Human Factor with Sanjay Gupta – Don’s Words

We are honored to be a part of Sanjay Gupta‘s Human Factor series today. I have blogged many times.  They asked to hear the story through Don’s perspective.  Below are his words.

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Don Horton – Father, Coach, Son, Brother, Friend and Parkinson’s Fighter

When I was 48, I was working at Boston College, O-line University, in the pinnacle of my career and raising the family we had waited for so long to start, the last thing I was ready for was being told I had Parkinson’s.  There we were, being warned, that our lives were changing forever.  Maura didn’t blink an eye.  We were both fairly sure that the progression would preclude us.  When we spoke of the disease, we were always positive and stayed strong.  In hindsight, I realize how scared both of us silently were.

My daily activities didn’t change.  I worked, as all coaches do, extremely long days, but looming in the back of my mind was the disease and its’ progression.  To thwart the development I was to stay active, something I had always been; however, I started to notice small changes, and the inability on days to complete the simple tasks I had always done.  That would come and go.  It wasn’t consistent.  One day being able to change a light bulb and the next time I would try, my hands would fail me.  Afraid to admit the decline was beginning, I never mentioned it to Maura, but I know she was watching waiting to step in.

Maura started to notice my good days and bad days, and I would see her instinctively change our plans and schedule.  She and the kids would jump in and help me the same way that my players had each others’ backs on the field.  I fondly remember the loving moments of my two girls helping me in the morning button my shirt, though those moments were bittersweet.  Isn’t it me that is supposed to help them?  My newfound clumsiness was beginning to literally be the elephant in the room, and ironically, the locker room was where it decided to expose itself.  We had just lost a well fought game and had to catch the team plane.  I had spent all of my energy on the field, and there was nothing left my body would give me.  With my hands unable to steady themselves, I couldn’t button my shirt.  A task so simple, mastered at age 5, was now gone.  My weaknesses were completely exposed, and there I was unable to get dressed on my own.  Russell noticed.  He came over and helped me in silence, like Maura or the girls would do.  I didn’t really realize that players had watched this painful process for me.   Players were always a part of our family, but here I realized that now I was a part of theirs.  This moment was the turning point in my life and changed how I was going to address my very existing condition.

My pride was out the window.  The people that I was hoping to make a difference in their lives, were watching it unfold.  Would my players still respect me?  Would I still have a job?  All those fears that I had pushed to the back came flooding to the surface.  I was afraid to tell Maura, afraid that she would think less of me as her husband, less of me as a parent.  Instead they dug in and helped secure my dignity in their own ways.  All the years of preaching perseverance was paying off.

My disease continues to progress despite the fight we rally.  I cannot count the things I’ve lost.  That list is extensive but I prefer to take the lead from another legendary coach, Tom Landry – I’ve learned that something constructive comes from every defeat – and now, I am blessed with the things that I have gained.  My path may have changed course from where I started, but I am grateful that it has not hit a dead-end.

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Our Toothless Wonder

Simple life changes can seem monumental.

We have had quite a few ups and downs and the best way we know how, we try to maintain steady.

However….

Our youngest lost her first, whiter than white, tooth and I have been in a tail spin ever since.  Her age of innocence giving way to the right of passage of growing up, one pearly white at a time.

She was overjoyed from the first wiggle. Teasing it everyday. Hoping against all hope that it would fall out soon – so she could securely tuck it under her pillow case with a note.  A note about how long she has “waited” for this moment. Coupled with a thank you and promises that she will maintain all her teeth the same way.

Dear Tooth Fairy,

That precious smile, now exaggerated cuteness, with the hole front in center, almost never came to be.

That smile.....so glad we did!

That smile…..so glad we did!

Don and I struggled with fertility for 4 years after the birth of our eldest.

In Vitro Fertilization and Parkinsons are two words that are rarely combined. In the later part of my 30’s we were dealing with both issues. After being gifted a child and realizing we could maybe do this “parenting” thing, we attempted for another. We tried…insert failure…. and tried…..insert disappointment ….. and tried…..insert grief……and tried….insert devastation. What was wrong with us (really) me? How could I be a failure at something that we waited for the “right” time to happen? Immediately I learned the true meaning of the gift. After four late stage miscarriages we dove in to the science of baby making. Being Catholic, this was something we never discussed. My sweet mother, by all terms, gold medaled in the olympics of childbirth. She conceived 12 children. So how could I struggle?

The science of it all wasn’t quite adding up either.  In the midst of our third attempt at IVF, we sat in a neurologist office, just after a reproductive appointment, and heard, for the first time, the word Parkinson’s.  Don stopped in his tracks, understandably, immediately questioned the doctor about having another child.  His quote was “You have to believe there will be a cure in your lifetime.  If it were me, I would still try”.  That cycle failed- we heard, screaming louder than ever, the words again. “I am sorry you’re not pregnant.”

You would think that would have been game, set match.  Most people said to take joy in the family we already had and count our blessings. BUT something so powerful propelled us to keep pushing forward.  Most would believe that some higher being was trying to tell us something. Given our new challenge, progression of the disease and future uncertain, we thought… no. Really, truth be told, we thought ……hell NO!  We will move forward. We will preserver.  We refused to live scared. Then after many long discussions we added another reason to keep trying. We wouldn’t want Libby to have to deal with Parkinson’s by herself.  That seemed like a lot of pressure.  So, with the odds stacked against us, we tried again.  Don at this time had moved to Raleigh to begin his tenure at NC State.  Libby and I stayed in Boston, filling our days with doctor appointments, blood checks and ritualistic self injected IVF shots.

It was finally time for the “transfer”.  We had already been down this road before, with hallowed results, so I told Don he needn’t travel for the procedure.  Understandably, I had prepared us for more of the same. The disappointment was routine at this point.

The doctor implanted two fertilized eggs and the wait game continued.

This time, we heard there WAS a viable heartbeat.

Haddie Hospital

Faith in all good was restored.

When that toothless smile entered the world, we had more hope than I could ever put into words.  In the face of the unforeseeable things that were happening, we had a beacon of light and love. United together, an unbreakable bond,  Horton’s.  For those of you that haven’t met us, 4 people who will not let our lives be defined by anyone or disease.

and…… when Hadley asks about how it is she came into this world, we exclaim with the most guttural sincerity, you couldn’t have been wanted more.

Game Changer – American Express Open Forum

A huge pause as I read a note from a players parent this morning.

“Coach Horton originally recruited Clif  for his O-Line scholarship at Boston College. Thanks Coach! You changed my son’s life. We are praying for you.”

Then I read and re-read again.   “You changed my son’s life.”

Some in athletics (and the greater world of life) think that because Don has Parkinson’s (or someone has a disability) it diminishes his (or their) abilities, passion and effectiveness on and off the field (job).  I will always take umbrage to that.  In every locker-room that I have ever stood in, there are signs of perseverance and motivation.  Don (and all who have disabilities) is a living day example of those true testaments.

Overlooking someone because they have a disability is the lowest display of power.

Overlooking someone because they have a disability is the lowest display of power.

MagnaReady was selected as a American Express Open Forum – Game Changer.  We help people improve their daily living experience BUT I am lucky and proud to share with my children that their father, Don Horton, changed lives.

Game Changer -by Carla Turchetti

Game Changer
-by Carla Turchetti

Website: www.MagnaReady.com

What She Does: Horton has designed and brought to market a line of men’s dress shirts that have magnets infused into the buttons. This makes it easier for those with diseases, disabilities or injuries to dress themselves in professional wear. “We are a company with innovative solutions for limited mobility apparel,” Horton says.

How She Started: Horton’s journey to create her first shirt was a very personal one. Her husband, Don, a former football coach for North Carolina State University, has Parkinson’s Disease. After one game, he was in the locker room and had difficulty buttoning his shirt—one of his players, Russell Willson, now a quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks, had to button it for him.

“He was embarrassed,” Horton says. “There aren’t many things with Parkinson’s that I can help him with, but this is one challenge I decided to take on.”

Why She’s a Game Changer: After hearing about that locker room incident, Horton ordered other shirts to see if she could find something that worked for her husband.

“They just didn’t meet my standards,” Horton says. And after carefully looking over the available options, mostly with hook and loop closures, Horton called on her background in design to create something she would like better.

“I had always been interested in design and I noticed that the tech world was turning to magnets,” Horton says. Inspired by tablet covers and purses with magnetic closures, she created a dress shirt with magnets as well. She had to find the perfect magnetic strength that made it easy enough to open and close but strong enough to keep the shirt fastened.

What’s Next: Thanks to the success of MagnaReady shirts, the company is about to add more products this summer.

“The outcry for women’s apparel is huge and we are about to launch that,” Horton says. “We have secured the patent rights for hospital patient gowns and we are going to debut children’s coats.”

RELATED: Game Changer: Creating a More Life-Like Prosthetic Foot

The idea for the children’s coats was also born of Horton’s family experiences. After struggles bundling up toddlers for blustery Northeastern winter days, she wanted to simply design something to make life easier.

Advice for Other Entrepreneurs: “Mentoring has been huge to me,” Horton says. After stepping away from the design world to raise her children and then diving back in with the launch of MagnaReady, Horton says she relied on advice from other professionals across other industries. “It’s good to be able to run things by other people,” Horton says.

And she has one other piece of advice: Don’t ever give up.”

Meet more ambitious entrepreneurs in our Game Changers series.

 

Different Vantage Point

Girls Watching Their Dad Do His Thing

Girls Watching Their Dad Do His Thing

All their young lives they have stood tall, sat patiently, cheered loudly, and proudly watched their dad and countless players run thru a tunnel and take the field to the game / job he loved.  I’ve always delighted in our ability to be voyeurs in their father’s career.  Many men go into an office and disappear.  Their kids not fully understanding what it is their dads do to make sacrifices for their futures.  However, mine have been on a college football roller coaster. They feel and have joyful pride with each win and on the contrary they hear, from their peers, personalize and worry after each loss. Their vantage point of NCAA sports has been different.  They aren’t “real” fans. They have yet to choose the school they will be forever loyal to, but they are “real” fans of the players they’ve come to know and their dad.  They are aware it’s not just a Saturday ritual but a lifetime commitment of good people and hard work.

As of late, the roles have been reversed.  This has been Don’s new vantage point.

Reversed Roles

Reversed Roles

Libby decided she wanted to learn and compete in soccer.  Our Saturday’s had been occupied with pigskin, but this year we decided to make a change and let the girls build their own Saturday rituals.  The competition level, slightly diminished (thank goodness!) Field a bit smaller but the heart is equal.

Libby Hamilton Award

Libby Hamilton Award

It occurred to me this weekend as Libby received from CASL, The Hamilton Sportsmanship Award, that the outcome is the same.  Don has spent a lifetime committed to helping build a better person / student athlete and he’s still doing just that, only from a different vantage point. It is much closer to home now. Parkinson’s may have sidelined him temporarily but never will he give up on making a difference in human beings.

The Beginning Of Letting Go

Spring is developing into wonderful anxiously awaited season, with great things in bloom.  My bloodshot eyes and continual runny nose can attest to its arrival.  Spring means different things to many.  In our life, it had always involved spring football with a culmination at the end a “spring game”.  This is the first time in 30 plus years -24 that I have been part of, that we haven’t attended one.  Knowing how important to Don this tradition is, we started planning. Even if from the sidelines, he would like to watch, this is food for his soul.  The plans were to voyage to Boston, a place we fondly called home, to watch the BC Eagles take the field under their new leadership.  Then the unfathomable traumatic events occurred and we thought better than to travel.  With the devastation that was besieged on this great community we started to place in prospective our simple feelings of wants and looked at the greater city and people’s needs.  Moments of prayers followed as we watched and listened to the events unfold, while being in constant contact with our friends that remain there and then we cheered at the conclusion. The Boston College spring game was cancelled, as it should be, but we witnessed an unplanned game, of good vs evil and goodness won!

Balloon Release

Mrs. Debby’s Balloon Release

Life changes all around us, whether we want or are open to it, or not.  My youngest daughters beloved preschool teacher passed away from breast cancer at a very early age.  How to explain the loss to a 5-year-old child, I thought, was going to be difficult. This was the second teacher / friend we had lost to cancer in a short period of time.   A collective group of mothers decided to have a balloon release ceremony to help the children let go physically of something, say a prayer, watch the balloon rise, disappear into a greater place and trust in life again. The kids held on securely to their balloons as they each said something special about Mrs. Debby and then, it was time to say goodbye.  As the release happened, I slowly looked around.  The adults with tears, myself included, but each child had a grin so wide it was hard not to feel their sense of trust, that in letting go, everything will be ok.

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It was with wonderment I watched Hadley.  Inspiring to me.  Helping me believe that there was a time when we / I were free to accept change.  We ALL make adjustments in life and have to accept new realities, whatever that may be and for us, now, that includes no spring football.  It’s not just a game but it’s been a way of life that we are letting go of.  I  believe it hurts Don to his core and for those of us who witness his inner sadness, it is difficult. There are different ways to experience loss and nothing can compare to the tragic way the people of Boston are grieving, but I do believe that living with a disease is its own form of loss.   As an adult I wish I had the ability to let go of something, truly release it, and not hold on, as my 5-year-old does. I am re-learning.

A Duke Fan Forever

Team Sweeney

Team Sweeney

We currently reside in the south and in a triangular area of a state that has deep dividing “what team do you pull for?” lines. We’ve been associated with teams for all of our lives. Beginning from the ones we are born in to.  My first team was a family of 12.   We could actually field our own football team, with a substitution for injury to boot!  An Irish Catholic group whose heart and soul could stand close to any Notre Dame team. My father had a friend actually suit our family up. This gear was pre Adidas or Nike contracts. Our small frames and entire backs  were incased with the letters SWEENEY.  Now and then when we went on family excursions to Kings Island or Disney, we would proudly don our jerseys, making it easy for my parents to assess if a child had strayed from the flock.  My mother, who has in uncanny sense of preserving our childhood memories, recently “presented” me with my  jersey.  I was Lucky number 12.  Memories flood back now when I see my youngest wear it to sleep at night.  I am thankful to recollect my first official group.

Don - Indian Hill Jersey

Don – Indian Hill Jersey

Don has been a life long team member.  The first jersey number he can recall – 21.  His favorite number – 70.  He literally has played a role at every capacity a team member can be.  Father, player, coach, recruiter, husband, speaker, rookie team trainer, brother, statistician, water boy.  You name it.  He has been it as some point in his lifetime, from little league, Indian Hill, Wittenberg, Ohio University, UVA, Capital, Ohio State, Southern Illinois, New Mexico State, Boston College to NC State.  His hope is that whatever lives he touched during this process, they were positively influenced and changed.  At our wedding rehearsal dinner one of his  close friends and fellow team mate, Scott presented him with his basketball jersey.  It was from their alma matter Indian Hill, where they proudly took the Eastern Hills League by storm in basketball. They fondly reminisced about their playing time and the roles they played on and off the field in each others lives. Being a part of a team is special and those relationships formed generally last forever.  We hope our kids remember more of the process of being on a team than their stats.   As parents, we would rather our kids receive a good teammate or sportsmanship award than a MVP any day.

We all like to be on the winning team, or working feverishly to achieve that status.  In this profession many ethical and great leaders have been “cut loose” because their wins didn’t necessarily translate to victories that were seen on a score board.  When Don had made his mind up to go ahead with the deep brain stimulation surgery, we both felt the immediate need to evaluate our team.  Don had been seeing a neurologist at Duke that was recommended when we relocated to North Carolina.  He was fine.  I’m sure inundated with patient overload had caused our appointments to be short and for several phone calls and emails to be unreturned for days.  After asking a few questions about his surgical experience and knowledge with DBS, we decided, together, that our team needed new players.  Research ensued, phone calls placed and meetings / appointment set.  We decided that we needn’t search far. We had found the right facility.  We just needed 5 star rated players.  We came together for the first appointment, armed with a defense of questions that would take hours.  Don stated our intentions of assessing his candidacy for DBS and we were looking for the right person to lead this effort.  One of the keys would be,  if you were going to cut into his brain and body, we would need a little better response than what we had been receiving from the previous doctor.  It felt right from the moment we shook hands. Our defenses put at ease.  We confirmed what the best game plan and forms of communication would be and to date his attention has been amazing.  So great, that a veteran recovery nurse remarked out of surgery that she rarely sees surgeons examine their patients in recovery, but there was Dr. Turner – just checking in.  He has been the beacon of light we needed to make such a large decision and I’m glad were weren’t afraid to make an adjustment.

Having worked in athletics now for 30 years, we completely understand the word loyalty and dedication to a team and now a cause.  So, when someone has any question of what team we root for……. we will proudly claim Duke.  So, go Coach K!  Carry on Coach Cutcliffe and most importantly, thank you Dr. Turner and Duke Hospital for the first class care that we have received.  We couldn’t ask for a better team in a battle that isn’t just a season at a time but everyday of our lives.

duke logo

Building Walls – The Offensive Line

Don Horton's True Love- the Game

Don Horton’s True Love- the Game of Football

Don has known he wanted to be in athletics his entire life.  At the earliest age of remembrance, he was geared up with some sort of ball, ready for action at anytime, blessed to live in an area and an era when pick-up games happened everyday, rain or shine, sleet or snow.  Those days in the open fields are some of his best memories.  His mother often tells the story that he could have followed in his father’s footsteps and became a surgeon.  She recalls a phone call that she received from a guidance counselor at his school.  “Don seems fascinated with this whole football thing. His test scores are very high and it is our recommendation that we steer him in another direction.”  She didn’t miss a beat.  Where some parents would concur and assist help in the matter, she declared that it was Don’s decision.  She has always empowered her children (and now grandchildren) with that same voice of choice – often asking them, “What would you like to do?”  And so, his love of the game persisted to grow and to flourish.  By the time I met Don, he was so fully entrenched that I had only one choice.  If I wanted our relationship to survive I too had to jump in.  It was an easy transition for me; a sister to 5 brothers (sandwiched right in between) who had me outside for countless hours as well, playing basketball, kickball or hotbox.  Somehow, I was always in the middle – never picked first among the boys, but I could hang and my competitive genes grew as well.  I’m actually not sure my parents can recall a basketball game that I didn’t foul out of.

Don and I met after a football game, one of his friends was dating one of mine.  He was coaching at the time at a division three school in Ohio; his alma matter- Wittenberg.  We commuted to see each other, and I, like his parents, never missed a game. Home or away- it was just what we did.  Many games were far and in small but beautiful rural towns.  Upon arriving, I would watch with pure amazement.  His ability to make split second decisions, encourage his players when they were down and to give everything he had everyday.  He rarely ever raised his voice.  He always said that if they didn’t know it by game time – screaming wouldn’t jog their memories.  I have always admired his strengths.  His quiet nature is humbling – he is never boastful.  He could always take any discussion down to the simplest of terms and navigate it gracefully.  His strengths just illuminate from within.  I was marrying the best man on this planet, but I was also sharing him with many others; a group of men called the offensive line.

He wanted to win – who doesn’t want to be successful – but he always chose to leave his imprint as his mentors, Dave Maurer, Ron Murphy and Tom O’Brien did with him.  The position he coached was always the most fascinating to me …. The Offensive Line.  This great massive group of men – 5 who stand to defend and protect on every play.  They rarely handle the ball, unless it’s fumbled.  They receive no accolades – silent warriors protecting a quarterback.  They act as a unit to be perfect – every snap so that the team has a chance for success.  They are big but have feet like ballet dancers. They are often the most feared and respected guys on the team.  And, within each of them, I see an amazing large heart that matches their physical appearance.

Bricks and Mortar

Bricks and Mortar- Jeremy Trueblood, Gosder Cherilus, Pat Ross, Josh Beekman, Ty Hall, Kevin Sheridan, James Marten, Tom Anevski

Brick and Mortar Of Our Team

Don has been surrounded by some of the best offensive lineman out there at every level.  I’ll brag a bit.  He was voted the second best offensive line coach in division one athletics ALL while he was coaching with Parkinson’s.  Around him a wall has been built – a wall of men that stand together, impermeable.  The courage these men demonstrate now to be associated with Don – in sickness or in health – is almost as strong as the vow I took some 19 years ago.  These men call him just to pick his brain, to say hi, to check on our children and share good and sad stories about their families that we’ve come to know.  These men are why I truly love football, and when these players became aware that Don is living with Parkinson’s, I have been brought to tears by how strong and supportive they have been.  Even when Don accepted a change in position, taking him off of the field, he still felt privileged to be surrounded by such fine athletes.    These athletes are, and always have been, the brick and mortar of our lives.

don oline bc

What Is In A Name? Everything!

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Hayes Elizabeth Horton

We waited 9 years to jump in the family game. All the while questions of when are you guys going to start a family had escalated and then ceased. I’m sure because our respective families had just given up. Being a coach’s wife there was never the right time, moving was always looming in the back of our heads. We wanted stability- something we both had. Don grew up an the idyllic town of Indian Hill, Ohio and I in Columbus Ohio. Neither of our parents had ever moved at this point- yes we were firmly planted midwesterners. So when we learned in July that we would be expecting our first born in early March. We were all delighted. The timing was perfect. College football coaches really only get two times a year of “down time”. One is in the first half of July, just after spring ball and high school camps and the second in late February early March concluding a grueling season and recruiting. So, I was looking forward to the fact that Don would be available and present.

The doctors visit that the second most common question asked during pregnancy came to light. Are you finding out the sex? Don and I approached this quiet differently. Of course I wanted to know. Plan, analyze and dwell on are things I’m quiet good at. Don who is actually the real strategic thinker of the family decided no … he would rather be surprised. So, as I sit in Dr. Morrais office watching the ultra sound screen for a clue … she asked….. Do you want to know? YES! Are you sure? Without Don? Answer again… Yes. Then the Catholic guilt started to set in and she said “I will write this down, seal it and when you get home you can open together if thats what you decide”. With anxious excitement Don walked in after a long day of two a days – he was in the middle of camp. “I said in this envelope the sex of our child is written down. Do you want to open it?” It was like having Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. “No, Maura I want to be surprised BUT you can… just keep it to yourself.” It laid there on our kitchen counter all night- sealed. The next morning he assured me that he would be ok if I knew but we would still plan name wise .. and room wise… for either sex and I wasn’t to tell anyone- family, friends, etc. Deal! He left. I opened it and it said GIRL. We really have been ok at accepting each others boundaries without resentment and he knew that a long football season with out him around to share in our new excitement would be hard enough. I’m sure he thought if I needed this bone… it was mine for the taking.

So after the morning sickness subsided it was time for the name game. We both knew we wanted a strong name, regardless of the sex. We both agreed that we would never name the child “TD” (touchdown) Horton and have to grow up in his fathers shadow and try to fill the name he was given. We wanted strong but not harsh. Smart but not a know it all. Memorable but not brazen. At the same time JK Rowling was making her impact and I loved the fact that in the beginning she succeeded with a name that was considered to be male. We decide we wanted a name that would go either way- for a boy or a girl. This was a harder challenge than one might think. I come from a family of 11 (yes, Irish Catholic) siblings. They had all started having their families and names were starting to run short in supply.

When I wasn’t even pondering the name of our child, I looked down at our coffee table and saw on top of the stack of books was one written by John Lombardo. The title… A Fire To Win. The Life And Times Of Woody Hayes

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I am a Buckeye by birth and married to someone who not only did his graduate work at The Ohio State University but also coached under Earl Bruce. It gave me pause…… Hayes Horton….. Hayes Horton…….I think I love it! Woody Hayes possessed a quick wit, a sense of humor, and a broad grin that could win over any crowd. Well respected, a little crazy and tough. Known for not being afraid of a fight but smart enough to know he had to plan for it. All good things in my book! Sounds like the qualities I hope for in a child. …..Next the Don test. Will Don really consider or will it be back to the drawing board? Not sure if it was from pure exhaustion from being in the middle of a season but ran it passed him without any objections…….Next the Horton family book… did the name exist? Was there once a Hayes Horton. We consulted the powers to be and yes, some time ago there was a Hayes Horton.  Its official no mater what sex we have name! A name with great character.

Three and a half years later we were introduced to a new person with the name Hayes. Michael Hayes. Actually, Dr. Michael Hayes- Neurologist at St. Elizabeth Hospital – the same place my Hayes Elizabeth was welcomed into this world.

dr M hayes

It was this Dr. Hayes that broke the news to us that Don has Parkinson’s disease. It was this Dr Hayes that told us of all the disease you could have this was one of the best. He assured us that we would most likely see a cure in our lifetime. I guess he was kind of like Woody Hayes in the fact that that he could deliver bad news but also give you a silver lining of hope.

So our challenges with Parkinson’s will be most like the classic 10 year war… OSU vs Michigan. Always exciting, weathering ups and downs and hard hitting.  A legendary Woody vs Bo battle. It will definitely be longer than their fight for us because WE WONT GIVE UP! All in the name of Hayes Horton.

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Link

Don Horton Steps Down

NC State tight ends coach Don Horton will no longer coach, but will remain on the Wolfpack staff as the assistant director of football operations, the school announced on Thursday.

“It is with great excitement that I approach the next step in my professional career in athletic administration,” Horton said in a prepared statement. “Coach [Tom] O’Brien and NC State athletics have offered my family and me a great opportunity to become involved in the administration and I am extremely grateful. I would like to thank all those who have made this next step possible.”

“I am thrilled to have Coach Horton continue in his career here at NC State,” O’Brien stated. “As a member of our staff for the past 15 years, he has been more than an excellent football coach. He has also has done a tremendous job developing young men and setting high standards when it comes to hard work and how to do things the right way. In his new role, he will continue to benefit everyone associated with this football program, and we are as excited about this opportunity as he is.”

Horton began coaching at Ohio State in 1982 as a graduate assistant. He made coaching stops at nine other schools and made the trip to NC State with O’Brien in 2007. He has mentored more than 15 NFL players and has coached in 12 college bowl games.

 

Our Starting Point. I have good news…. I have Parkinson’s Disease!

When I married at the tender age of 24, my mom had told me that the things that will shake your foundation will come at the least likely of times. Ours happened on a random Tuesday morning when the sun is shining and the world was still looking bright. That’s exactly how I remember the day that I got the phone call from my husband relaying the news of his latest doctor’s visit. On this perfectly great Tuesday, I was in the car listening to a Laurie Berkner CD, driving our three year old to an art class. Nothing strange, just Don calling, much like clockwork, at 11:30 sharp. The funny thing is, that when he called, he said, “I have good news. I have Parkinson’s Disease.” Literally, I stopped in my tracks, and asked, “this is good news?”, and he responded, “Yes, Dr. Hayes said there will be a cure in our lifetime.” And, just like that, life resumed. He went back to work as a college football coach at Boston College, and I went about my day. But, despite the “good news”, questions began to form. Within a few hours, panic set in. What did this mean? How would we cope? We have a three year old and are trying desperately for another child to complete our brood…

We reconvened at home that evening. Both of us were separately searching the internet for answers, and both of us were at a loss for words. Which, is not unlike Don and his quiet reflective nature but definitely unlike me who feels compelled to be heard. I’m sure that is a product of being raised in a family of eleven siblings. Phone calls to were then made… disbelief ensued… second opinions were urged…. and later a lengthy denial persisted. Never in motion was a written plan of attack ever drafted, but in the quiet of our own home, we often discussed the strategy of how we would handle this information.

Unfortunately, in the athletic world there are no signs of weakness allowed (that are actually made known out loud); that’s the law of the jungle. The weak are discarded. Only the strong survive. So, after much thought and consultation, our plan was that we would tell immediate family only, and Don’s boss, head coach, former marine, and well respected friend, Tom O’Brien. Though I wasn’t there the day this discussion happened, Don has told me that it was short and sweet and no time for concern.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Don’s commitments with Coach O’Brien brought us to Raleigh, North Carolina. We would be soon be discovering a new environment, great challenges professionally, and a very odd beginning to new friendships. You see, it’s not often that you have to explain why your husband may speak softly, freeze in a chair, or not be able to move his left hand to someone that you’ve never met. Though I don’t believe that you should feel the need to explain, we were now in the South where everyone knows everybody’s business. And as a result, we secluded ourselves and became a much stronger family unit. Despite the change in lifestyle, we were happy, and had a new daughter in the mix.

In the midst of a relentless coaching battle to improve a new program at NC State, Don started to show outward signs of his disease. The hours of a coach are grueling, and I truly mean giving 24 hours of one’s self to not only to better the program, but, more importantly, to the development of its young men. But this was his passion, and he was becoming frustrated by the lack of movement his body was beginning to trap him in. I recall the night he came home after a game, and I’m not sure if they won or loss, but I’m SURE he can recall that fact. I was sitting at my computer and he said to my back, “…hard day today”. I replied something sarcastic, like “what was your offensive line thinking”, or “how many sacks were given up?” He said, “no…hard day today”. I knew better than to turn around. In the 3 ½ years since he was diagnosed, we had never discussed his difficult days with Parkinson’s because neither of us would actually give in. I just asked what happened. He said, “I was stuck, stuck in the locker room, and I couldn’t button my shirt.” I remained silent. He told me that Russell Wilson had helped him. Then very slowly and he told me in defeat that a player had to help him get dressed so that he could catch the team plane. I stood up, not addressing the difficulty, and said, “That’s just the kind of person Russell is, Don”. I knew that he was feeling a lack of control, a bit of embarrassment and humility, so to soften the blow, I said, “If anyone understood, it was Russell.”

This conversation churned over and over in my mind. I felt desperate to help him and his situation. How could I ease the burden of the simple task of getting dressed? I spent hours online searching for a solution – surely there were options in menswear. I saw Velcro dress shirts and had them FedEx’d in time for his next trip. Upon receiving them, I was disappointed by their quality. I noticed how thin they were and knew that they would only last a few dry cleanings. I also saw he would still need his dexterity to line it up properly. Then the wheels started spinning, and I had an epiphany – Magnets – why not put magnets on the inside – they would line up independently and I could just convert the existing shirts that he already had. But, after tearing one apart I saw this wasn’t a possibility, the magnets slipped and needed to be sewn into a system. Back to the drawing board, but I knew that I was on the right track. I made a phone calls. I sketched my ideas, and I decided to order a few prototypes. Once the idea felt realistic, I told a few friends. It felt encouraging, and I was so optimistic, I actually flew down to Florida to present the idea to Shark Tank ready to jump in with both feet.

After being chosen as a finalist, I knew that I had a viable idea. I was asked to put together a video to bring to the taping. I shared this with a few friends, and within weeks, I had an investor (and dropped out of Shark Tank). And, long story short, that’s where we are today, finally launching MagnaReady, a magnetically infused dress shirt and the concept of stress free shirting. Obviously aimed at people with limited mobility (and not just the 5 million Parkinson’s sufferers but stroke victims, arthritis sufferers, wounded warriors, etc.), this product could be great for a number of other people (including nursing moms). It is truly our hope that until there is a cure, we can help people who struggle with their daily tasks live a little simpler and help restore a little dignity to their daily routine. After all, getting dressed shouldn’t be a stressful task – Living with a disability is hard enough…