SEVEN HILLS, Ohio - The saying in Cleveland is “We are all witnesses.” In my job, getting a front row seat is among the many perks. Other benefits include getting free tickets--I mean press passes--to NBA playoff games (I swear I’m working).
A day of watching Browns practice is considered a long and sometimes even stressful day at the office. I interview some of the most famous athletes on the planet and it’s simply just another day in the life.
My job makes most ardent sports fans and even casual viewers jealous. However, I’ve come to realize the perks go beyond the courts and fields where the pros play.
This past Tuesday night I read "Option B," a book about resiliency. It tells many stories of people who endured awful tragedies or extreme challenges, yet still persevered in life. Reading these stories provided a sense of hope and encouragement.
On the same day, I also finished assembling a story about Dan Boyle. He is among the local athletes running in the Rite Aid Cleveland half-marathon on May 20. With him in the race will be his daughter Courtney Boyle, 16. She was born with Moebius Syndrome, which affects the brain stem.
“It affects her ability to walk, talk, sit up, eat, swallow, blink,” Dan Boyle explained. “She has really battled intestinal failure, so she has gone through that and she is actually all IV nutrition dependent, which is technically life support and she has not eaten in ten years.”
Despite his daughter’s condition, when I met Dan Boyle he was lively, upbeat and extremely friendly. Courtney Boyle, who I could tell right away has special needs, is definitely a daddy’s girl. I interviewed Dan Boyle, while Courtney Boyle sat right beside him. During that interview, at times, I couldn’t figure out if my heart was breaking or becoming stronger.
From heartbreak to inspiration
Like many people, I have thought about having a child. I have made decisions and written pieces inspired by the potential to become a parent one day. From four years old to the present, I have thought about the talents and the dreams my future child might posses and how I could help propel him or her on their journey.
Never have these thoughts included wheelchairs, nurses or life support.
Whether or not Dan Boyle and his wife thought about the possibility of a special needs child prior to having Courtney Boyle, that ultimately was the family’s fate. They also have a son they adopted at nine years old, who also has special needs.
At first glance, the Boyle’s are a stark contrast from the family I had been envisioning for myself all these years. Thus, I initially felt heartbreak for Dan Boyle and his family.
The more questions I asked Dan Boyle and the more he interacted with his daughter, the less broken my heart felt and the more inspired it became.
The Boyles go to baseball games, take family vacations and have an undeniable bond. Dan Boyle told me he wants to be a light for families in the special needs community--through the love the Boyles share and the activities they experience.
“I would say that don’t let anything stop you. Possibilities are endless. There is hope and there is joy in this life,” the proud father explained.
Dan Boyle and his wife adapted to their situation and found ways to experience parenthood in a way that’s both fulfilling and joyful for them and their children.
Their family epitomizes resiliency, finding reasons to smile, establishing a sense of normalcy and feeling happiness under difficult circumstances.
Sharing the Boyle family’s story was more than an assignment, it was a privilege. Through my job I don’t just read about resilience, I get to experience it first-hand. I get to give out hugs and hand tissues over through tears.
They say business is not personal but personal is my business, giving me a front row seat to more than just games but more importantly to the strength of our collective and individual spirit.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching LeBron James school some of the biggest names in basketball, and it’s a unique experience to interview some of the world’s greatest athletes. However, looking a father in the eye as he talks about his special needs child, and learning the the wisdom that’s arisen as a result, makes me realize we are not all witnesses, but as a reporter, I luckily often am.