Friday, September 16, 2011

Boston Bruin's Andrew Ference Lives Life Like a True Champion

Swimming amidst the sea of art that adorns the physique of Boston Bruins defenseman, Andrew Ference, is the inscription "Learn like you will live forever. Live like you will die tomorrow." Pretty strong words to have etched onto your body in indelible ink. But a man isn't defined by an adage he scribbles on his skin, but more so by the attitude he wears upon his sleeve.

Ference exhibited that mantra loud and clear when he chose to spend his a portion of his day with Lord Stanley's Cup at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston this past week. Flanked by his wife, Krista, and his two young daughters, Stella and Ava, the spirited B's blue liner spent Labor Day Monday brightening the spirits of patients at Spaulding by sharing an hour or two with the world's most famous trophy.  

"I just wanted to have my day with the Cup represent the type of person I try to be, explained Ference. "I didn't want to be on a pedestal with people patting my back. I just wanted to make people smile and take their own memories home with them."

Ference, known as one of the more socially conscious players in the NHL, arrived at Spaulding pedaling his powder blue felt mountain bike with the Stanley Cup in tow behind. Dressed in a gold t-shirt and black shorts to match the laundry he wears on the ice each night during the hockey season, Ference ascended the front steps of the hospital entrance to the delight of about two dozen rabid fans who awaited his arrival.

Amongst the guests to greet Ference were two New England sports notables, who had been personally invited to attend the event by Ference himself. Dick and Rick Hoyt are widely recognized sports icons having competed in 29 Boston Marathons and are to New England sports what the spoked "B" is to the Bruins. Rick Hoyt, aged 49, was born a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral  palsy the result of oxygen deprivation at birth and has spent his entire life in a wheel chair. His 71-year-old father, Dick, has pushed, pedaled and pulled his son over the courses of more than 1000 athletic events over the past three, plus decades spreading their powerful life changing message, Yes You Can.

The Hoyt's have a long and interesting relationship with the Bruins organization and it may have been some incredible foreshadowing on the part of Rick Hoyt that indirectly led to their unexpected invitation from Ference.

Rick Hoyt, who is non-verbal, first spoke in 1972 at the age of ten through the use of an interactive computer built by a skilled group of engineers from Tufts University. When the computer was originally brought home, Rick began tapping out his "first words" using a pad connected to his wheelchair and the side of his head. Instead of saying, "Hi, Mom," or "Hi, Dad," Rick's first "spoken" words were, "Go, Bruins!" Until this year, 1972 was the last time The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

Noted in Ference's invitation to the Hoyts, the Father and Son team may have also had a hand in this year's Stanley Cup success as the B's watched the Hoyt's inspirational video prior to the Finals. The invitation read as follows:

Hi guys. I asked Zdeno Chara for your contact info, but he is already back in Slovakia and tough to get a hold of.  First off, I want to say thank you for a new perspective on digging deep and giving it all you got. Our team watched your video before our finals and it was a great lesson for all of us.  

Another, New England sports champion also received a personal invitation from Ference. Matt Brown, a high school senior at Norwood High, was injured in a freak hockey accident in January of 2010 when he was pushed into the plexi-glass during a game against rival Weymouth. Despite making huge strides over the past eighteen months, the ever-positive, Brown remains paralyzed from the neck down and relegated to a wheel chair.
Nearly from the moment the accident occurred, Brown received cards, visits and support from many of the Bruins players and has an upcoming fundraising event on September 24th in partnership with the Boston Bruins Foundation and being held at TD Bank Garden.

To Ference it was a no-brainer to include Brown and the Hoyt's when writing out his exclusive guest list of attendees at Spaulding.

"The Hoyt's, Matt Brown, and the kids at Spaulding are all true examples of meeting challenges head on and I have more respect for that than I could properly explain", stated Ference.  "I was aware of how much they liked the Bruins as well and it would have been just wrong if they did not get a chance to spend some quality time around the Cup."

"Watching the Hoyt's video before our finals against Vancouver really grounded us and gave us a focus and determination about our own situation, we knew that we all had more to give and that we too could live without regrets."

Both the Hoyts and Matt Brown were overjoyed at the thought of spending their Labor Day with Ference and sport's most popular silver urn.

"Rick and I have been involved with the Bruins for quite a few years," shared Dick Hoyt. "But to be included in Andrew Ference’s Day with the Stanley Cup was one of the highlights of our long relationship with the Bruins. Meeting Andrew and his wife, Krista, and their daughters, Ava and Stella at Spaulding and then again spending time with them for dinner was unbelievable. He was gracious enough to not only invite Rick and I, but also my other two sons, Russ and Rob, our good friend and Social Media Director Todd Civin, and Rick’s care attendant Mike Adams. It does not get any better than that."

The inspirational Brown, who was joined by his father, Michael, added, "For Andrew to share his day with the Stanley Cup with the patients and the familes at Spaulding Rehab was a really special gesture in my eyes. And to be included in the day was awesome!"
Amongst the multitude of media outlets hoping to get a word from the 31-year-old Bruins blue liner was a video team from National Geographic; perhaps sort of an unexpected guest for those who don't know Ference.

"Nat Geo is interested in documenting parts of my life outside of hockey. I try and do things instead of just talk about them so they wanted to catch some of it especially related to environmental initiatives."

One of the initiatives that Ference is responsible for is the Carbon Neutral Challenge started by the native of Edmonton, Alberta along with environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki in 2007.
"The Carbon Neutral challenge is based around NHL players offsetting their huge carbon footprint created by our travel by purchasing Gold Standard Credits that help developing nations build clean energy projects instead of coal burning power stations.  Travel is a necessary thing in our sport but if we can help create more clean power than some good is being done.  I started the program when I played for Calgary 6 years ago.  It has had up to 500 players participate in a single season."

Ference and family proceeded to Boston's famous North End following their two-hour stay at Spaulding; a stay which included a tour of several of the hospitals floors and a brief presentation for about 200 guests, presided over by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

Ference had several months to plan for his big day and wanted to share his day with the fans of Boston; fans who have waited 39 years to see the beloved Cup return to Beantown.

"I had a whole summer to plan and I didn't want to have any wasted time.  Nothing was going to trump my time on the ice after the game and in the locker rooms so this was more about setting up a day that would be memorable for family and friends first.  I just wanted to make sure we included everyone that we are close to in this city and all the family that could fly in from Canada as well."

"Nothing can top the inspiration of just wanting to be champions and to accomplish our biggest goal together.  The only real external motivation for some of us was to meet the standards that have been set by the other sports teams in Boston, we wanted to be part of the winning clubs in this city."

The trek to the North End included an informal parade along the narrow streets of Boston's most famous  city neighborhood and was capped off by a flash mob featuring hockey stick carrying dancers and a cameo appearance by Ference and the Cup itself.

The memorable day was capped off by an exclusive dinner for about 150 invited guests at Vinoteca di Monica, a quaint Italian restaurant in the North End. The multi-course affair was attended by many of, Ferences close friends and family, Team Hoyt, Matt Brown and family and, of course, the guest of honor, The Stanley Cup.

Ference shared, "Dinner was the most intimate part of my day.  All of my friends and family that flew in for the day came, as well as, our closest friends from Boston.  I wanted the Hoyts and Matt to enjoy some quieter time as well and was honoured to have them as well."

Amongst Ference's distinguished guests was Sgt. Lucas Carr, an Army Rangers from Bravo Company 2-35 Infantry 3rd Platoon/25 Infantry Division.  His friendship with Carr falls right in line with everything Ference stands for and believes in on and off the ice.

"I became good friends with Lucas through some mutual friends and just admired his honesty and bravery.  Through him I met many Rangers, who blow me away with their humbleness and service to their country.  Our games are a source of camaraderie for them and an escape at times of what they are working with overseas.  I feel honoured to be their friend."

As the memorable day came to an end, I asked Ference if he thinks Bruins fans will remember him and his Cup winning teammates in much the same way they immortalized heroes of 39 years ago like Orr, Cashman, Hodge and Esposito. 

"I really don't know if the casual fan will remember me, it doesn't really matter to me.  Most of the people I made friends with around town had no idea I was a hockey player until after we were already friends, so I guess I would rather be remembered as a good person more than a good hockey player."

"Learn like you will live forever. Live like you will die tomorrow."

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Team Hoyt 5K: 3.1 Miles of Yes You Can-

For better than three decades, Dick and Rick Hoyt have lived out their "Yes You Can" mantra in their every moment, their every action, and through every human life that they have been fortunate enough to touch.

Since their first race, a five-mile benefit run, in the spring of 1977 where Dick pushed, then 15-year-old, Rick in his wheelchair, the famed Father/Son race team has logged 1,000 plus races over a seemingly countless number of miles, while spreading the very meaning of the words courage, love and can-do attitude over each and every step of their journey.

Once per year for the past nineteen, Dick and Rick Hoyt play host, instead of mere participant, to the Team Hoyt 5K Walk/Run over the hilly terrain of the "Watch City", Waltham, MA. This past Thursday night, over 340 runners of all ages and abilities, joined the Hoyt's during this popular annual athletic event.

Dick Hoyt, who will be celebrating his 71st birthday on June 1st, provides the arms and legs for his son, Rick, age 49, who was born a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Rick graciously provides the heart, the soul and enthusiasm which keeps the world-famous duo competing. The Hoyts look forward to the event which bares their name, nearly as much as they do any of the many the events they simply participate in.

"The whole event went great. The weather was outstanding and very well attended," explained Dick, who was quick to thank the American Legion Hall in Waltham, MA. "They generously donate their hall for us to use each year for the race and the post race festivities."

"Everyone had fun at the race and the pizza and pasta dinner afterwards. All the runners are astonished every year that we are able to hand out 300 door prizes - from Timex Ironman watches to cases of beer to Sports Illustrated subscriptions. We enjoy putting this race on every year and we look forward to our 20th Annual 5K road race next year."

The event, which included a 5K run/walk, as well as, a children's fun run, was won by David Long, of Beverly, MA, who broke the tape in a time of 17:41. Long, who runs with the Wicked Running Club, is the reigning champion as he was also the winner of the 2010 edition of the Team Hoyt race with a similar time of 17:32.

The first female finisher was hometown favorite, Jill Wilder of Waltham, who crossed the finish line in a time of 19:55. Wilder bettered her 2010 time by roughly three minutes when she ran the course in 22:54 and finished as the sixth top female participant.

Still recovering from a torn hamstring, Dick, and Rick, finished with a time of 31:12. When asked about their time, Dick chuckled, "It's a pretty good time for an old man with injuries."

Dick, and of course Rick, was bested by his 10 year-old grandson, Ryan Hoyt - who had a finish time of 30:06, as well as his 13 year-old grandson, Troy Hoyt, who had a finish time of 23:54 and placed first in the 14 and under category. Those times may indicate that another generation of Hoyt runners will be dominating local courses over the next generation.

All in all, however, the Annual Hoyt Race doesn't just belong to the speed merchants, but also to the many "Yes You Can" type stories which, in essence, have been made possible by the barriers the Hoyt's helped to break through over the course of the last three decades. Through their efforts, and the thousands upon thousands of people they motivate and inspire to conquer life's daily challenges, people like Kirk Joslin, Mary McManus, and Justin Oconnell see the event as a way to not only compete, but as a way to inspire and further pen their own individual motivational stories.

Joslin, who is President and CEO of Easter Seals Massachusetts said, "Each year, Sheila and I sponsor a team of runners from Easter Seals for the Team Hoyt 5K. It’s our way of celebrating a longtime relationship with the Hoyts, while honoring the memory of our son, Matthew."

Joslin, who promotes Easter Seals Massachusetts at many events throughout each year, added, "We have known Dick and Rick for nearly 40 years. Sheila, my wife and a grandmother of five, was very proud to win a first place trophy in this year’s race. Yes You Can!"

McManus of Chestnut Hill, MA ran the Team Hoyt 5K with her husband, Tom. She traversed the 3.1 mile course wearing her Team Hoyt, "Yes You Can" dog tag. McManus, a member of Rotary International, knows all about a "Yes You Can" attitude. She contracted paralytic polio at the age of five and in 2006 was diagnosed with post polio syndrome. That doesn't stop her, however, from being out there running on the roads and passionately working to create a polio free world as part of Rotary's "End Polio Now" campaign.

McManus was excited to be running her second Team Hoyt 5K. "It's always a thrill to be in the presence of Team Hoyt and Kathy Boyer (Team Hoyt office manager). This year was especially magical because I had the opportunity to meet Facebook friends in person such as the inspiring, Justin Oconnell."

She added, "If we could bottle up the love, energy, "YES YOU CAN" attitude, and pure heart that was evident at the Team Hoyt 5K road race this year, all of the world's problems would be gone!"

To anyone who knows, Justin Oconnell, he too is the epitome of inspiration. Oconnell, age 20, from Blackstone, MA, finished the course in a time of 38:36, despite suffering daily with scoliosis. The diminutive and ever positive, Oconnell competed again just three days later in his first half marathon, "The 2011 Run to Remember", where he finished the 13.1 mile journey in 3 hours and 28 minutes.

"I feel truly honored to be able to run 13 miles. I remember when I could not walk three feet, but now I'm a half-marathon runner. Pain is only temporary. Pride is forever. Scoliosis changed my life."

Oconnell, who benefits from the tireless work done by Easter Seals, added, "I'm wearing my finishers medal very proudly. I finished all 13.1 miles. It's a journey I will never forget. I would like to do another and maybe join Team Hoyt in the Boston Marathon next April. Today was for all my friends at Children's Hospital and for Scoliosis Awareness."

"I'm so proud of myself. Heck yes, I'm a champ."

Just a few of the many "Yes You Can" stories witnessed on streets of Waltham last Thursday.

Each made possible by the journey of Dick and Rick Hoyt.

Team Hoyt has recently published 2 books -Rick's Story - The Story of Rick Hoyt - written by Sherrie Ninteau. This is the inspiring and touching story of Rick Hoyt, written for children, to teach them about disability awareness and overcoming obstacles and Devoted - The Story of a Father's Love For His Son - written by Dick Hoyt with Don Yaeger. Both of these books portray the Team Hoyt message of "YES YOU CAN". You can check out these books on the store link to the Team Hoyt website.

Todd Civin is a freelance writer and the Social Media Director for Team Hoyt. He can be contacted at for comment or hire.

Friday, September 10, 2010

When The World Decided to Share My Birthday

By Julia Elaine Civin ( Todd's daughter)

Living in an industrialized, materialistic country, such as the United States, we sometimes forget what is truly important. Our society has the tendency to reinforce the belief that making big bucks, driving fancy cars, and owning all the toys, is the gateway to happiness.

As a child, I too, bought into this concept. How much, how big, how many?

We hold these beliefs until something comes along that demands that we put our life priorities back in order. Some how reshuffle the deck of life’s cards. Unfortunately, in this case, my priorities were reshuffled by a traumatic national tragedy.

I remember vividly, lying in my bed on the night of September 10th, 2001. I was nine, soon to be double digits at last. Not a teenager, but a ten-year-old girl. I could not get to sleep, as I thought about all of my birthday festivities for the following day.

Tomorrow was going to be a huge day. I could hardly contain my excitement. I had asked my mother for the gift of all gifts.

I so wanted the American Girl Doll, “Samantha,” and had an inkling I would be surprised with her. She had dark brown hair and hazel eyes, just like me, and she was the only thing I wanted in the whole wide world.

I woke up on 9/11 and everything in the world was perfect. I nearly left my pajamas in my blankets, jumping out of bed as fast as I did. I got dressed in my favorite outfit and never touched a stair on the way from my bedroom to the kitchen.

My day hit a speed bump when Mom greeted me with a big wet birthday kiss. I didn’t even wipe it off.

I wolfed down my breakfast and was sent out the door with remanants of powdered donut on the corner of my mouth and chocolate frosted cupcakes to share with my classmates. I knew the day would drag, since I could only think about the gift that was awaiting me after school.

I arrived at school and just knew that I would be flooded with birthday wishes. I wasn’t disappointed. I handed out cupcakes, deciding carefully who would get which one. My best friends and I sat at our table, giggling and telling stories, like all little girls do.

Suddenly, over the loud speaker came a long message. I didn’t understand, nor did any other student in the building.

The only word I got out of it was ‘terrorist.’ It echoed in my head. My teacher knelt down next to her desk with her head in her hands. She looked horrified. Twenty-six little faces stared up at her, innocent and naive.

“What about my cupcakes?” I remember thinking. “What about my birthday?”

September 11th no longer seemed like my birthday. The day past, but to be perfectly truthful, I feel like my memory stopped recording that day. Where once I remembered every intricate detail, I now only remember bits and pieces of the day.

At the end of our school day, we went into our walking lines like usual, but the hallways possessed an eerie silent lull.

I went home and called my friend. I asked her if she knew what was going on. That word ‘terrorist’ kept coming up. I had never heard the word and I still didn’t understand what it meant.

It was breaking news everywhere for hours. The fact that it was my birthday totally slipped my mind. And apparently the minds of the rest of the world too.

My mother got home and sat my sister and I down to tell us about the tragedy. She told us “terrorists” (“That word again”, I thought) “attacked two of our Country’s most storied landmarks”.

I remember her saying, “Our Country was never going to be the same”.

When she told me that these people had killed thousands of innocent Americans, I seemed to blank out. I was horrified. Up to this point in my life, I had only thought about my life and the lives of my friends and family within a ten mile radius of my home.

This event changed the way my thoughts would leave my brain.


My birthday was the furthest thing from my mind.

These people were murdered in cold blood, people just like me. People who left for school and work with dreams, and goals and futures.

Just like me.

A lump formed in my throat. I tried to swallow it, but it seemed to choke me.

Suddenly, “Samantha” was not the first thing on my mind.

Suddenly, I felt small and insignificant.

This tragedy caused me to shift my thoughts from me and only me to imagining all of the families who had lost someone. I was thinking of how lucky my family was. How lucky I was. I had never thought about the safety of our country before.

This kind of thing didn’t happen where we live. It only happens in other parts of the world.

My backyard? Not a war zone. My backyard was a playground.

I got Samantha that day, but her face looked different to me.

She didn’t smile the same way that she did before. She still had my brown hair and my hazel eyes, but she seemed to have lost the gleam in her eyes.

The night before my birthday I thought I knew every facial expression that Samantha had.

She always smiled. Now she seemed puzzled. Concerned.

She seemed to have lost her innocence.

Just like me.

I am 19 today and my birthday is still as special to me as it has ever been.

September 11th is still my birthday, but now the day doesn’t belong to just me, like it used to.

Now my birthday belongs to the rest of the world, too. JC

Note from Todd Civin

There are some days, that sports need to take a back seat to life.

Today is one of those days.

I suspect you’ll remember it far longer than you’d remember another story about a Sox loss, a contract squabble or another Brett Favre story anyhow.

Those are stories we often try to forget. The following is one I hope we never do.

I don’t get credit for this story other than that I was partially responsible for bringing it’s writer into the world, 19 years ago today. Much like hanging their finger paintings on the refrigerator, I still love to show off the work of my kids.

I like to think that in everything they produce a little drop of me helped to produce it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, unless it’s up to no good. Then it doesn’t fall far from her Mom’s tree..

Jules wrote this as her essay to get into UMass Boston two years ago. She not only succeeded at getting in, but captured the heart of many with the following essay. Happy Birthday, dear Julia…I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Love Daddy