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?

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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.

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.

 

Coming Out Party!! Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Parkinson's Awareness

Parkinson’s Awareness

April is National Parkinson’s Awareness month. Our second official “out- open and proud” month. We had been living in a secluded world of don’t ask, don’t tell.  Making the announcement or declaration that you have Parkinson’s currently comes with as many side effects as the medicines Parkinson’s patients take on a daily basis.  At the core of every tremor or rigid movement is sleeplessness of how the disease will manifest, trepidation of being shunned, fear of ignorance and terror of loosing a job. The worry is endless.

Do you agree?

Do you agree?

Our angst stemmed from living and working in a sports arena where the environment is much like Tiger Woods and Nike’s new ad which states, “winning takes care of everything”.  We spoke soon after our diagnosis with an attorney friend in Boston who recommended Don notify his employer and as to anyone else, well, that was up to us.  So we took his advice. Don told Tom. We told our parents and then asked them to respect our privacy and keep it to themselves. They honored our requests.  We lived our lives.  Challenges came up- as did questions.  I was always amazed by our true friends- because they never asked. Not that they didn’t care- it’s just that they knew if we needed to talk about it- we would.  They didn’t need whatever was happening to us to be defined.

I remember being at our first NC State bowl game. We were at a kickoff  luncheon and a coaches wife, that was new to Tom’s staff, asked Don brashly- in front of boosters and alumni- what was wrong with his arm? and would it (infer he) ever be “normal”? Both Don and I witnessed her husband kick her under the table, as if to tell her to shut up but her ignorance was already on display. Don simply answered, no.  We never felt the need to explain.  Other times, people would inquire and we would say he had had a stroke. Who cares what it was.  If you were asking, most likely, we knew you were already judging.

I’ve read many peoples personal stories of their Parkinson’s coming out party- not telling- revealing to some or just simply confirming but July 2nd, 2012  is a news day I will remember.   Bill Geist, CBS Sunday reporter announced via a video message that he had been dealing with and hiding from his Parkinson’s diagnosis. “I told no one. Not even my kids.” For 10 years he and his wife lived with this secret.  He says “he didn’t want to be known as the sick guy” and that for “personal reasons he was afraid he would get laid off or wouldn’t get promoted”.  When he was asked whether it was a difficult decision to come out this way.  His answer, was simply, “a very difficult decision”.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505269_162-57465578/bill-geist-parkinsons-revelation-very-difficult/

Someday, I hope Don will speak to how he felt about informing the people he cared for that his life would be forever different. More importantly I hope he speaks about keeping it inside for so long.  We went to great lengths pretending not to have this disease. It started by just refusing to let it control us but at some point it changed into something more. We began planning recreational things around “good” times of day, avoiding certain social situations where it may be an issue, donning sunglasses when he could to disguise the blank look that many Parkinson’s suffers have, being sensitive to Dons low voice and helping him repeat himself, always sensing when it was time to go. The list goes on an on.  Hiding the disease became a full-time job in itself.

Why do people cry?

Why do people cry?

When I “came clean” to a select few, all I remember were tears.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I couldn’t believe I had held it in for so long and even after all the time that had transpired, I still couldn’t believe it was our reality. It was as if verbalizing the diagnosis finally made it true.  As a caregiver you often see how people respond and internalize things.  We often see it all and in that “all”, I realized that the fears that kept us from disclosing it were happening whether we were forthcoming or not.  I can report, all of our angst and trepidation came as true as a Disney trip to the Magic Castle. It’s as if Cinderella waived her wand and voila, but it all happened, regardless of the way we chose to handle it. 

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

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.

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…