggest challenge at that time, cause he was developing just as he would normally. He just didn’t have his legs. Right. You know, he’s growing and he’s eating and he’s sleeping or not sleeping and doing things that every baby does.
Yeah. He did everything pretty much as, as you know, it was our first child, so we didn’t know.
Just from what you’ve, you know, you read in books and you know what people have told you that, you know, this is what the baby should be doing at this time. You know, this and that.
David Hirsch: And so the first nine, 12 months are just typical because babies aren’t walking.
Bob Roybal: That’s, I would say about up to the time, probably it was right around nine 12 I don’t know when he actually started.
He did like an army crawl is what he did. You know, that’s how he, he would get around, like when babies are crawling, he just kind of dragged himself around like that and crawl just like a regular, you know, like a baby. And he could crawl pretty fast. And, uh, but then once he hit about, I don’t know, I guess nine to 12 months, I’m not exactly sure.
But then he kind of stood up and then he walked on his hands from the, he walked in like a swinging motion. He would put his hands down and swing his butt, put his hands, and just. Like he was on crack, like his hands were crutches and he would swing his body. And that’s how he got around. And from then on, that’s how he got around for probably til he was four.
And then we got him his first wheelchair when he was about four years old. The Shriners, they helped us out with that, you know, cause at the time when I, when I got out of the service, I was still looking for a job and we needed insurance and this and that. And then we heard that. The Shriners, somebody told us that it’s free for people.
And that was like claw. And it was, that was good to know. And then, uh, one of Michelle’s family members is a Shriner in Kansas city. So in order to get care for your child that’s trying to, as you have to have somebody sponsor you and her uncle sponsored us and okay, that’s how we were able to get the care.
David Hirsch: Well, I do have a little connection to the Shriners. I remember growing up here in the Chicago area and my grandfather was, I didn’t really know or understand it back then when I was young, but he would go to the Shriner’s meetings and he would have this red Fez hat. I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about, and.
They would always go to the Shriner circus, and that was a big deal. I had to go to the circus every year. Now they don’t do that anymore.
Bob Roybal: They still do actually at the hospital. They do for the kids while they drive around with the little magic carpets on their go-carts and all that. Yeah, they do that.
David Hirsch: Well, this is like in a tent with elephants,
Bob Roybal: not that big.
David Hirsch: It’s a big production. And, uh, I didn’t really appreciate when I was a young person. You know what the Shriners did or what the masons did. Yeah. And some of these other service organizations that my grandfather was involved in. But you know, as you get to be older and maybe with the experience you’ve had, he really is how invaluable, you know, some of these resources are for these families who, you know, are thrust into a situation that they’re totally unprepared for.
Right. And it really is almost like a lifeline, right? If it wasn’t for them, what would you, what would you be doing or what would you have done in the situation. I don’t know. Yeah. So do you feel like you had some important decisions that you and Michelle made? Uh, when the boys were growing up? You know, just to compensate for what protein situation was?
Bob Roybal: You know, we, we, we treated him pretty, pretty normal. I mean, we, we didn’t treat him special at all, just like all his friends and his cousins and everything. He. Did as much as he could. You know, he played T-ball with the regular able-bodied kids in the neighborhood. You know, he played that. When he run the first page on his hands, he would get up there.
You hit the ball, and he’d take off running in his hands. Was he pretty fast? Yeah, and that’s the thing at playing tee ball. He was, he could keep up with the kids, but then the next year. The kids all start getting a little more coordination. They can all run a little. Yeah. And then, then, then it was too hard for him to do it.
So he did it just two years, and then after that he was like, he couldn’t do it anymore. It was just too hard to keep up. So that’s when he started. Around that time, about six years old or so, he started looking into. Adaptive sports at the time it was the Ric and the Shriners. They told us about all the different sports that are out there and stuff, and he tried a lot of them.
David Hirsch: At a very young age.
Yeah. So what, uh, impact has protein situation had on Spencer, his younger brother?
Bob Roybal: Um, I would say it’s probably made Spencer, uh, a very compassionate person. Like he, you know, he knows, he seen what Brody goes through. He knows. He knows a lot of families that are in our situation that are, have, you know, kids that are disabled or have different things.
And, uh, just all, all the families that were always involved with all their siblings are always, they don’t look at disabled people any different, you know, they all are just, you know, they’re willing to help out. You know, they’re, it makes them, I don’t know, it makes them better people. I think, you know, that they’re around all these people that are disabled and stuff.
And. They just don’t think any different of it, you know? They’re just people to them, you know?
David Hirsch: Yeah well, I’m trying to put myself in Spencer’s shoes. He’s the younger brother. You got an older brother, doesn’t have legs, and that’s all you’ve known, right. You’ve never done anything different. Right. But you know, that’s just my brother.
Yeah. You know, it’s not like it’s a foreign concept or, Oh, what about that kid in the wheelchair and my class? Right. You just don’t know any different. So I think it does. Open up your eyes at a very young age and you know, there’s no adjusting. Right, right. You didn’t have to adjust. This was,
Bob Roybal: Hey, that was it. That was his job. You know, like if Brody needed help getting up, you know, up onto the, the cabinet or something, you know, Spencer was there to help them out, or if he needed to get something out of the cupboard. For me that was, you know, he just, Hey Spencer, can you get, you know, Brody kind of takes advantage of a little bit.
You know, Spencer’s a good kid, he always. He always helps out though. They’ve always been really, really close. They, in fact, over, uh, this last summer before school started, they wanted to take a road trip and they were heading to Alaska,
David Hirsch: the two of them?
Bob Roybal: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Bob Roybal: Yeah. And, uh, they made it four days into the trip and they were in the Yukon and they hit a moose and total this car.
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Yeah. It was do the moose live to tell they story?
Bob Roybal: No it did not.
David Hirsch: Oh, no. It was pretty scary. It was. It was in the middle of the night. They’re out in the middle of the Yukon, just the two of them. And, uh, it was about 11 o’clock, I guess, at night, and they hit this moose and. I mean total the car, and then they were out there for about 20 minutes or so.
No cars passing by. Nothing. Just nobody was hurt. Neither of them was for now. And that’s very fortunate. I’ve just
heard about these moves coming through the windshield and now today for not just the moose, but for the drivers.
I’ll show you a picture of his car later. Yeah, it’s it. You would, there’s, if you saw that car, you think, how did anybody live in that?
I mean, it just demolished his car. But, uh, a girl came and picked him up and she stayed with them for the next day and helped them out and everything, get the police report all done and everything. And then she drove him another 1500 miles all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska cause 1,000 miles, 1500 miles more after they, yeah, they, they wanted to finish the trip.
So she drove him there and then from there they took a train down to Anchorage and that’s where their ultimate goal was to go to Anchorage. And so they finished their trip. And they stayed there for a couple of days, did some sightseeing and stuff, and they didn’t drive back now than they flew back.
Okay. Yeah. And uh, they’re actually, they’re planning a trip right now. They’re in a couple months. They’re heading to, they’re going to backpack around Europe for about 30 days.
The two of them. Yeah. Excuse my ignorance, Bob. But. I could see how Spencer’s is going to be backpacking around. I just can’t envision Bernie doing that.
He’s already done it once. Backpack. Yeah, seriously. Yeah.
Just using us.
Bob Roybal: Using his wheelchair. No, he’s in his wheelchair, but he, yeah, I mean, he just goes and hits the road and they just, he did it. Uh, when he graduated high school, him and the two buddies, they went and for three weeks they went and backpacked all over Europe.
They hit about, uh, they went to Spain. France. Czech Republic, Greece, Italy. Wow. I mean, they, they hit it all.
David Hirsch: You’re breaking down a lot of paradigms have in my mind about, you know, what? People who have injuries like that can and can’t do. It’s amazing. Yeah. Just amazing. So going back a little bit to your career, was it difficult to balance things with the needs that Brody had from a career standpoint or not so much?
Bob Roybal: So for my career. I’m involved trying to be as involved as you can, you know. Um, I was, I was, I’ve always been pretty involved cause the, the job that I have, I, I, I’m a garbage man and I, I get up at three o’clock in the morning. Like I start at four. Sometimes I’ve started at three in the morning, but I’m usually home by two.
I was always home for my kids, both of them. When they came home one day, I was always home to pick them up from school because there always had to be a parent there to pick them up, you know? And if, if once Michelle, she stayed home, most of their childhoods, but she did go to work once. They were both in school full time, and then she started working again.
But, uh, yeah, it was always able to, you know, be home for them after school. And then I, you know, I coached basketball. I still to this day, I still volunteer for the hockey team. They brought, he plays on and uh, you know, I do the equipment for them and that, that was one good thing about being a garbage man is the hours that I kept, that I was able to, you know, always be in the afternoons.
I was always home with them.
David Hirsch: Well, not everybody can get up at three or four o’clock in the morning at work.
Bob Roybal: It’s rough, but
David Hirsch: you probably don’t stay up really late then.
Bob Roybal: I do. I stay up till 10. You know, um, about the time that everybody’s going to bed, I’m usually.
David Hirsch: Just getting up early a lot earlier than everybody else.
Bob Roybal: Get up a little bit earlier.
David Hirsch: Well, I’m not a big sleep person myself. Four or five hours, I’m good to go. That’s about it. Um, but, uh, you can tend to occasionally burn the candle at both ends. If you’re getting up early and staying up late, that’s not a good combination long term.
Bob Roybal: I am the person that I can fall asleep. I sit down on the couch for five minutes. I’m napping.
David Hirsch: So you don’t have any problems with insomnia. So, uh, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered. Some of the situations that, uh, you’ve observed, uh, with Brody, um, cause he’s not able to do everything.
Bob Roybal: Yeah. Um, one thing, you know, that was tough one when he was young was, you know, going to amusement parks where he was, they wouldn’t allow him to ride the roller coasters.
You know, if they just had like a lap band or a lap belt that went across Europe. Laugh, and then the ones that the harness would go over your shoulders, they wouldn’t let them. Right either. Because you had to be, there was a height requirement where you had to be over 40 inches or something like that.
And he’s only about 38 40 inches right now, you know, and they was just, most of your growing is done in your legs. You know, from the time you’re, I don’t know, 10 years old, your spine kinda, you know, 12 years old and that’s about as tall as you are. And so he’s been about the same. He’s grown maybe a half an inch every couple of years here and there, but not much.
So, uh, the amusement parks were a challenge because his buddies could go on pretty much all the rides, but he wasn’t able
to write. And that was a thing, like we’d go to, you know, sometimes, well, w we actually went to Disney when he was really young, you know, we took the kids down to, to Florida, and then we got there and it was just kinda kind of disappointing that, you know, they kind of broke his heart, you know, and they wouldn’t let him ride half the rides, you know?
And then we were like, we kind of learned then, you know, that. As amusement parks just aren’t going to be something that you’re gonna be able to go to. You know? And that’s tough, you know, and you know, and you gotta tell your son that you know that you can’t do that when that’s what, at that age, that’s what they want to do more than anything, you know?
David Hirsch: Where there anything else like that amusement parks or something else that you know, seemed to be a bigger challenge than you might’ve expected.
Bob Roybal: No. You know, the one thing that, uh, you know, people staring at him was hard. You know, that’s, that’s tough. You know, like my wife, she, she was not early on, she, she would not stand for it.
There was a time when she, you know, she was down in, down in the city, in Chicago at grant park. You know, they have the big water. Where it’s sprays out and everything, the faces.
David Hirsch: I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Bob Roybal: And you know, she took them down there in the summertime when he was probably, I don’t know, five years old, four or five years old.
And they were playing in the water and having a good time. And then like a field trip came through there and a bunch of kids just all stopped and were just pointing and staring and everything, you know. And my wife got a little upset and went and found the teacher that was in charge of the field trip and had words with her and told her that, you know.
She needs to teach these kids, you know, that it’s not polite to stare and it’s not polite to point and this and that.
David Hirsch: And so that’s how your mom was.
Bob Roybal: Yeah, yeah. She, she was not happy, but, uh, she’s, she’s mellowed out now. Now we’re, you know, we understand, you know, that, you know, kids are kids and they’re, they’re curious.
And you know. It is what it is. You know, you can’t, when I see people, if I see somebody with one leg or something, I’m going to take a look, you know? But you know, it’s one thing to take a look and then other things, you know, take a picture or try to hold your cell phone like you’re, you know, or stare and stare.
And I’ve seen people, you know, they come by and they act like they’re talking on their phone and they’re, they’re filming or they’re taking a picture of them, you know, and things like that. You know, it’s a little upsetting, but we’ve gotten past that.
David Hirsch: Now you have to worry about what you have control over a robot. Versus what you don’t have control over. Right.
And, you know, you’d hopefully develop a little thicker skin, or just know what battles to pick, I guess.
Bob Roybal: You know? And, and I think we learned from Brody watching him the way he handles it, you know, he, if, if, you know, a lot of times young kids too, you know, three years old or come up to him and you know, what happened?
Where’s your legs? You know, and they’ll just be like, I was born like this, you know? And they’re like. Why? And he’s like, that’s just how I was born. And then that’s it. You know? He’s just like, you know, it doesn’t bother him. You know, he, he just goes with the flow.
David Hirsch: know, I imagine at the beginning of every school year, right, if there’s new kids that he wasn’t in school with, you know, you were at a year.You know, there just have to be a simple explanation for what my situation was. And then you don’t have to talk about it. It’s not a big mystery.
Bob Roybal: Yeah. Yeah. We, you know, that was one good thing about the, the neighborhood that we grew up, that the kids grew up in. It was, it was a tight knit, you know, a lot of all these kids have lived here, you know, since they were, we’ve known them all since they were in preschool, you know, and everybody knows him.
So it’s. No, nobody, no big deal here. You know, it’s when you get away from here, that’s when you get the likes and everything.
David Hirsch: Yeah. When I guess if you didn’t move around cause that would have made it more difficult. Right, right. Moving from Mike’s school to school, if you were still in the air force or something and you’re moving constantly, that would have been probably more challenging.
Bob Roybal: Now Brody’s he’s got the same, his best friend and he’s had since they were four or five years old.
David Hirsch: Okay. That’s fabulous. So one of your passions growing up, you told me in a previous conversation was skateboarding. And what role has skateboarding played in the Roybal family?
Bob Roybal: It was a big part of my life when I was young. You know, I, that was all I wanted to do when I was, you know, 14, 15 years old was, you know, ride a skateboard and ramps and everything like that. And then, uh. Once Brody started showing a little interest, he actually started skateboarding kind of just as a mode of transportation. You know, instead of using his wheelchair, he would ride the skateboard around just to get around.
It was easier to, for him to get around on. Then he got more serious and more into it. It was just something that we could do together. You know, like I would, I would, you know, he would need a ride to the skate park, so I’d go, and rather than just sit there and watch him all day, you know, I, I had taken a. I hate it.
So skateboarding for about probably 15 years, you know, where I hadn’t been too much skateboarding, and then once he got back into it, then it was like a, you know, so I started doing it again and, uh, it was just something we could do together, you know?
David Hirsch: It was. So is he better than you or were you better than him?
Bob Roybal: Uh, he was better than me now. Really? Yeah. Okay. Yeah, he, he, he got pretty good.
David Hirsch: So it wasn’t dangerous?
Bob Roybal: It can be. Yeah.
David Hirsch: Have you broken any bones? Has he broken?
Bob Roybal: I’ve never broken any bones. Skateboarding. You know, it was a lot of scrapes and bruises and that, but, uh, I’ve never broken a bone, but a Brody on the other hand, yeah.
It’s not the best thing for him to ride a skateboard. We learned that the hard way after he had been doing it for a few years and he broke his elbow.
David Hirsch: And he wears a helmet that when they skateboard.
Bob Roybal: Yeah, he did.
David Hirsch: Yeah. He broke one of his albums or both of his elbows.
Bob Roybal: He actually, he broke one and he had to have a surgery on it and it was just, his elbow was in pretty bad shape where they, the cartilage was fallen off the elbow and they had to drill holes all in the bone to help stimulate the growth of the cartilage and everything.
And then, uh. They noticed. Then they like, I don’t know how many months later. Then they noticed his other elbow was like fractured also, but they didn’t have to do surgery on it. They said it had already kind of like healed itself back up, but he was, he’s got the same thing going on with both of his elbows where he’s kind of ruined in both of them from all the jumping on his arms and everything.
He’s just walking on his hands his whole life.
David Hirsch: So it’s not just the skateboarding that’s put the pressure on his arms. It’s the, just the almost overuse.
Bob Roybal: That’s exactly what it is.
David Hirsch: And the way he’s using his arms are not what might be the traditional use of your arms.
Elbows are not a knee, you know, they’re not designed to absorb the shock like a knee is, you know, the knee joint.
And they’re just, they’re not mean meant to handle that much weight cause he’s, he’s a. He, he, he, he, right now he probably weighs about 140 pounds, but you know, when he was skateboarding, he was probably over a hundred pounds,
you know, so he raised 140 pounds without legs. That means he would be like a 200.
Pound person or close to it.
Bob Roybal: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
David Hirsch: So yeah, that’s, that’s a lot of way to be supporting on your arms. You know, that, like you said, that arms or elbows are not designed for that use. So that might be a liability right. On the road. He might,
Bob Roybal: Oh, believe we, that’s, that’s a big concern of ours. I mean, he, and he knows it too, that, you know, his quality of life is not going to be the best ones.
He’s, you know, you try, you try to tell him to, you know, slow down and take it easy. But. You know, he says, Hey, it doesn’t hurt right now that bad. So he’s 19.
David Hirsch: Right? But what are you going to tell 19 different? What do you do now anyway?
Bob Roybal: Right, exactly. You’re the dad.
David Hirsch: So, uh, you’d mentioned a Shriner’s, uh, played a really important role early on in your family’s life.
Um, I think you’d also mentioned that there were some other organizations that, uh, at different points in time played important roles. I think one of them was the athletes helping athletes, uh, organization. What do they do and what was the role that they played in your lives?
Bob Roybal: And that’s, uh, athletes helping athletes, um, is an organization that they help disabled kids.
Uh. Get hand cycles and I, I’m not sure what other adaptive equipment they do help with, but I know hand cycles, that’s what we’ve used them for is hand cycles. And they’re an organization that if you’re under 18 years of age and you have a disability and a need for a hand cycle, you, you know, you write them a letter and you tell them what your situation is and then.
They basically, they buy you a bike. And you know, these bikes are not cheap. These bikes run on average to about $3,000 for these loans. So, you know, the first bike Brody ever had was when he was about four years old. You know, we, we bought and it was about $1,500. You know, and that, you know, when you’re buying your child a bike, you know, you don’t expect to spend $1,500 on a bike.
David Hirsch: You know, is he going to outgrow that bike pretty fast? Like a, like a typical kid would get a small bike cause they grow, they need a bigger bike.
Bob Roybal: He had that bike for actually about. Well, maybe four years or so. And then he got a bigger bike and then, yeah, I actually had it for awhile, but yeah. Then he got a bigger bike than he needed a better bike.
And you know, slowly through the athletes helping athletes, we were able to get a bike when he was 14, when he was training for the Paralympics. He wanted to start training on an upper hand cycle. And so he got the bike then, and then when he was 18 years old, when he was, uh, going off to college, he wanted another bike.
For racing. And, uh, he wrote them another letter until explained to them that, you know, the situation was, and they bought him another bike. So they’re amazing organization, but, uh, they do wonderful things for kids, you know, and people that, you know, can’t afford these things. You know, the second bike he got was, I think, $5,000.
David Hirsch: So these are all customized.
Bob Roybal: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s the thing. When. You have somebody that’s disabled in your life, you realize really quick that anything that is medical is expensive. You know, wheelchairs are $5,000 you know, everything is, you know, very expensive when it goes through your insurance. You know, and these hand cycles are not insurance eligible.
Okay? That was kind of out of pocket. So that’s why you need organizations like this to help you out, you know, so you can still participate in sports and stuff.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. And then you mentioned, I think a unity in community, right? Um, also played a role in something
Bob Roybal: that’s a local, uh, organization here.
They try to help families that are in the area here that they’re not, they’re not like a national or statewide or anything. They just try to help the community here in the area. And they do. Fundraisers and things like that. And, uh, that’s what, uh, when he was, uh, heading off to college, he was going to also do a wheelchair racing and they, uh, raised enough money through a charity event and everything where he was able to, they bought him a, uh, uh, a racing push chair.
David Hirsch: Okay. So that’s another, sounds like you have a garage full of things someplace, right?
Bob Roybal: I have his racing bike here. He has his, uh, his, uh, hands, like on a stationary bike at his apartment. So think that’s why he writes when he’s inside the apartment.
David Hirsch: And, um, I think you mentioned Ric now known as the Shirley Ryan ability lab played a really important role, right?
Bob Roybal: Giving him a sport, you know, somewhere to go and play hockey. And, uh.
David Hirsch: Is that where you learned about hockey?
Bob Roybal: Well, actually he, the organization that he started playing with was the Hornets, the Chicago Hornets. He started there. That’s a youth program that they, I believe it’s seven years old. They take kids even younger than that.
They take kids five years old all the way up until I believe 21 years old.
And one of the criteria to be a member of the Chicago Hornets, uh, a physical disability. And that’s pretty much it.
David Hirsch: And we’re talking about a lower body.
Bob Roybal: Physical disability can be anything. I mean, Mo, most of the kids, it’s, it is a lower body, but some kids have CP where they might have something wrong with one of their arms or their hands, but they try to, anybody, they try not to turn anybody away, you know?
I mean, they, if they can’t push themselves on the sled, they have people that’ll stand behind them and push them on the ice, you know, so they can be involved in. You know, play the game also. Okay. But that’s, that was the big, that was where he really got his start playing hockey. He played with them from the time he was seven years old till he was 12 years old.
And then, uh, he had gotten pretty good at, by the time he was 12 years old and he was kind of a little above everybody else in the league that they were playing. So he had to move up to the next level. So it was getting a little unfair for them. The kids that he was playing with. So he, same age, right? He went to the, uh, Ric, which was the rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where they help people with spinal cord injuries and all kinds of things.
But they also have an adaptive sports program where they do all, all sorts of sports. They do everything that any adaptive sport they do there. And, uh, they have a hockey team. So he started playing for the men’s team there. And like the Hornets organization, they. Through donations and everything. It’s all at no cost to the individuals that play. So.
David Hirsch: So how old was he when he transitioned from,
Bob Roybal: he was 12 years old when he started playing
David Hirsch: in a men’s league. Everybody else’s 18 and above. For the most part.
Bob Roybal: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Up to how old now?
Bob Roybal: There’s guys that are in their fifties
David Hirsch: Oh my gosh.
Bob Roybal: Yeah.
David Hirsch: So he transitioned from the men’s league. Um, and then where did it go from there?
Bob Roybal: Because you know. This has progressed beyond most people’s expectations, right. Well, so then he started playing with the men’s team, and then, uh, and USA hockey has different levels of hockey. They have a national team, they have a developmental team, and at the time they had a team called the Patriots, which was a, it was like the third level down from the national team.
So he made that team when he was, I think, 12 or 13 years, I think, 12 years old. And then he played on that team for a year, and then he went and played, uh, I believe on the developmental team. For year or two year, I think only one year, maybe one or two years. And then when he was 15 he made it to the national team.
David Hirsch: And that’s the team that went to Sochi. Sochi Russia
Bob Roybal: from playing the Paralympics
David Hirsch: and, but that was four years ago.
Bob Roybal: Four years ago. Yeah. Pretty nice show and tell for your sophomore high school class, bring in a gold medal roadie rival from Melrose park, Illinois. One of his youth coaches said he could become the best hockey player ever.
David Hirsch: That’s amazing. Yeah. And your whole family had a chance to travel to associate.
Bob Roybal: Yes, we did. Spencer wasn’t probably sad that he got pulled out of school to do all this.
No, no, no. That’s one thing. A Spencer, you know the hockey thing, Spencer, he kinda got dragged around to the hockey rink a lot when he was young, when he was, from the time he was probably three years old till he was about 10 12 years old.
And then finally he had enough. He said he. Unless it’s going to out of the country or somewhere away from school, then he’ll go watch him play hockey. But he, you know, he doesn’t really like to go sit and watch him at the rink anymore. He’s been there and done that enough.
David Hirsch: So does Spencer also play sports.
Bob Roybal: Uh, yeah, he plays, uh, his sport is basketball, but he likes playing basketball.
David Hirsch: And with his grandpa from what I remember you saying.
Bob Roybal: Yeah. Yeah.
David Hirsch: That’s awesome. So, uh. Four years ago, um, Brody was on the gold medal hockey team, the Paralympic hockey team, and, um, four years have elapsed in the interim, and he’s got another opportunity to go to Korea
He, he’s leaving shortly,
Bob Roybal: a couple of days, and it was a successful trip as Brody and the U S sled hockey team won another gold medal at the winter Paralympics and piano Chang. It was the team’s third time. The free pain complaint, heroin, big bold again. Well, I was seven. I was just trying to find any sport really to play at the time, because I’d always played able-bodied sports with my friends, but I’d gotten to the age where kids started growing and I couldn’t really play with them anymore, so I was looking for any disabled sport.
I tried a couple of different ones out and then finally found sled hockey and immediately fell in love with it. And I’ve been playing ever since.
David Hirsch: What are some of the most important takeaways that come to mind when raising a child with differences? Or what advice would you give to dads who have a child with a physical or mental disability?
Bob Roybal: Uh, advice I would give is to, you know, push them to, you know, do as much as they can. You know, don’t hold them back and try to baby him. And you know. I know some people think I’m a little hard on him at times, but, you know, I think you have to let them go and let them find their way, you know? And they’ll figure it out.
You know, he, that’s one thing he is always showed us, you know, is he’ll find a way to do, you know, whatever it is he needs to do. You know, if, if I’m not there to help him, he’s going to have to figure it out, you know? And. There. There’s, there’s something for everybody out there. That’s one thing I’ve learned about the whole disability world is that I don’t care what your disability is.
There’s a sport for you out there. There’s blind hockey, there’s, you know, hard of hearing. There’s, everything has a sport, you know, go out there and do that. That’s the one thing that, you know, a lot of people, they don’t. Get involved. And then you see these kids and they’re 10 years old and you’re like, well, what have you been doing for the last five, six years?
You know? And they’re like, we didn’t know about this. You know? And it’s like, you really, it’s like almost like the hospitals should, when you’re, when you’re dealt this hand, you know, they shouldn’t tell you, you know, find this organization, find this organization and get out there and look at these things.
You know? But a lot of people just don’t know about it. And that’s the biggest thing is get out, get online. That’s one thing that’s different now with the internet is you can look up anything and you can find it. You know, 20 years ago when he was born, my wife saw a TV show with a girl that was just like Brody, and she contacted the TV show and asked if we could get their number and they, the producers gave us the number and she only live like five hours away.
We drove down to their house, met her, and she was exactly like Brody, but like five years older. And it was like, it helped us out so much to see. This girl that, you know how she got around, she was 12 years old at the time and you know, we saw what she was doing. She was playing with her brother, jumping on the trampoline, you know, we went to the mall with them and had lunch and she was just walking around like a 12 year old looking at clothes and having a good time, you know?
And it was like when we saw that, we said, Oh, you know, it’s going to be okay. You know, like he’s going to be just fine. You know, we were worried, you know, what’s he going to be like in high school and this and that. He’s going to have a girlfriend and. He’s fine.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That was a turning point for you. Yeah. Was reaching out to this other family, seeing it, experiencing it, and having a better understanding that things are going to be okay.
Bob Roybal: Right. And that that was the thing. He was probably five years old at the time. And I mean, we kind of knew that it was gonna be okay, but it was just, that was the first time that we’d ever seen somebody exactly like him that was living their life and having a good time.
And, you know, just normal kid.
David Hirsch: This is a good segway into the, the question I wanted to ask, which is why did you agree to be a mentor father as part of this special father’s network?
Bob Roybal: Um, for the same reason, like I just said, uh, that, you know, if I can help, you know, if somebody has a question about, you know, that they have a son that’s missing a leg or missing two legs or missing a hand or anything.
I’ve been around this whole thing for 20 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of different kids. I know you have questions, you know, and I’d be happy to answer some questions if anybody has any. To tell them, you know, it’s going to be okay. You know, you’ll, you’ll get through it. You know? I know at the beginning it’s tough and you think, you know, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
You don’t know what to expect and you’ll get through it.
David Hirsch: That’s great advice. So is there anything else that you’d like to share before we wrap up?
Bob Roybal: No, I’d just like to thank you for all the work you’re doing. It’s a worthy cause that you’re doing and it’s. Very helpful.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you. So, um, if somebody wanted to follow up to learn more about the Paralympics, where would they go?
Or how would they go about doing that?
Bob Roybal: Go on the internet. You know, the internet, you can find anything on the internet now. You know, just look up, uh, US Paralympics and all the different sports that’ll explain what it is. And I believe you did on the website. It’ll give you a whole overview of the history of it and everything.
David Hirsch: So Bob, thank you for taking the time and for sharing so many insights. As a reminder, Bob is just one of the dads who has agreed to be a mentor. Father, as part of the Special Father’s Network, a mentoring program for fathers, raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or seeking advice from a mentor father. With a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thanks again, Bob.
Bob Roybal: Thank you, Dave.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process. New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation.
It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers. Sometimes the mentor father is just there to answer a few questions. Sometimes they become good friends. It’s a proven support system for new fathers with special needs kids. If you’re a father looking for support or if you’re a dad who’d like to offer support, go to 21stcenturydads.org that’s 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And thank you for listening to this Special Fathers Network podcast. Stories of fathers helping fathers.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network podcast was produced for 21st Century Dads by Couch Audio music provided by Purple Planet. Find out more purple-planet.com and to find out more about 21st Century Dads, go to 21stcenturydads.org.