097 – SFN Mentor Fathers & Adaptive Sports: A Compilation
We’ll hear excerpts of some of host David Hirsch’s conversations with five special fathers. These Fathers of kids with special needs have used adaptive sports to give their children’s lives purpose and great meaning. We’ll hear from Gregg Chalmers. Gregg’s son Ryan is a Paralympic champion with Spina bifida who has pushed his wheelchair all the way across America. We’ll hear from Air Force veteran Bob Roybal. Bob’s son Brody, has no legs and is a forward for the three-time-champion U.S. Paralympic hockey team. Then there’s Angel City sports founder Clayton Frech whose 14 year old son Ezra was born missing his left knee and fibula and with only one finger on his left had. Ezra is a gifted athlete and motivational speaker. And finally we’ll hear about Bob Mendez’ son Robert who was born with no legs or arms but went on to become a successful and inspirational high school varsity football coach. Then there’s Jim Elliott who has two daughters with disabilities and is the founder of Diveheart,an organization that uses scuba to dramatically imiprove the lives of kids with special needs.
Dad to Dad 97 – SFN Mentor Fathers & Adaptive Sports: A Compilation
Tom Couch: This is the Special Fathers Network dad to dad podcast. 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. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org. This week on the dad to dad podcast, Special Fathers Network, mentor, fathers, and adaptive sports. A compilation.
Special Dad: My name is Brody Roybal. I am a forward on the U S national. My thought was we can get people with mobility issues out of their wheelchairs and the pools, and it doesn’t matter how deep it is. They’re getting relief from gravity stories all the time, people coming out of the hospitals and being told they’ll never do sports again, or they’re never walk again or all these things that they can’t do.
And they’re just wrong just because you have a physical disability doesn’t mean you can’t do these things when I’m pushing them off the field. After the games, it makes me feel like proud to have him as my coach. Let’s go with that floodplain. He’s kids would follow him no matter where he go. You can actually see the changes in the kids.
Great. What do you want to do with this? You know, and he said, I want to be, he was eight years old. He said, I want to be, I’m going to be a Paralympian. It’s ironic because that’s the path he took.
Tom Couch: We’ll hear excerpts of some of David Hirsch’s conversations with five special fathers. These fathers of kids with special needs have used adaptive sports to give their children’s lives, purpose and great meaning.
We’ll hear from Greg Chalmers. Greg’s son, Ryan is a Paralympic champion with spinal bifida, pushed his wheelchair all the way across America. We’ll hear from air force veteran. Bob Roybal, Bob son Brody has no legs. And as a forward three time champion, U S pair Olympic hockey team.
Then there’s angel city sports, founder, Clayton frack, whose 14 year old son as Sarah was born, missing his left knee and fibula. And with only one finger on his left hand, Ezra is a gifted athlete and motivational speaker. And finally, we’ll hear about Bob Mendez, his son, Robert. Who was born with no legs or arms, but went on to become a successful and inspirational high school, varsity football coach. But let’s start with Jim Elliot, who has two daughters with disabilities and is the founder of dive heart, an organization that uses scuba to dramatically improve the lives of kids with special needs.
Let’s listen in now as host David Hirsch talks to Jim Elliott.
Special Dad: My thought was we can get people with mobility issues out of their wheelchairs and the pools, and it doesn’t matter how deep it is. They’re getting relief from gravity. And that was my thought. And so I decided to start a nonprofit. I had trained some lawyers who I went to and I go, I have this crazy idea.
I want to start a nonprofit. Cold dive hard
and profit to help people with mobility issues and no idea that we would be helping people with autism and down syndrome and cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD. Um, we’ve done research with university medical centers like Midwestern university. We did the first study on autism and scuba therapy.
Uh, we’re working with Northwestern university now in Chicago. Um, John Hopkins went with one of our teams to the Cayman islands, which you’re familiar with, and they did a study with a bunch of veterans and PTSD and pain management and found that 80% of PTSD symptoms are alleviated. If you get them deep enough.
Three atmospheres 66 feet. And then usually the SA the tribute we’re on right now, the second day, usually people with chronic spinal cord pain, roll up in their wheelchairs on the side and go, I’ve been in chronic pain for 10 yours. This is the first time I’m paying free since my injury. And it lasts up to three weeks.
So one of our goals is to build the Jeep warm water facility in the Chicago land area. And so we’re talking to people now about building deepest, warm water therapy, people to revolutionize rehabilitation in the world.
David Hirsch: So what’s your vision for them?
Special Dad: Well, it’s it’s to do exactly that. It’s to create this paradigm shift where you haven’t unrealized.
Human potential that exists in people with disabilities. I believe one out of five people in the country world have a disability. This will be a re a facility that can be replicated around the world. That school. So that now we have 50 in the U S and a hundred worldwide. And all of a sudden in every community, there’s a facility where we can replicate the benefits of open water deep.
And I’m not it guys from Duke. When I presented it at grand rounds at Duke university medical center, they said, Jim, You’re, you’re not a doctor or a therapist. So be careful how you talk about hyperbaric medicine, but there are benefits to pressure. I mean, kids with autism, it’s an epidemic. Pressure’s a therapy.
You know, any dad or mom that has a kid with autism know that they have pressure vest and weighted blankets. In sensory deprivation rooms and diving does that, it takes away surface distractions. That ambient pressure helps him feel in his zone. We’ve had kids, I’ve had kids that I thought were nonverbal.
They were like you don’t and the teachers going, you’re not going to be able to do this with, if you don’t calm down Johnny. And all of a sudden they go down, come up 20 minutes later. And go, you know, I really enjoyed that. I have to try it again and you’re going, your mouths are falling up and going. Is this the same kid that got in the water with me, but with autism and a lot of cognitive disabilities, you kind of find that person inside and this house helps us do that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s just an amazing story.
Special Dad: And you know what the thing is to not only do you help the person of his family, but Dave is sphere of influence. So they help their neighbors. All of a sudden they see the kid in the wheelchair, you knew you were going to get me here. Right. Doing amazing things.
And that it helps the community.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you’re changing lives. You’re transforming lives. It’s very powerful. So there was somebody you were talking about earlier this week. I think his name was Robert. Um, what’s the deck story on Robert’s situation or some of the things that you were at?
Special Dad: Yeah.
David Hirsch: Help him do it
Special Dad: probably as a parent Robert’s story is just a nightmare.
Um, Robert at 10 was. Pick up on a playground by bullies and turned upside down and was driven. His head was driven into the concrete resulting in a C5 spinal cord injury, incomplete injury. So he had some movement in his arms and legs complications from that led to an aneurysm and a stroke. So Robert is one messed up too.
Right. And then in. May this year, we brought him here to mal and because he had some leg movement, I made the dive masters that were working with them. I made him bring them down last dive at the last dive day and a nice Sandy flat. It was a mild current, and I got him nice and vertical where he was standing like, and he was able to with his breath control look like he was walking on the moon.
I mean, And the moon you could, if you, if you move the little and jumped a little, you’d go up a few feet and be able to come down and under water. We can do that with our breath. It’s an eight that the environment’s 800 times denser than, than air. But when we scuba, we can get them weighted properly and allow them to become astronauts here.
I don’t know if we call that their astronaut moment and they become aquanauts, you know, which is very similar to being an astronaut. And we had him running. I filmed him for eight straight minutes, swimming backwards.
David Hirsch: You were swimming.
Special Dad: I was swimming backwards, videotaping him, watching him run across the Sandy flat and bounce up and look like he was going to fall on his face and use his breath to come back and control his buoyancy.
It’s amazing in this
David Hirsch: video on 30 feet under the ocean surface walking without holding me up for the
Special Dad: first time in over a decade, it’s an
David Hirsch: incredible. That I never imagined that I would have
Special Dad: totally have. I want every PT and OT, occupational therapist and physical therapist and rehab doc in the world to see that cause they’ll sign up for, for scuba therapy in two seconds.
If they see that video.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So for the last
Special Dad: 10 years you have been in a wheelchair for the most part, right? You have napped in vertical, right?
David Hirsch: Right. For the last 13 plus years or 10 plus years. Okay.
Special Dad: You’re on the bottom. Your feet are touching. You’re using your breath to control your buoyancy.
What’s it like?
David Hirsch: I’ve never been out in
Special Dad: the Earth’s
David Hirsch: gravitational pull, but I would have to liken it to being in space, like on the moon, like
Special Dad: wait, listens.
David Hirsch: Totally.
Tom Couch: Now we’ll hear from Ryan Chalmers, his dad, Greg Chalmers, when Ryan was born with spinal bifida, they were hearing some pessimistic projections from the hospital where he was born.
But Greg didn’t like what he was hearing and change the situation. Ryan went on to become a para Olympic champion who also pushed his wheelchair all across America.
Special Dad: Linda gave birth. It was a tough pregnancy, was a tough delivery. And, um, She gave birth in the first thing Linda asked the doctor without even seeing Ryan was, is his back.
Okay. Which was, which was, um, in retrospect it was amazing that she would ask that because she foresaw it and the doctor looked at Lyndon and said,
David Hirsch: no.
Special Dad: Oh my gosh. And unfortunately, the doctor did not have a very good, good bedside manner and the place. Um, Ryan and Linda’s chest and said your child’s not going to make it through the night.
Oh my God. Spinal bifida. In Ryan’s case, there was an opening intrusion on his back spinal column. In his, his case, there was an out, you know, a slight, a slight protrusion on his back. And when the doctor wiped that off, it happened under exposed as spinal column two. To the elements of the environment. And they basically told us that he wasn’t going to make it.
And, and then he went on to say that. If he did make it, you know, he wouldn’t live past 16 years of age. So long story short, we were up all night. They were going to care for Linda. They were going to care for Ryan and they sent me home. Cause two years of age is a tough time to lose somebody and grow that close to him.
What do you pray for? And I can remember going home. And it was a very, very, very tough night. And I thought, you know what? I know this is the military. I know this, this doctor’s a Colonel. I know I’m, I’m in less enlisted, but I got picked up and I drove back to the hospital and I walked in. I said, I want to move Ryan.
And they said, what? I said, I want to transform to another hospital. And the con the doctor said he is fine, where he is. And I went. To a payphone at the time they don’t have those anymore. I went to a payphone and I called nine one one, and I asked for an ambulance to come to peace air force base to transfer my son to a local hospital.
And we went into Portsmouth. Regional. The chief of surgery came in. Linda was still in the hospital at peace there for space, and they transferred him to this other hospital. And rush them through as though he was, you know, an urgent care immediate need. Boom, boom, boom. Chief of neurology came in. Dr.
Miller came in, rushed, a man carried him in. They didn’t put them in a stretcher, carried him into a surgery. They took him right into surgery to close the spinal column. And, um, while Ryan was in surgery, I received a call from Portsmouth regional hospital that told me that my wife had excessive bleeding and they didn’t know if she was going to survive.
David Hirsch: Oh my God. So she’s still back on the military base, right?
Special Dad: She’s in the military base and I’m over it. Another hospital with my son and I called Linda and there weren’t cell phones at the time I asked to speak to her and Linda and I know Linda. And when I, I heard the tone of her voice, I knew she too serious.
She said, you
David Hirsch: stay
Special Dad: with Ryan and I’m like, Linda, you know, and I’m thinking, yeah, I’m going to, I’m going to lose the mother of my child, the love of my life and, and my wife. And she’s telling me, you stay with Ryan. And I stayed with him and there was nothing more impacting beautiful in my life. From the moment I had, when dr.
Miller walked out of the surgery room and said, your son is going to be fine. And I shared with them and I said, I was told he wouldn’t live beyond 16. And he said he almost laughed and hugged me and said, your son is going to have a wonderful life. And the fact that I could call my wife who was fighting for her own and tell her, you know, what Ryan is going to be.
Okay. Well, that was, that was probably the greatest moment of my life. There was a point in time when for whatever surgery Ryan had, I can’t even count them or, I mean, he has been in the hospital so many times to do with some Rochester, the strong hospital here in Rochester, and they young woman. Young woman.
And she’ll hug me for saying that, um, rolled into his room. She was a Paralympic athlete herself rolled into the room and said, this young man would be a great athlete on my team. And we never met her. Never knew her Joanne Armstrong. She was a gold medalist in the Paralympic games back in the sixties.
And she had started a program for you, young, disabled kids to participate in wheelchair sports. We, we told her we’d get back to her and Ryan was encouraged. And as soon as we got to the hospital, he said, I want to go. He adored Joanne Armstrong. He just glowed when she was around. And I can remember we did a five K race.
Churchville New York. And he had just had a spotlight for whatever reason in sports illustrated is this young athlete that was excelling in wheelchair sports. So that national attention brought a little local attention to him. And there was a, I think I still have the recording. There was a newscaster that came to him and said, what do you want to do with this?
You know? And he said, I, he was eight years old. He said, I want to be, I’m going to be a Paralympian. I’m going to be. Uh, be an Olympian. I am going to work hard and I’m going to be in Olympia. He was just funny. And we laughed at the time. I said, that’s okay. He wants to be Joanne Armstrong. But, um, it’s ironic because that’s the path he took.
He worked hard. He. He focused. He, he did wheelchair track and field. He did basketball with the Rochester rockets here. He went through regionals and so forth and yeah, the visibility to be spotted by the university of Illinois to join their team. And they tapped him and said, Hey, you have a sports scholarship.
And, um, you know, from regional to. World competitions. He’s gone to Sydney, Australia, Dublin, Ireland, Johannesburg, South Africa, the London Paralympics.
David Hirsch: He’s just. Sports
Special Dad: sports sports.
David Hirsch: So push across America. As I remember, it was a 71 day 3,100 plus mile. That’s from LA to New York city. Great. And, uh, he lived, he lived in town story.
Special Dad: He lived to tell the story, his mother and father almost did not, but he did.
David Hirsch: That’s quite an accomplishment.
Special Dad: It is an accomplishment. He rolled Ryan made the Paralympic games and he had done the Paralympic games in, in London. And when he came off of that and he said, you know what? We need to bring this awareness, this support, this Paralympic movement to the United States.
And that’s where he started jumping on this. Push across America to bring awareness and in the U S for key abilities of people with disabilities,
David Hirsch: he began his journey in Los Angeles covering an average of 60 miles each day. We caught up with him during a scheduled rest stop in New Jersey. What’s the message you hope to send with this trip?
Special Dad: It really
David Hirsch: is just never give up. Stay focused. Nope. Find your reason. Find your passion, you know, set goals for yourself and really just go out and achieve.
Tom Couch: Now let’s hear from Brody. Roy Paul’s dad, Bob Roybal Brody was born a congenital amputee. But that didn’t stop him. He went on to become a three time champion at the U S Paralympic hockey team.
We’re in front
David Hirsch: My name is Brody Roybal. I am a forward on the U S national sled hockey team. The first time you see a sled hockey, it’s different than any of the stabled sport you’ve ever seen before. Most of your day, you spend the. Wheelchair and you have limitations, stuff like that, but one child on the ice, you get to just skate as fast as you want get to be aggressive.
And I mean, just everything about thinking. I absolutely love it. We, we, 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, you know, able-bodied kids in the neighborhood. 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 they take kids five years old, all the way up until I believe 21 years old, they try to anybody. They try not to turn anybody away. You know what 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 and, you know, play the game also.
Okay. But that’s, that was the. The big, that was where he really got his start playing hockey. He played with them from the time he was seven years old until he was 12
Special Dad: years old.
David Hirsch: He had gotten pretty good at, by the time he was 12 years old, then 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 the. 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.
They have a hockey team, so he started playing for the men’s team there. And so how old was he when he transitioned from, he was 12 years old when he started playing in a men’s league. Everybody else’s 18 and above for the most part. Yeah. Up to how old. Oh, there’s guys that are in their fifties. Oh my gosh.
Yeah. Yeah. So then he started playing with the men’s team and then a 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. Then he went and played, uh, I believe on the developmental team. One or two years. And, uh, Ben, when he was 15, he made it to the national team and, and that’s the team that went to Sochi. So she Russia from playing the Paralympics. And, but that was four years ago.
Four years ago. Yeah. Pretty nice show and tell for your sophomore high school class, bring in a gold medal Brody rival from
Tom Couch: Mount
David Hirsch: Rose Park, Illinois. One of his youth coaches said he could become the best sled hockey player ever. That’s amazing. Yeah. And your whole family had a chance to travel to associate?
Yes, we did. So, uh, four years ago, Brody was on the gold medal hockey team. The Paralympic hockey team four years have elapsed in the interim and he’s got another job you need to go to Korea right here. He is leaving shortly and he’s leaving a couple of days. Yeah.
Tom Couch: And it was a successful trip as Brody in the U S sled hockey team won another gold medal at the winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
It was the team’s third
David Hirsch: when I was seven. I was just trying to find any sport really to play at the time. Yes. 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 different ones out and then finally found sled hockey and immediately fell in love with it.
And I’ve been playing ever since.
Tom Couch: Another inspiring story is that of as refrack Ezra was born, missing his left knee and fibula and with only one finger on his left hand, but his dad. Clayton frack made it possible for Asmara to realize his full athletic potential with track and field. Ezra 14 is also a gifted and celebrated and motivational speaker.
David Hirsch: Anything is
Special Dad: possible. Um, any sports are possible. And
David Hirsch: just let me clarify. I apologize to interrupt. Um, you got the advice before mom, baby, and dad left the hospital. That he was likely to, he was going to have a prosthetic leg and do something like a total hand that was at the very beginning. That is, wow.
Special Dad: It was like, you know, the like day two in the hospital or something, it was a, it was pretty incredible to have that perspective early on. And, and it was just the perfect. Guidance. I mean, it was literally just a two minute conversation in the hallway with this orthopedic surgeon, you know, and he had, he’d been around a long time and seen a lot of, obviously I’ve seen a lot of these, these kids and, um, and almost more than his words or just the tone.
Cause when you talk about an individual or community like this and just sort of that matter of fact, it just makes it not as big a deal. It’s not charged with emotion or pity or. Sympathy or anything, he was like, he’s going to be a great, I mean, just, and then just another normal kid running around.
You’re gonna have to chase him just cause he’s on a prosthetic leg. No big deal.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well that is remarkable. And what a blessing that was, you know, looking back on it, that, you know, somebody who had been there and done that, you know, dozens or hundreds of times with other, you know, young people or adults for that matter.
Um, could you share that insight with you from the very beginning? So you’re not like. Totally jazzed up emotionally and, you know, worry warts about, you know, what the future is going to be in. The glass is going to be not even half empty, it’s going to be a quarter full. So
Special Dad: that’s wild. Hey, I agree. A hundred percent.
David Hirsch: What an interesting perspective to have from the very beginning. Not everybody is that fortunate, right? Everybody has a little bit different, uh, starting
Special Dad: you’re you’re you’re right. I mean, I’ll give you another data point. So we, you know, we do adaptive and Paralympic sports programming, and I know we’ll talk about later, but.
You know, we hear stories all the time. People coming out of the hospitals and being told, they’ll never do sports again, or they’re never walk again or all these things that they can’t do. And they’re just wrong in many cases, just because you have a physical disability doesn’t mean you can’t do these things.
It means they need to, maybe something needs to be adapted for you, but you can do just about anything. So it is very powerful. It’s advice for us.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I think the, um, message that you’ve shared is that anything is possible. So, um, I remember you talking previously about the fact that Bahar as a former actress and that you use the word script very specifically.
Um, and I know that that’s something that you associated with being an actor and actress, but, uh, in your family situation, share with me what it was that you were talking about when you said script.
Special Dad: It wasn’t our innovation. It was from a child development specialist, Betsy Brown, Brown, who has written some books.
And this was her strategy for many kids with differences. So we worked with Betsy to create this script for Ezra, just like a one, one and a half page document that explains his situation, but uses the words that we’re going to use. And it calls out the words that we’re not going to use and kind of warns people that are reading it, that if you sort of deviate from the script, they’ll be surprised that we’re going to call you on it.
And so, and so we use the script from very early on, um, in explaining. As there was differences to anybody that needed to know. Right. And what I think Steve was very helpful for Ezra was being very proactive in sending the script around ahead of him going to a preschool or to a camp, or when he started, um, elementary school and kindergarten, you know, w we send this out to teachers, administrators, coaches, fellow parents.
Right. I mean, that’s probably the most impactful thing you can do is send it to the parents. Cause the kids are gonna ask their parents about this kid that doesn’t have a leg or has it as two fingers on his hand or whatever. Uh, and the theory here was over time. Could we kind of stamp out some, you know, uh, the, the wrong language and sort of things that might be mean.
Um, and create a little bit of a safer environment for him to, to develop and grow. Interestingly, we didn’t really think about this as a benefit, but it absolutely happened, which is he heard the script right over and over and over by, you know, mostly my wife and I, but certainly other core family members, right.
Would, would, would be able to use the script and know the script pretty well. And so what happened. Was by for my four years old preschool, he starting to get invited to speak at schools and share his story. And as a preschooler, walking into a grade school and talking to classes or even bigger assemblies, he had his stories so well down.
I mean, he doesn’t really get nervous speaking. Cause he’s just sharing his story and his story is always the same and it’s, we use the same words and it’s like, and it becomes part of him. It’s so, and so he sort of turns into this motivational speaker
David Hirsch: tar
Special Dad: and a ton of sports.
David Hirsch: Last year, I said seven national records in track and field.
Is that hard to believe because of my leg? Well, that’s because you’ve never seen me in action. I just don’t quit
Special Dad: advocate. Handle a live interview with Ellen degenerate
David Hirsch: is love sports, but you’re really good at all sports. So when did you realize that you were good at everything? I’ve always loved it since I was a baby. I’ve always been very active, having fun playing with my friends, but when I play sports, I feel at home, I don’t feel different.
I feel like I’m just one of the guys. Yeah. Well, and you are
so, and you have a coach that gave you a really great motto. What does that motto? Uh, it was finished. Well, I was a little kindergarten or playing basketball and I missed a couple of shots. And then I missed all my shots and I got upset and I ran away. And my PE coach, coach chow, was watching me and he came up and he said, Hey buddy, you might’ve missed all your shots, but you’re going to go out there and make another shot no matter what.
And you’re going to finish well and a little kindergarten, I don’t know what that meant. I just was going to go home and say, Oh, who am I going to tell them? Too, but, uh, as I got older, like doing a race, maybe I slip and fall at the beginning, I get up and I go, okay, finish. Well, finish one. It just drive harder and harder and harder.
And then eventually you get to the finish line. Good for
Special Dad: He featured on Huffington post and CBS sports. He just doesn’t, he doesn’t stress in these moments. Cause it’s just him. And he’s been telling on a story for his whole life and he’s heard it for literally since, you know, five, six months old or whenever we got the prescriptive. So I advise parents, I don’t care how old your kid is.
If you don’t have a script, go write one tonight. Right? If there’s something obvious about your child, that’s different. And they’re going to get asked about it and they’re going to get called out or they’re going to get bullied or harassed.
David Hirsch: You got
Special Dad: to help them help give them the words to share their story.
And. I mean, it’s had a transformational effect on this child.
Tom Couch: And lastly, here’s Bob Mendez. Bob’s son. Robert was born with no legs and no arms, but he was born with a competitive fire and he used that fire to become a beloved and successful high school, varsity football coach.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk a little bit about Robert’s love of sports.
Where did that come from? And how did that transpire from a young age? Oh God, he was born with that. Absolutely boy. He was, he used to do quite a bit when he was younger. I’m not, not so much now because his hips are probably pretty sore right now. But back then, you know, he used to walk around on his hip seat.
He’d swing a plastic bat and we took them skiing. They basically, they put them in a kind of a seat with a ski and then they had an instructor. And I hanging onto them with rains and they’d let them go and controllers control the speed, but he controlled everything else as far as turns and stuff. And he ate a few times, but he loved it.
He loved that thing and we couldn’t believe that it was impossible. That swing swing was a big thing too. Oh, him being a little hotter than normal swimming was a huge relief. He did quite as much as, as much as you would think he could do. He did even been playing the drums seventh grade, I think the seventh grade band.
So I have any surprises in a lot of ways, and I’m sure you did a lot of other people also. Yeah. Well, it’s another reminder not to put any limits on your child, you know, because of a physical or an intellectual disability. And if they’ve got the desire, you know, I think it’s our responsibility as parents to try to figure out how to connect those dots for how to help them connect those dots.
So it’s very inspiring to hear these stories. So his love of sports and lots of different sports somehow manifested with football. What was it early on that sort of peaked his interest in football? Cause that’s not something he was able to do himself. No, I think, um, I think playing those games, I love to do with that.
He got pretty good at it. Joined some tournaments and actually do well in the tournaments. Also. Uh, people couldn’t believe that, but. They couldn’t believe they were playing against a kid with alarms. So I think he just took a real liking to it when he was in high school. Was he involved with the football team and one way or another or not?
Yeah, I think it’s persistence just got him out there. He would watch my distance and I think the coaches realized or noticed he was out there every day. So he got an invitation from them and. Come on over. I was, you know, he was so pumped about that. I remember him coming home and talking about that. They found a role for him, you know, and it made him feel like he was fitting in.
And that was important. Real important to him. I think Della, when he talks about it started, if I can just reflect on what you’ve said, playing like a electronic game, like Madden football, which you became good at and competitive for that matter. So we must have a competitive spirit. And it morphed into high school football where a was more of a spectator or bystander.
And then he got invited to be part of the team. And how did that transpire? I should say, from being involved with the high school football team while he was in high school himself to wanting to coach, what was the turning point or what was it that sort of drove him? Do you think that we’ve heard him say it for the first time?
Not that long ago. That I hate to lose. Like, I’ve never heard him say that up until about a few months ago at the first time I ever heard him say that. Yeah. Well, that’s hard to teach somebody, right? I think people have different drivers. Yeah. You know, he, he says that and at the same time, he’ll tell me what you have to lose to learn how to lose it.
You have to know how to lose. Otherwise you don’t learn from it. And where he gets all this knowledge, like an old man. I have no idea.
Well, I’m going to say that the Apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree.
Uh, you know, I, uh, I learned about your family situation, Robert situation, specifically from this amazing story that ESPN did not so long ago, right. Just months ago now. And part of it is. The beginning where. You and Josie are interviewed as some background things that you and I get to do in 10 minutes might take him an hour, but he never complained about it.
Special Dad: Robert was just a really easy child and he just was really, really happy.
He’s got a gift. So it doesn’t require some to be physical, making them aware of that. I think he just took the ball around.
What happened was that, uh, I guess one of the producers for me in his parents saw an article that, uh, mercury did sounds like mercury and, um, somehow contacted him through the writer and they got to talk. And then. So it happened, it happened right after they spoke once about me. So I think she was out here two days.
Oh wow. The documentary was actually supposed to come to an end before the season started, I think. And then they said, you know, Hey, let’s go through the season. And they did. They lost her first game. Ended up winning. I don’t know. I don’t know how many more a total wreck. I was like 82 at the end of the season and ended up losing.
By three points in the championship game. So somebody said that the only thing that could’ve made this documentary better is if you’d won. And I said, yeah, maybe not, maybe as a part too.
Yeah, we’ll see.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Yeah, well, I watched the documentary. I don’t know how many times. I’ll just be honest with you. It was so inspiring at this time.
Special Dad: I just want to introduce to you your new JV head coach. Rob Mendez.
Appreciate it. That coach Campbell. Thank you, coach. You know, football is my passion. This is going to be my 13th year coaching and I can’t wait to get to know every single one of you. Believe in yourself, believe in your teammates and believe in what you’re doing. Are we clear gentlemen? I’m excited guys.
Obviously it was a little shocking and there was jokes going around. Typical teenagers, you know, and guy with no arms or legs. Not a lot of people have seen that. If you’re taken back, that’s your snack. But after the first two seconds, it’s just a normal guy.
I don’t care how good you are. I don’t care how experienced you are.
You guys are gonna do everything as a team though. He may not look like a coach. He definitely acts like one, one day. I care about more than anything is being a family. That is one thing I take pride on. I love people. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love everyone. So, if you guys can’t show love on this football field, then you better get off me.
You know, it’s like, wow. Um, it was so real. And then, you know, they get into the football season and then he is barking at these, uh, players to give their best. And I give it all they have. And you know, what a role model it is to so many people, uh, other coaches and parents, and you know, these young athletes just to have brushed up against Robert.
They’re not going to be the same person. Right. They’re going to be better people as a result of that. And then I think what you were describing is that there’s a championship game at zero to zero, going into the fourth quarter, the other team’s scores, they get a, like a field goal or something and, you know, you’re just rooting for them, right.
Just to make that last play, get the touchdown. And they came up short and I think what Robert had to say to his players, Which demonstrated, like you were talking about earlier so much maturity for a young guy, like a young man, like you, right. To be able to console them. And to let them know that, Hey, if you get your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
You know, keep your heads up. Now this is life, right. It’s going to hurt today. And that’s okay if it hurts because we cared a lot. Because we love this game of football.
I really sincerely want you guys to \understand how much I appreciate this.
You guys have given me a lifetime of memories. They’d always doubt him. Cause they see a man in a wheelchair to us. We see our coach. Who’s perfect.
Well, I’m pushing them off the field. After the games. It makes me feel like proud to have him as my coach. Well, let’s go with that floodplain. He’s kids would follow him no matter where he’d go and you can actually see the changes in the kids.
Can I give you a hug? Can I get a hug? You want the best for your children? And I told him one time, there’s not a lot of money, this rubber. And he told me not everybody does what they do for money.
Right. They gave me the feeling of importance. And I don’t think they know that and understand that maybe they will one day, but, uh,
I love those kids and I’m always going to remember them. Yeah. I think we make a perfect team. Can we agree on that? Can we agree on that? Who says, who says I can.
Tom Couch: So that does it. Thanks for listening to this Special Fathers Network, dad to dad podcast, we hope you enjoyed these inspiring stories of young adults and their dads overcoming obstacles to do truly incredible things. David Hirsch. We’ll be back next time with another conversation with another special father.
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, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups, and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen. The dad to dad podcast is produced by Couch Audio for the Special Fathers Network. Thanks for listening.