Happy Birthday!

When Don and I were dating, some 24 years ago, I would often sit in an office at his alma mater, Wittenberg, waiting for him to “finish one last thing” or make “just one more recruiting call”.  He valued his job but more than anything, he was honored to be called a Wittenberg Tiger. I knew then that I was second fiddle to his career and many young men.  As I sat there and tried to pass time, there was one 8 by 10 picture front and center on his desk that I stared at.  Three men he would pridefully call warriors with tremendous work ethic and mental toughness. Three men that battled day in and day out on the offensive line and in the academic classroom.  Three men in the trenches that helped secure an OAC Championship. Three leaders that showed incredible respect for each other and their teammates. Three people he never could forget.  Eric Horstman, Scott Bowen, Ken Bonner.

Wittenberg Tigers

Eric Horstman, Scott Bowen, Ken Bonner.

As Don move on to new challenges, offices and environments, this picture always remained on his desk.  Even as our life grew, it became surrounded by pictures of our girls and it continued to provide an instant reminder of his roots. When we relocated to Raleigh, Don brought the picture home.  I never asked why but I recall the day he shared the story of these three men he was honored to coach with our girls.  It immediately brought me back to the moment he spoke so highly of them to me.  Explaining that these men played football in the purest sense.  Just for the love of the game. You could feel his sincere admiration.

Then our home was destroyed by fire… a long story for another post…and all of our pictures were scorched.  Years were spent replacing and restoring us whole again but sorting through the charred memories was one of the most difficult things I had to do.  You have the memories stored in your mind but a picture silently recaptures your emotions and transcends you back to that moment in time.   Somethings, we had to accept, would never be replaced.

Don has never been someone who wanted to accumulate “things”.  He is not one that wants the latest toys or technology.  His birthday was coming up and when you love someone who has a progressive disease, the only gift you want to bestow on them is restored health.  Last I searched, I couldn’t find the gift of health.  Once you come to terms with the fact that you are not able to grant or find a cure,  you hope you can give the gift of a feeling.  The pleasurable sensation of what it feels like to not have the disease. A moment in time, a reprieve, a transcended cure of sorts.

Don had reconnected with Scott and Eric this fall.  They were kind enough to take time way from their families, travel and pay us a visit. Don was completely honored to share with them at this point in their lives and reminisce about the days of the past.  I mentioned the picture – not sure if they would even recall it.  Scott relayed that his dad had actually taken it and yes, he was still in possession of it.

So for Don’s birthday this week, with the help of Scott, the picture now proudly is displayed in our home again. A true homecoming of sorts. A momentary cure. A restored reminder of strength, courage and loyalty.  A piece of the past providing fortitude for the future.  Stories of three men that our girls will be able to hear, visualize and learn from.

With the pictures Scott sent, he enclosed a card with birthday wishes.  He signed it “Tiger Up”.

I explained to the girls that this is unwritten “man code”, and really means ~love~

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Make A Difference

I post the following personal letter not to highlight Don’s impact through his career but to help illuminate that anyone can make a difference.  Be kind – expect great things because the people you touch will in turn DO great things!

Serving his 7th deployment in Afghanistan

Serving His 7th Deployment In Afghanistan

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A Late Bloomer “Pee Wee” Turned American Hero

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Lessons Taught Through Sports Can Equal Positive Life Lessons

Thank you Colonel for your kind words they mean the world to our family but more importantly for your amazing service and dedication to our country!

 

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.

NC State vs North Carolina or Moving Day

Today was the day. A BIG day.  One that coaches plan for, fans live for and here at NCSU, athletic directors fire for . The biggest rivalry opponent in your house- on your turf – ready to accept defeat.  Today NC State (Wolfpack) and UNC (Tar Heels) would face each other in a contentious in state rivalry that has turned into a controversial “battle of the state.  For those of you who are from out of the area, it is similar to the OSU vs Michigan, Alabama vs Auburn or Florida State – Florida feud.  Basically, it’s a game where at the end of 60 minutes winners have bragging rights for 364 days and that is the equivalent to gold around here.

But for us, the first time in many years, we were not apart of it.

No, today as a family, we took part in a much bigger, and in my humble opinion, a more important fight.  One that is on the national level.  The fight for a cure to Parkinson’s.  Moving Day is a walk hosted by the National Parkinson’s Foundation.  I think it a was a little piece of divine intervention for our family that it was held on the same day.  I couldn’t help but draw a few comparisons.

There was still team vs team donning colors and a uniform.

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Moving Day – Raleigh

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Hadley’s favorite team!

War paint  and tattoos could be spotted everywhere.

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Hadley asked- What does this mean anyways.?… The sign of HOPE baby, the sign of HOPE!

The cheerleaders were motivational and spirited!

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A senior cheerleading group! Life can’t get better than that!

The proverbial crazy fan spotted!

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Spirit was boundless!!

And at the end of the day we left feeling victorious because we ALL had won! Last we heard the tally, funds raised to help the cause was well over 100,000.

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We love you dad!

“All we were worried about was one, and it was this one,” Fedora said on being 2-0 against NC State.  We couldn’t agree more!  All we are worried about now is one too, but it’s Parkinson’s and has stakes higher than any rivalry game out there  – because this is real life, not a game.  Besides, five of those winning footballs take up a lot of space on the shelves…

NCSU vs UNC Winning BAll

How many of these does Dave Doeren have?

Parkinson’s doesn’t stop former NCSU Pack assistant coach Horton, from teaching life and football

We have been married for 20 years.  United in our goals of raising a compassionate family who is making a difference, not only on a football field.  We just happen to believe, people with disabilities can do amazing things!
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Don Horton has coached 15 offensive linemen who have played in the NFL. He was once named by ESPN.com as one of the two best offensive line coaches in the United States. He gained national prominence as a longtime assistant to former N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien.

Now he is an assistant coach at Ravenscroft School.

And he loves it.

“I got into coaching because I wanted to have an impact on young men,” Horton said recently, before going out into the rain for a Ravens practice. “I hope these guys that I’m coaching now will be better men because we worked together.”

Horton has Parkinson’s disease. He has had the chronic and progressive movement disorder for about seven years. Boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox have Parkinson’s, which can cause trembling hands, uncontrollable tics, stiffness, unsteadiness in walking among other things. Symptoms can worsen over time. There is no cure, and the cause of the disorder is unknown.

The disease has affected Horton’s speech and his movement. Former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson once needed to help him button his shirt after a game.

But Parkinson’s has not affected his desire to help young people.

Mike Fagan, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound tackle at Ravenscroft, said he is a better person because of Horton.

“First thing, he is a remarkable coach,” Fagan said. “He has so much knowledge. Learning from him has been immensely profitable.

“And to know what he is going through and how he is handling it is inspiring. No matter what obstacles you come up against, you shouldn’t ever give up.”

Horton, who has coached for 34 years, can still motivate players.

Don Horton - Ravenscroft

“Oh yeah, when he wants you to hear something in practice he gets his point across,” Fagan said. “He can get pretty emotional.”

“It’s tougher in high school to have an impact because you don’t have the time,” said Horton, 55. “You don’t meet and watch film together like you do in college. But you’re still trying to do the same thing – teach them the basics, the techniques – and trying to have an impact on their life.”

Coaching at Ravenscroft has given him the opportunity to continue doing what he has wanted to do essentially his entire life. He resigned from coaching in 2012 but continued working in football operations at State until this spring when he said he was fired less than a month after brain surgery.

“Don always has wanted to be coaching kids,” said Maura Horton, his wife of 20 years. “I admire that. He found what he wanted to do and pursued that. He hasn’t changed.”

He moves more slowly now. Some physical changes seem to happen overnight. Other changes have been so gradual that he didn’t realize they were happening until he noticed a major change.

The incident with the shirt button inspired Maura Horton to develop clothing that can fasten using magnets, an example of how the family has worked to adapt to Horton’s condition.

“I take umbrage at the term resilience,” Maura Horton said. “The lives of our children (daughters who are 10 and 6) have been changed forever because of Parkinson’s. The lives of our children have changed for the better because they have seen how their father has faced this.”

Toughness

Horton wants to keep coaching football, a sport he considers the last bastion of toughness.

“You get knocked down, you get up,” he said. “You lose, but you don’t quit trying. You push yourself farther than you want to go, but you keep going. Football teaches toughness, physically and mentally.”

Horton was excited when Ravenscroft coach Ned Gonet offered him a job because he believes he still has things to offer young men.

“I hope he’ll have me back next year,” Horton said.

No worries there, Gonet said.

“We are honored to have such a man be associated with our program,” Gonet said. “Not only does he do a tremendous job with the kids, he has been great for our coaching staff.”

Horton started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at New Mexico State, Ohio State and Virginia before he got his first head coaching job in 1977 at Norfolk (Va.) Catholic. He led a program that had scored 18 points the previous season to a 4-6 record. He is still in touch with some of the players there.

Joe Sparksman, a Department of Corrections probation parole officer in Raleigh who was a runner and linebacker at Norfolk Catholic, said Horton inspired him years ago and inspires him today.

“He has been tough,” Sparksman said. “Just watching him handle everything thrown at him has been an inspiration. He was tough as a coach, but he was a coach who stressed that I was a student as well as an athlete. There was never any question that he wanted what was best for me.”

Wittenberg University, Horton’s alma mater, offered him a job as an assistant in 1978 and he remained in college coaching until arriving at Ravenscroft.

Horton said there has been little adjustment to teaching high school players after working for years with much bigger and stronger college players.

“It’s relative,” he said. “In college, those 6-5, 280 guys play against other 6-5, 280 guys. High school players, 6-3, 230, play against high school players about the same size. Most of the college players know they aren’t going to play beyond their senior year and so do the high school players. It’s about the same.”

And the lessons taught through athletics are the same, too.

Horton and his wife were talking about that just the other day.

Life is not always fair, but you have to keep getting up.

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.

 

James Brown, Russell Wilson, Johnny Bench and Don Horton- Real Life – Real People – Real Solution

Watch! http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50150438n

Thank you James Brown, Russell Wilson and Johnny Bench

Thank you James Brown, Russell Wilson and Johnny Bench

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, college football coach Don Horton struggled to button his shirt after a football game. The situation inspired his wife to start MagnaReady, a company that makes shirts that are buttoned by magnets. James Brown reports on how the shirts are helping people with disabilities.

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.

Why I Admire Russell Wilson – The Last of Which Is Football

Russell and the Girls Bowl Christmas

This Sunday there is an amazing NFL game on – The Seattle Seahawks vs The Washington Redskins. Both teams have incredible rookie quarterbacks with current ESPN passing stats impressively ahead of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees.  Their unexpected success so early in their career is an inspiration, and they have already become huge role models among rising youth, but in a battle between Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, Russell will always get my vote for MVP.  All things Russell amaze me.  Not only does he have the ability to persistently conquer challenges and routinely dispel doubts from his critics, but on and off the field, he actively lives a life that makes him a player with a tremendous heart.  These qualities are awe-inspiring, and for him, they seem to come naturally, and we were lucky to get to know him as a young athlete at NCSU.

A lot of things happen in the locker room.  Its a place where men celebrate victories, lick their wounds, visualize their next game and make new promises to themselves.   It’s a place of camaraderie where boys build each other up to become men.  In these walls are the sounds of pep talks, prayers before and after a game, strategies on how to win, the boisterous howls of team spirit and determination when the coach delivers his pre game speech. I just know that whatever happens in this ultimate mans cave stays in the confine of those walls.  Afterwards, once the game is over and the crowd has dispersed, the room gets quieter.  During away games, it’s a scramble to get cleaned up, get back to the team plane, and get back home. And it was in this type of moment, in the hush of a locker room after all players and coaches had gone, that my husband had a real struggle with Parkinson’s.  He was unable to button his shirt.

So, there stood 2 men.  One was  Don – a 50 something year old man responsible for teaching his players to protect the quarterback. The other was Russell Wilson, the 20-something-year-old quarterback that my husband was supposed to protect.  I’m sure Russell was one of the last guys because he had just completed post game interviews.  In the boundaries of this locker room, is where common decency and humanity happened.  Unfortunately limited mobility is one of the side effects of Parkinson’s and Don had expended all his energy on the field. Unaware of Don’s disease, Russell, a player with tremendous heart saw his struggle and helped. He just walked over and helped Don get dressed.  Without speaking a word, a tremendous human being didn’t pass judgement, didn’t ask questions and more importantly didn’t walk out of the room without making sure all was good.

Post Game

Russell, Girls and Friend Just Outside The Locker Room

When Don got home that night, he shared what had happened in the locker room.  He was embarrassed.  Yes, for the fact that he needed help, but more so for the fact that he was losing the ability to do the things that he took for granted.  That was early on in his disease where he, and truth be told we, had difficulty accepting some of the challenges that were ahead of us.  This was our wake-up call.  As he shared his concerns about getting into a situation like this again, inspiration hit, and I thought I could help him.   I’m not sure if Don ever thanked Russell, or if in a man’s world, that’s just something not spoken about.  However, I do remember personally giving Russell a letter of thanks from me.  In a football environment where struggles aren’t an everyday occurrence, Russell showed grace and humility.  The thank you was truly heartfelt because it’s difficult to express gratitude for something so personal.

our guest speaker... the bully?

our guest speaker… the bully?

In the off season of that year, Russell came to the rescue again.  I asked if he could come to my daughter’s school and speak to the students about bullying because I knew he would impart his wisdom, grace and first hand experience.  Without hesitation, he agreed to help out.  Obviously, the kids were enamored by his presence, but surprisingly it was what he shared that left the impression.  Russell admitted that he himself was a bully!  He talked about growing up and how he would target kids on the playground in attempt to acquire friends.  He then conveyed his turning point and how he now chooses to live his life.  The kids couldn’t get enough of him.  He was there to give a 30 minute lecture, but ended up staying and interacting with the kids for over an hour fielding questions on everything from his relationships with girls (he wasn’t married at the time), to God, to the music on his iPod and to the challenges of being a student athlete.   He was personable and kind and gave each of those 440 kids a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Russell didn’t need to spend his down time doing this but somewhere I felt he was happy to have the platform.  Again, just a man living the life he speaks about.

My eldest daughter recently asked me in all seriousness, “How did Russell get a bowl named after him already?”  She just assumed that the Russell Athletic Bowl was named after him and not an apparel company.  When we watch Russell play, we see more than just a great athlete, or a stat with a story.  We see a remarkable human being that we know will have many things named after him one day.