The other day, at my 8 year old’s Little League game, I was lucky enough to witness an extraordinary moment. My son plays on a team with a 10 year old boy named Baxter. Baxter’s 11 year old brother, Tripp, was born with a form of dwarfism known as Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita or SED. I can’t pronounce that name for you, but it rolls right off the tongue of Tripp’s mom.
Coach Talking to Tripp – Photo taken by Allison Profeta
The coach of the team and Tripp’s mom arranged for Tripp to throw out the first pitch of the last regularly scheduled game of the season. In the photo above, the coach is letting Tripp know what is about to happen. You see, Tripp is in that scooter because he is recovering from a series of major surgeries. The first was to stabilize his neck, and the second two were to reconstruct both of his hips. He was in a full body cast for months and is still recovering, rebuilding his strength, and receiving physical therapy. Each surgery and follow up requires a long trip to Delaware, where his surgeons and specialists are located.
The coach let Tripp know that he wanted Tripp to walk from the sideline to the pitcher’s mound using his walker, throw out the first pitch, then walk all the way back. Tripp’s mom was hesitant. She was unsure that he would have the strength, after that long walk, to take one hand off of his walker long enough to throw the pitch. Tripp piped up with a confident “I’ll do it!” so his mom stepped back.
And he did it.
Tripp Rises – Photo by Allison Profeta
Flanked by his best friend and his mom, Tripp rose out of his scooter as his name was announced over the PA. Everyone clapped as he slowly made his way to the mound.
Walking Out to the Mound – Photo by Allison Profeta
This short walk that most of us do without thinking twice, was visibly arduous for Tripp. His walker got stuck in the dirt more than once. He never asked for help. He never faltered.
Once out there, his younger brother, Baxter, handed him the ball. Baxter frequently catches for the team, and he was suited up for this game. The opposing team lined up along the third base line. Our team, many of them friends with Baxter and Tripp, took a knee behind the pitcher’s mound and removed their caps.
Brothers – Photo by Allison Profeta
The coach leaned in and exchanged words meant just for him and Tripp. He pointed at home plate. I’d seen him do the same thing dozens of times to each of the kids on his team. Tripp’s pitch was no different.
Throw it Home, Tripp – Photo by Allison Profeta
Tripp moved his walker aside and threw in the first pitch, while teammates and spectators applauded. After, the coach gave him a ball signed by everyone on the team.
Applause – Photo by Allison Profeta
Then he made the long trek back. He was visibly tired, and remarked to his mom, “You better not make me walk again today. Or for the rest of the week!” Step after step, he made his way across the infield to his scooter.
Walking Back – Photo by Allison Profeta
Seeing this, witnessing this boy’s public triumph over personal adversity, will forever be an experience for which I am thankful. That night I asked Tripp’s mom if I could write about it and share with everyone how difficult this was for Tripp. She in turn shared with me emails that she saved from when Tripp was born. You see, in addition to being born with dwarfism, Tripp was also two months premature. Upon his birth, Tripp’s grandmother (Jamie’s mom) started sending out emails to friends and family keeping them posted on Tripp’s health and continual ups and downs.
The emails are fraught with uncertainty. From day to day, Tripp took one step forward and two steps back. Always, her mother maintained an upbeat tone and continuously asked loved ones to keep him in their prayers.
Jamie spent hours at the hospital, crying as she watched her son suffer, celebrating when she saw her son’s smiles, rallying when she wanted answers from nurses and doctors. And these emails, it turns out, are just a small taste of the battles fought and conquered so far in Tripp’s 11 years.
For his first 8 years, the family didn’t even have a definitive name for his form of dwarfism. Originally he was thought to have a form of dwarfism that is always fatal in infancy. The day he turned a year and a day the doctors were able to rule that out since there had never been a documented case of anyone with that form of dwarfism surviving past the age of 1. Eventually doctors thought he had SED, but the test for SED had not yet been approved. The test was still in the “testing” stage, so it was not covered by insurance. Unable to afford the thousands of dollars needed to pay for the test, the family lived for years only assuming he had that form of dwarfism. After the test was approved and covered, they were finally able to find out it was absolutely SED.
Here he is though. Walking tall, unafraid to conquer that pitcher’s mound. Our community rose to applaud him and celebrate him, and in the process reminded me of the importance of neighbors and friends. The day to day moments of our lives that we witness play out across the expanse of our front lawns, or over the fences of our back yards, or while meeting down at the park, bring all of us together in triumph and tragedy. Watching one family’s moment of triumph is an incredible, humbling honor. For we all hope for the same celebration and support in the moments when a life lived with shadows comes around to see the sun.
As I was writing this, and looking over my photos (all of which were taken with my phone – what a day to NOT have my camera on hand – ugh!), my 8 year old came in and looked over my shoulder. “Is that Tripp walking?” he asked. When I replied “Yes,” he broke out in a huge grin and threw a celebratory fist pump into the air.
I knew exactly how he felt. Tripp is the biggest hero we’ve ever met.
Exhausted, Tripp backs up to sit in his scooter as his brother Baxter is warming up in the background. – Photo by Allison Profeta