Jul 9, 2015 | Erin Spaulding
Jul 9, 2015 | Erin Spaulding
Jun 26, 3015 | By George Albano, Hour Staff Writer
That decision was made for him pretty much from the time he was born and diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment due to the progressive degeneration of cells in the retina.
“Basically, it’s a breakdown of the pigment layer around the retina, which in turn leads to a breakdown of the retina,” Solano, who turned 37 on Tuesday, explained. “I’ve had it pretty much since I could remember.
“My parents started noticing I had vision issues when I was two years-old. I’ve had glasses all my life,” the native Norwalker added. “The doctors thought I was just nearsighted because at the time they didn’t know much about it. I was always told I was nearsighted.”
Research has come a long way the last couple of decades, enabling doctors to better understand Retinitis Pigmentosa, which often leads to eventual blindness. In fact, it is the leading cause of blindness in many countries.
Symptoms also include decreased night vision and the loss of peripheral vision, known as tunnel vision. Those are two things Solano can relate to.
“I’ve never had night vision,” he said. “If I stand outside at night, unless I’m standing under a streetlight or anything light directly hits, it’s all darkness.
“And I mostly have tunnel vision. No peripheral vision. I either have to look down or straight ahead. I’m unable to look out of the corner of my eye.”
Of course, you can understand why all of this would make playing sports difficult, if not impossible.
“I was never able to play sports — baseball or anything — when I was a kid,” Solano said. “Part of symptoms is zero depth perception, so if someone threw a baseball at me, I could see the baseball, but I can’t physically tell how far away it is. So I couldn’t hold my hand out to catch it.
“I wanted to try out for Little League, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Not that they were trying to be discouraging.”
No, in fact, Marco and Hannia Solano, who are originally from Costa Rica and still live in Norwalk, were always encouraging their visually impaired son to try different things.
“But at the same time they were being realistic when it came to baseball,” David said.
His frustration went beyond sports, too.
“Gym class was always a nightmare, doing things that made me look foolish and getting laughed at by kids,” Solano, who attended local public schools, pointed out. “But again, nobody really understood what I had. I didn’t, either.
“I remember trying out for the soccer team in sixth grade at Ponus Ridge. That was a complete horror show.”
There were a lot of “horror shows’ as David Solano calls them.
But in 2004, his life drastically changed.
“It hit me that I had gained a lot of weight,” he said. “I was 25 years-old, not exercising, and had gained 50 or 60 pounds the last few years. I was well over 200 pounds.
“I realized it was time to start concentrating on getting healthy and in shape. So I started lifting weights on my own and running on a tread mill. My sister in-law started doing road races and I joined her. I did a 5K and couple of 10Ks, and since 2013 I’ve run four half-marathons.”
Sure doesn’t sound like the same person who couldn’t do anything athletically as a kid does it?
And on Saturday, Solano will add another chapter to his growing list of challenges when he takes part in the Gaylord Gauntlet 5K Trail and Obstacle Run, which takes place on the Gaylord Hospital 400-acre campus in Wallingford. It is a combination of wooded trail and open-field running featuring 21 natural and manmade obstacles.
What makes this event a little bit more special to Solano, however, is where it takes place and who it benefits. Gaylord Hospital is a long-term care hospital that specializes in traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, pulmonary issues and strokes.
What’s more, the hospital is committed to the healthy and wellness of those who have been disabled by accident and illness. Since 1995, the successful Sports Association program at Gaylord provides adaptive sports and recreation opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities. Other events include wheelchair tennis and rugby and adaptive cycling, skiing and golf.
Hundreds of athletes, abled and disabled, are expected to participate in the obstacle run at Gaylord, the first and only hospital to host such an event at its facility. Norwalk’s David Solano will be among them.
But he’s not just a participant. Solano is also involved on the organizing end in his role as the Fairfield County Regional coordinator for the Achilles Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.
“A family friend who got into running after a snowboarding accident told me about Achilles and through her I met Erin Spaulding, who’s the president of the Connecticut chapter,” Solano said. “When I found out there was no Fairfield County chapter, I said I would start one.
“I help organize events and keep athletes from Bridgeport to Greenwich informed what’s going on. We also match athletes with people to provide a community of not only athletes, but people who want to help out. A lot of people not only want to run, but also help.”
Which is exactly what Solano is doing in Saturday’s Gaylord Gauntlet 5K in Wallingford. The trail and obstacle run will include a rock wall climb, vine swings and even a couple of mud pits.
“It’s a smaller version of an event called Tough Mudders,” he said of the popular endurance event, which tends to get a little messy. “My brother discovered Tough Mudders and when he started telling me about it, I said I’m in.”
As you can see, David Solano never let his lack of vision detract from his love of sports, especially after he became a father.
“Both my sons played baseball and I used to hang out by the dugout and try to do whatever I could, participate anyway I can,” the father of three — he also has a daughter — said. “I would cheer all the kids on, that kind of thing, or help roll up the tarp when it rained.
“I wished I could’ve coached, but that wasn’t feasible with my vision. Even now, I have to listen to the umpire and the crowd reaction to tell what’s going on.”
By the time Solano got to high school he had given up all hope of ever playing a sport.
“I think I could have done good in wrestling,” the 1996 Brien McMahon graduate said. “That’s a full-contact sport and doesn’t require perception. “But by that time, I was not into sports anymore. I was into music.”
Solano started playing the guitar when he was 13 and played in a couple of bands. It was a nice alternative to the sports he was denied of playing. He still takes out his guitar once in a while and jams with his teenage son.
Work is also a challenge. Solano is in sales and commutes to Stamford by train every day and then takes a shuttle bus to the building where he works. “Some mornings trying to find that can be frustrating,” he said. “I’ve never been able to drive. By the time I was old enough, my condition had progressed too much.”
Fortunately, the Retinitis Pigmentosa he’s learned to live his entire life with hasn’t progressed to the point where his new-found passion for participating in events like Saturday’s has been taken away from him. Once in a lifetime is not fair. Twice would be downright cruel.
“The progression is different in everyone and lucky for me, my progress is very slow,” he pointed out. “I actually run on my own. I don’t need a guide support. But when I do mudders and I have to run a half-mile through woods, that’s difficult. My brother helps me with that.”
In some events, he’s even been inspired by other competitors. “There’s one guy in the Hartford area who has what I have, only it seems much worse, and he’s one of the top triathletes in the country. He travels the world.”
On Saturday morning in Wallingford, when he’s maneuvering his way around the obstacle course at the Gaylord Hospital, David Solano hopes he’ll be the one inspiring a few people.
“I’ll be involved as an athlete,” he said, “but I also understand what people are going through because I went through it. So I hope to lend my support that way.”
One thing no one can ever say to him again, though, is that he’s not able to participate in sports.
Jun 23, 2015
Jun 22, 2015 | Jennifer Gonzalez
May 19, 2015
Harry is a life long resident of Bristol, CT and has been playing sports since he was born. He grew up playing football, baseball, wrestling, rock climbing, and skiing. He was even the Captain of the 1984 wrestling team at Bristol Central High school. As soon as he graduated high school he signed up for the Navy and spent three years serving in San Diego California.
After finishing his service with the Navy, Harry returned to Bristol, Connecticut and continued his career working as a welder and steelworker. Then on April 11, 1990, when he was just 24 years old, Harry was working with his boss to unload steal beams. The next thing he knew he was hit in the head by a two ton beam and then pinned underneath another one. The rest was history. He spent the next three months on life support in a coma with a severe brain injury. As he started to come out of the coma he learned he wasn’t able to talk or move anything from the neck down. However, he knew he could get better. Harry worked hard and after three years of work at a variety of rehabilitation facilities he was able to finally return home.
After his injury Harry was forced to take a new look at his life. He knew he wanted to be active and play sports but he didn’t know what he would be able to do or how he would be able to do it. A few years later he joined the Connecticut Chargers, an indoor wheelchair soccer team and has been playing with them for the past 14 years. He loved being back on a team, getting to travel and competing against other teams. However he has always been looking to do more. He hated how much time he was spending on the computer or watching TV. Then one day he saw a news report on Chapter 126 and couldn’t believe it was coming to his hometown. He joined Chapter 126 in December and has been working out regularly ever since. Today Harry has regained his speech and significant function throughout his lower and upper body. He even has been able to train and compete in his first competitive road race and took first place in the men’s wheelchair division at the Cheshire 5K.
We are inspired by Harry every time he comes in to Chapter 126 and we asked if he could share a few details about his workout routine:
Q:How do you find/ make time to get your workouts in?
Harry: I just make it a priority. Getting stronger and making moving through daily life easier is my number one goal. Without working out I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my goals. Now its part of my routine: eat, sleep and workout and the I just fit all the rest of the stuff I need to do everyday around that.
Q: What tips would you offer to someone who is just starting to workout?
Harry: I hate to give advice because I don’t think I am doing anything special. I just say to myself, “Just keep going” and that has helped me. I think if everyday if you just keep going, set new goals and keep going you will love how you start to feel and then you will want to “keep going.”
Q: What is your current workout routine like?
Harry: I like to change things up and do a variety of things. I lift weights, work on balance, and do lots of cardio. I also play soccer, train for road races and bowl. My workouts involve lots of hanging out too. I keep it fun that way its not all work.
Q: How has working out at Chapter 126 helped you on your fitness journey?
Harry: Chapter 126 really got me moving again. I would still be sitting in front of the computer if it wasn’t for Chapter 126. They met with me one-on-one and listened to my goals and are really helping me get stronger.
Q: What changes have you noticed since working out at Chapter 126?
Harry: I feel happier and I am stronger. I have lost 20 pounds, made friends and get out of the house a lot more.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Chapter 126?
Harry: I like all the equipment but I really like the staff and members. Everyone is great and really help to keep me motivated. My life has changed a lot in just a few months. They even helped get me connected to the Connecticut Chapter of Achilles and I have been training to run (well, push backwards in my wheelchair) and I completed my first 5k road race. I am now training to do a 1/2 marathon and my ultimate goal is to do a full marathon by next year. I just feel so much more connected since joining Chapter 126.
May 12, 2015
May 7, 2015
April 21, 2015 | By Kathleen Schassler, The Middletown Press
MIDDLETOWN >> Five years and more than 100 road races have gone by since Julie Cesare suffered a traumatic brain injury at work. Once a nurse, Cesare has been unable to work since that time.
After her 48-year-old brother asked her to stop smoking, Cesare listened. That was three years ago while he was being treated for the lung cancer that killed him and also threatened her sister’s life. They all were smokers. It’s why Cesare started running, she said.
She quit smoking cold turkey, trading in Newport 100s for a pair of sneakers. Without ever training a day, Cesare signed up for a local fun run.
“I was not a runner, not an athlete. I was a smoker,” said Cesare, who since has become a member of an unusual running club in the state.
As a member of Run 169 Towns Society, Cesare has joined a network of several hundred runners with a shared goal of running a race in each and every town in the state. So far, Cesare has collected 103 and counting.
“I’m just getting out there to have fun,” said Cesare, who creates and wears one of her signature tutus in every race. “I want to inspire others.”
Cesare enjoys all the positive energy she gets from the running community, and knows that no matter where she runs a race, Run 169 members will be there.
Last year, she ran more than 80 races, and although the majority are 5Ks, a good portion of the others are 10K and half-marathons. She was training for her first half-marathon when her son, Travis Rock, 24, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident about three years ago.
He has since recovered.
“I ran that year for him,” said Cesare, who already learned that “you come back different,” from a brain injury. “We each struggle from the same issues. I have to learn to accept it to go forward.”
The running goals bring Cesare to towns, “I’d never ordinarily go to,” she said. “In running with these people, you learn everybody has a story, a struggle, a hurdle.”
This year, among many other races, Cesare will run the Cheshire half-marathon on April 26 for Achilles Connecticut.
Achilles International is a not-for-profit organization that partners able-bodied runners with disabled athletes. Rock is also a member and the two often run together.
“Talk about awe inspiring,” said Cesare, of her son who’s teasing “keeps me going.”
The pair ran a 5K to top of Castle Craig in Meriden in January, no easy feat even for the fittest. It’s where they plan to do a majority of training for a June race at Mount Washington, an ultra-steep 7.6-mile race.
Cesare won a lottery spot and plans on “power hiking” it.
“I’ve definitely had my struggles,” said Cesare. “When someone tells me I inspire them, its amazing.”