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Authors: Pat LaFontaine,Ernie Valutis,Chas Griffin,Larry Weisman

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BOOK: Companions in Courage
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Winning didn’t change the other elements in Rich Morton’s life. Some things have remained constant and true to this day. Every
time he goes to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo for a checkup, he leaves grateful for the gift of life. Yes, Rich
has had cancer twice. Yes, he goes to Roswell to make sure that his cancer is under control. But he comes away appreciating
the blessing of his own life and the indomitable spirit of the people who are fighting for their own.

In the fall of 1999 Rich was at Roswell for his four-month checkup. As he departed, he couldn’t help but notice a weary-looking
teenage boy about the same age as most of his players at Salamanca. The doctors were drawing his blood and examining his drained
body. Morton understood the kid’s struggle because he knew firsthand just how much energy cancer saps from the body. When
he walked by, he gave the kid the thumbs-up sign; the boy barely smiled.

Driving back to Salamanca, Morton couldn’t stop thinking about the young man and the hard path before him. When he met his
football team for practice later that afternoon, he felt acutely aware of how healthy his players were compared to the kid
he had seen earlier that day. He did not want to hear their complaints about running wind sprints or being tired. He called
them together and began telling them about the boy at Roswell. The team, intent on its final preparations for the Class C
state title game in Syracuse, listened carefully. Morton asked a question: “What do you guys think that kid would choose—the
demand and the soreness from a few conditioning wind sprints or the fatigue from his cancer treatment?” The silence gave him
his answer.

Coach Morton, as he always tried to do, used football to teach his team about life. The lesson: “Keep things in perspective,
guys. Be grateful for your health. Work hard to become better at everything you do. Don’t waste good, positive energy complaining.”

The Salamanca Warriors had a spirited practice that night, in keeping with the emotional high of a title game. The team and
everyone in town bubbled with excitement about the championship game to be played in the Syracuse University Carrier Dome.
Morton felt that same enthusiasm but found himself oddly pensive too.

He sat alone, reflecting on the last two years. In 1997, Morton wasn’t sure he would be alive, let alone a husband, a father
to his kids, or a coach to his team. He had survived a bout with testicular cancer in 1991 and thought he was cancer-free
until he was jogging one summer morning and had trouble breathing. On July Fourth he went to Roswell to get a checkup.

Three days later Coach Morton was told to come to the hospital immediately. He had a softball-size tumor in his chest. He
began chemotherapy the next day.

His wife, Julie, his daughters, Britney and Andrea, and son, Eric, pulled together on a “God Job.” They reminded him: “God
heaps challenges on you, and he’s there to get you through.”

Those challenges can seem insurmountable.

“That was a very difficult period in my life, and hopefully I won’t have to go through it again,” he says. “You don’t know
if you’re going to live or die. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy.”

Easy as it is to question fate, Morton instead stuck to a path of healing.

“I don’t ask why it happened to me. I just asked for the strength to get me through it. I think that’s what’s so important
about sports, how it can teach kids to deal with things. This year was just another hurdle you have to deal with. We’re dealing
with kids here, it’s important that we teach them about the game of life as well as the game of football.”

The Salamanca Warriors played inspired football in 1999. Each opponent reminded the players of the foe their inspiring coach
fought each day. His courageous attitude, his hard work, and his understanding of a “God Job” required them to dig deep inside
themselves to play up to their potential.

When Coach Morton stood on the sidelines at the Carrier Dome and listened to his daughters sing the national anthem, his heart
offered a hymn of gratitude for his life, his family, his team, and his challenges.

Often it is not the end of a journey that is the reward. It is the journey itself that is the blessing.

Rick and Dick Hoyt

he captain of the North Reading, Pennsylvania, high school football team married a cheerleader. Sounds like a little bit of
the American dream, right? Well, Dick and Judy Hoyt lived a nightmare but persevered to ensure a happy ending.

When their first child, Rick, was born in 1962, they hardly knew what to say or do when they were told he was a non-verbal
quadriplegic. They were barely more than kids themselves, neither over twenty, and they’d just been told to institutionalize
their son.

“We felt like we were at the bottom of a black hole,” Judy says. “Someone had just put a cover over our dreams and snuffed
them out.”

The couple had known a different life, one of achievement and high standards. They wanted and expected more. So they rejected
the doctor’s advice and sought counsel from the minister who had married them. He told them that they had another choice—“Keep
Rick at home. Love him, take one day at a time, and see where it leads you. Who knows what will happen?”

They took those words to heart, and that decision started an incredible series of events that demonstrate the power of love.
Two young parents had a handicapped child, no rules or precedent to guide them, a society that tends to hide folk that don’t
fit an acceptable standard, shattered dreams, and their future in front of them. When adversity is met with love, commitment,
and determination, it brings out the best in us.

When Judy and Dick drove away from the hospital after Rick’s birth, Dick cried, one of the few times that has ever happened.
Their son needed constant attention. Judy was beside herself at times: “Sometimes I screamed, ‘I just can’t take care of this
child!’ One day I was so angry I went into a closet and screamed and cried. There were times I hated Rick.”

Some of their friends agreed with the doctor and thought they should put Rick in a home. Some thought he was retarded. Eight
months into their parental challenge, Rick was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and that, oddly enough, was good news. With
each day that passed, it was becoming clear to Judy that Rick was not retarded. He could have a life, a real life, and his
family would see to it that he did.

Rob, who was born in 1964, and Russ, who was born in 1967, became involved in Rick’s care and instruction as they got older.
Through the help of Children’s Hospital, Judy gradually exposed Rick to the world of sensory perception. She played music,
banged on pans, and rubbed his skin with different fabrics. She began teaching him the alphabet by using sandpaper letters
glued to blocks. Judy was heartened when she realized that Rick had a sense of humor—he started laughing at her jokes.

While these developments were encouraging, Dick struggled. He seemed to always have a reason to be out of the house. The lion’s
share of the parenting was Judy’s.

When Rick reached school age, the Hoyts faced new challenges but found new friends to help them through. Dr. William Crochetiere
of Tufts University and Rick Foulds, a grad student, introduced them to Tufts Interactive Communicator. Through the use of
a head switch, Rick could select letters from a panel. The Hoyts called it the Hope Machine. Through innovative fund-raising
and the help of their neighbors, the Hoyts were able to bring the TIC home in 1972. They were about to “hear” Rick speak.
The family couldn’t believe it when he tapped out his first words— “Go Bruins.” Boston was in the Stanley Cup finals and Rick
was cheering them on. He smiled with delight.

“It marked a time for people outside our family to realize that Rick was intelligent and that I was not just some crazy mother
saying, ‘My kid is bright,’” Judy says.

Because of Judy’s efforts, Rick was able to enter public school in 1975. When he reached his senior year at the age of nineteen,
he wrote an essay titled, “What It Is Like to Be a Nonverbal Person.” In his writing, Rick let loose his feelings of anger
and of being cheated, despite his family’s unceasing efforts.

“I felt and knew I was different,” he wrote. “I understood all the things said to me. Being a nonverbal person does not make
one any less of a human being. I have the same feelings as anyone else. I feel sadness, joy, hunger, love, compassion, and

In 1978 a local college sponsored a five-mile race to raise funds for an injured lacrosse player. Rick asked his dad if he
would push him in the race. Dick agreed and they entered the competition. With Dick pushing Rick in his awkward wheelchair,
they finished next to last, but their relationship and their joint athletic endeavors were launched.

That night, Rick went to his computer and typed out with his head, “Dad, when I’m out running, I feel like I’m not handicapped.”
Dick was moved by his son’s message. They had a running chair designed and built, and the father-son racing tandem began to
train. This breakthrough meant as much or more to Dick as it did to Rick. Formerly aloof, he became more intimately involved
in the lives of all three of his sons as he worked more and more with Rick.

In just two years the Hoyts were entering fifty races a year, with Rick and Dick running the races and Judy, Rob, and Russ
providing support. Sometimes they would race three times on a weekend. They thrived on the competition and their relationship
with each other and their fans grew in number. In the heat of a race, Rick would urge his dad on by moving his arms and legs.
Dick says, “I had to tell him to take it easy. You’re going to tip the chair over. Rick encourages me if he hears me breathing
hard. He turns around and gives me a smile. Rick and I talk together by me just looking at his eyes.”

Once, after a mediocre race, Rick wrote on his machine, “Dad’s getting old. Maybe it’s time for a new pusher.”

In 1981 Dick and Rick unofficially entered the Boston Marathon by falling in behind the other wheelchairs. In November of
1982 they officially qualified by posting a time of 2:45 in the Marine Corps Marathon. They have run in practically every
Boston Marathon since and have become racing legends in New England. Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon,
expressed the sentiments of fans and athletes alike: “It’s a world-class effort. Everyone in marathoning is inspired by the

Next came triathlons, believe it or not. One of their ironman efforts stretches the bounds of the imagination. They competed
in the Ironman Canada Triathlon Championship, which began at 7
Eighteen hours later, the Hoyts were still on the course but within a hundred yards of the finish line. They were exhausted!

They had finished the 2.4-mile swim with Dick towing Rick in an inflatable dinghy; they had finished the 112-mile cycling
event riding their custom-made bike; now they were nearing the end of the 26.2-mile run. Rick looked back at his dad to encourage
him. The applause of the crowd, which was still four deep along the thoroughfare in Penticton, British Columbia, renewed their
resolve to finish this grueling test of endurance. They crossed the finish line with “Chariots of Fire” blaring over the PA.

It didn’t matter that the race had been won eight hours earlier. People knew the Hoyts were out there, and they wouldn’t miss
their finish for anything.

Beginning and finishing races on designated courses and in the tight corners of life’s uncertain terrain is a Hoyt family
trademark. Today Lieutenant Colonel Hoyt, a career officer in the National Guard, feeds, changes, and cradles Rick. He no
longer finds reasons to be out of the house. The rest of the Hoyts have also been active. Judy drafted a new Special Education
law; she helped form the Association for Human Services; she set up Kamp for Kids and earned a degree in childhood development;
and she “womaned” the support van during many of the races. Russ created the “spell method” to improve the speed of the Hope
Machine. Rob taught his dad to swim. What a family!

And what is Rick up to? He graduated from Boston University and now works at Boston College, helping design a new computer,
Eagle Eyes, that is controlled by eye and head movement. He has completed 780 races with his father, including 55 marathons
and 149 triathlons.

Rick’s handicap opened doors and pushed the Hoyts through them to achieve beyond their wildest dreams. In Judy’s words, “We’re
not the Brady Bunch. We’re not the perfect American family. We’re not any different from any other family. We’ve made what
could have been a ‘poor me’ experience into a positive.’’

If only we could all be so average.

Amp Campbell

rowing up in Sarasota, Florida, Amp Campbell had a dream. Someday he would play big-time college football. Someday he would
strap on the pads, buckle the chin strap, and contribute to a nationally ranked team, help it rise to the top. Maybe he would
even move on and compete with the professionals in the NFL.

He walked, talked, and breathed football. He listened to his heroes say, “You can do it.” He believed it. He practiced it.
He played it. Hard work, determination, and never losing sight of his lifelong goals brought him to his freshman year at Michigan
State University. In fact, he arrived in 1994 as
magazine and
USA Today
All America and
’s top cornerback in the country. He loved defense, and he loved the challenge and hitting that went with being an aggressive
cornerback. He proved it by leading Riverview High School to the state quarterfinals and returning twenty-three kicks for
touchdowns, a school record.

But life at Michigan State involved more than learning coverages. There were other books as important as the Spartans playbook.
Amp realized that a little late, and academic ineligibility tainted his freshman year. Amp blitzed the books, studied, and
improved his grades, and for the next two years enjoyed tremendous success with the Spartans. In 1996 he led the team in fumbles
caused. His hard-hitting style earned him the Tony Love award for the team’s most improved defensive player. In 1997 he was
voted all–Big Ten second team.

BOOK: Companions in Courage
11.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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