As I begin to get up in years, having just crossed the half a century mark, it brings me immeasurable joy each time I witness the next generation begin to play a positive role in shaping our future.
As a close friend and fan of famed father and son triathletes, Dick and Rick Hoyt, I often wonder if there is an inspirational team waiting in the wings to carry forth the message of inclusion, acceptance and disability awareness that Team Hoyt has etched into our society over the past three decades.
Despite the fact that Rick Hoyt was born as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, he has been pushed, pedaled and paddled to the finish of nearly 1100 athletic competitions by his father, Dick, to the amazement and pleasure of fans around the globe.
So it literally sent shivers up my aging spine when I learned of the inception of a young running team that has been affectionately referred to as, “The Protégés."
Unlike the Hoyts, who are now age 72 and 50 respectively, the Protégés barely register on a calendar, at age six and five. That’s right. The heirs to the inspirational throne are barely old enough to attend grammar school and yet are lacing them up for a mile run together this November 10 in Norfolk, VA.
Like the Hoyts, the Protégés race with one teammate acting as the pusher and the other covering the miles in a wheelchair, taking in the sights and sounds of the adoring crowd, yet every bit as much the athlete from the starting gun to the finish line.
Jayden Nogueras, age six, attends the Peebles Elementary School in Bourne, MA, and despite the fact that he was born with Chromosome Disorder of 1p36 Duplication, Cerebral Palsy and Septo-Optic Dysplasia, he will be serving as the pusher. His five-year-old best friend and racing partner, Elson Martinez, will be enjoying the ride from his specially designed running chair.
Elson was a preemie born at 32 weeks in April of 2007. He was 14 inches long and weighed 2 lbs 15 oz. at birth. Elson spent the first six months of his life in neo-natal intensive care before being transferred to the step down unit where he stayed until December 24, 2007.
He spent Christmas at home, but after only two weeks was readmitted until June 2008. Elson endured 13 surgeries in his first year of life. He had to have half of his intestines removed because they did not form correctly, causing blockage.
Elson had a VP shunt and a VA shunt placed due to his Aqueductal Stenosis not properly forming. He has had several revisions to the shunts. Elson has been diagnosed with Hydrocephalus, Absence of Corpus Calosum, Seizure Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, and Developmental Delay. He currently attends kindergarten at Pembroke Elementary.
“Jayden stated last school year, he wants to be a 'Team Hoyt pusher' shared his mother, Mary-Liz, who together with her husband, Jose, recently founded my Team Triumph Cape Cod (mTT-CC), a running team comprised of Captains (riders) and Angels (pushers).
Jayden was the inspiration and motivation for the formation of mTT-CC. “Then jokingly, we asked him who he was going to push because he's so small and many of the other riders are bigger and older than him. He then responded, ‘Elson is small, too. I can push Elson.’”
Jayden, who stands all of 42 inches tall and tips the scale at a feather-like 36 pounds, began his racing career in 2010 with Team Hoyt Virginia Beach as a rider (captain). It wasn’t until May of 2011, while visiting the Hoyts at their home in Holland, MA that he vacated the chair and traversed a 50-yard dash course on his own.
At that point, Jayden became a “running junky” and began training daily to increase his speed and stamina. In July of that year he entered and completed the One-Mile Allen Stone Kid’s Run in Virginia Beach, VA.
Elson, who is confined to a wheel chair, is currently a “captain” for Team Hoyt Virginia Beach, where he is normally pushed by either his brother Ruben or friend and fellow Angel, Dena Goble.
In preparation for the Norfolk's Freedom Warrior Trot 1 Mile Run, Jayden’s father, Jose is making some slight alterations to accommodate the diminutive racing team.
“We put smaller wheels on our running chair and we are talking to bike shops about the best way to lower the handlebars,” explains Nogueras, who serves as a Supply Petty Officer 2nd Class in the U.S. Coast Guard stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in Buzzards Bay, MA.
“Jayden believes that he is now that much closer to becoming a real Team Hoyt pusher. We have to thank Team Hoyt VB’s Dennis Welch for being his initial motivator and inspiration.”
“Jayden motivates me to keep working on my running," adds Nogueras. “I never ran or liked to run before Jayden. It's good to see Jayden get excited about crossing the finish line and buying new running shoes."
Jayden’s extremely proud and supportive mother, Mary-Liz, continues, "Running has played a huge role in Jayden's self-esteem. He is also learning many life lessons such as goal setting and overcoming adversity. I think running has made him more resilient."
To encourage and support Jayden and Elson’s run, please visit The Proteges Donation Page. All donations will help support my Team Triumph Cape Cod. Jayden and Elson have established a goal of $2000.
myTEAM TRIUMPH is an athletic ride-along program created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who would normally not be able to experience endurance events such as triathlons or road races.