Editor’s Note: I’d like to share an email I received from Katie Seigenthaler, mom to George. In corresponding with Katie after this email, she shared the impact that Special Olympics has had in George’s life. She shared examples of attitude change she’s seen change in her community and spoke about the joy her family has found in Special Olympics saying it’s, “pure exaltation, and it’s infectious. You come away thinking, ‘This is what sports should be all about – and this is what life should be all about.’”
I couldn’t agree more, save for one detail. The impact of Special Olympics doesn’t come from anything we do alone – it is inspired from the determination and bravery of George and millions like him; from the courage and fortitude of Katie and all the family members like her. As you’ll read, to say George’s life to date has been one of defying expectations is an understatement. In that, George is Special Olympics. I know you’ll enjoy his story, I hope you will also share it and join me in wishing George a very Happy 16th Birthday, and many more!
George Matthew Seigenthaler Hayes is 16 Years Old!
If that seems hard to fathom, it should!
We’re talking about the boy who did nothing but seize for the first 20 months of his life; who was among the first children to undergo a hemispherectomy, the then-highly risky procedure to end intractable seizures by removing half the brain; who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 9; who was given a death sentence after he contracted pneumonia due to the cancer treatment protocol; who went on to survive three years of brutal chemotherapy only to wind up with severe osteoporosis; and who, over the course of 2 the two years following treatment, endured major reconstructive surgery on his hips and broke his legs 5 times.
Well, that “poor little fella”, as my grandmother would have said, is now merely the Ghost of Georgie Past. These days, he is loving life and living large. He wolfs down everything within reach – and is even eating a lot of meals with only minor help, a sight which is blissfully disgusting to watch. He loves high school and is so popular he’s getting a swelled head about the whole thing. In fact, he’s a chick magnet – the girls flock to him begging for high-fives so the boys fight over who gets to push him around. But when I say “push”, don’t get the wrong idea – he’s also spending more and more time on his feet and learning how to bear weight and walk again with assistance – something we were told not to expect after all the insults to his bones after cancer treatment. Well, the doctors may have told us that, but they forgot to tell George – and, as we’ve come to expect, he’s elected to defy the odds yet again.
In fact, Georgie is emerging as the only bona fide athlete in the Seigenthaler-Hayes family. There is no sport he won’t try, no athletic endeavor he’s won’t pursue. No fear. No trembling. Just do it. That’s how George rolls. (See pics attached) He’s a clutch player on all of his Special Olympics teams, recently starting as center for the SO New Trier basketball squad after being moved up from JV to V just 3 months prior. We’ve been warned by the coaches that visits from recruiters may be in the offing, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Not all is perfect – after all, he is 16. The biggest battle we’re facing right now is he blithely mows down kids in the New Trier hallways with his power wheelchair, and thinks this is good humor. So the detention hours are piling up and a lot of our conversations these days begin with, “Georgie, how would you feel if…” Oh well! This is a problem I think we can live with.
To say that George has come a long way in 16 years would be the understatement of the 21st century. And as we mark this momentous and meaningful birthday, we’re also reminded of something that doesn’t need to be dissected or explained: ANYTHING is possible.
Happy Birthday George!!