Monday, December 6, 2010


Yesterday I watched one of my favorite shows, called Real Sports With Bryan Gumbel. One of the segments was about a father and son team. The son was born with his mother’s umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He had been deprived of oxygen long enough to cause severe motor and mental damage. He was unable to move any part of his body or speak. At the time of his birth, his parents decided to care for him at home rather than put him into a facility. This meant dealing with every aspect of his life, for the rest of his life. Washing him, carrying him, grooming him, feeding him and all else associated with a person who can’t do anything for himself. They did realize however, that he was alert and far from mentally challenged.

As the boy grew into a young man, they found a way to communicate with him. With the help of a machine conceived for him, the young man goes through each letter of the alphabet until he finds the one he needs to formulate a word. The process is painstaking and time consuming, but allowed the young man one day to express, quite eloquently, a very specific thought. He wanted to take part in a triathlon.

His father, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, was out of shape and frankly, not at all prepared for such a request. However, now that he was divorced, he could dedicate himself entirely to his son and try to fulfill his wish. He and his son moved to the country and together, they undertook the grueling task of getting into shape.

The father hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a boy, but now he was riding twenty-four miles with his son strapped in a special seat attached to his handlebars. The father was never able to swim more than a few feet. But now, not only was he swimming, but also he was pulling his son behind him in a dingy for two miles. The father hadn’t jogged much in his life. But now he was jogging six miles while pushing a carriage in front of him with his son in it. All of this for their first triathlon as a team.

The two of them began their journey of training and competing almost thirty years ago and have never stopped since. They continue to do so, always placing among the first. People have taken notice, and over the years, father and son have gained a certain celebrity status. Thanks to their example, currently there exist groups of volunteers that run or jog pushing mentally and physically impaired children in carriages. Parents, who have met or heard of the team, have been motivated to become more active with their disabled child.

In the interview, the father said he was convinced that his son had made him an athlete. He said, that if he had tried to do the triathlon on his own, without his son, he wouldn’t have succeeded. When the interviewer asked him what the secret was, the father simply answered “devotion.”

I am in awe of this father and son team. They took a devastating situation and turned it into a mutually beneficial, and healthy collaboration. They made lemon parfait out of sour lemons. I’m fascinated how the father found his motivation through his son’s impairment. The father isn’t racing the triathlons on his own energy. There is a flow from son to father and vice versa. They have a symbiotic connection, whereby the son gives his dad the strength and energy, which is trapped in his body and that he himself will never be able to release. The father, through his athletic prowess, makes it possible for his son to thrive beyond the confines of his disability. And in the process, they inspire hundreds of others to see their own disabled child in a different, much more positive light.

I often wonder if we are all gifted with the capacity to go beyond ourselves and ardently dedicate time and energy to another, knowing that nothing will ever be given in return? In the depth of my soul, I tend to believe that devotion is the core of who we are. It’s all that is good in us, all that makes a life worthy. I’m mistaken to assume that nothing is gotten in return because in fact, devotion to another human being brings rewards beyond our imagination. Much more important than the father/son celebrity status, is the joy they feel achieving their goals, the peace of mind for having done their best, and the bond they have forged along the way. 

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