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The Angel's Wings: A bond that lifts a disabled athlete to unbelievable heights

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
July 6, 2016


Editors Note: When I first caught wind of the Hogarths, I must admit I prepared myself for a tear-jerking type of story. That changed almost instantly as I walked in the door and saw the smile on Jake Hogarth’s face. I knew then that this was not a sad story, this is an uplifting story about a mother who refuses to let outside perception keep her son down. I hope you enjoy reading about their journey as much as I enjoyed spending an evening with them.

Sometimes, the beautiful relationship between a mother and her son needs no words. Spend some time with Susan and Jake Hogarth and that will never be more apparent.

Jake, 10, has Angelman Syndrome or AS. The complex genetic disorder keeps him from speaking, running or jumping but what he can’t do pales in comparison to what he can, much in part to his mother’s love.

It’s so easy to focus on the “can’t” and many people, some close to Jake, did just that. Susan was the exception.

“I put no limits on him,” she said. “He’s a kid, and he’s going to do stuff. We’re going to figure out what he likes.”

Figuring out what he likes is easier than you may think, his infectious smile and contagious laugh will tell you everything you need to know.

unnamed-2“We go to the Buell Theatre; he loves the shows. We go to musicals all the time,” mom explains. “He goes up to Breckenridge and does skiing. He plays adaptive baseball at the Jason Jennings Adaptive Field.”

Many “Angels,” as they call them, are attracted to the water. Jake is no different.

“Swimming is his favorite. He could be in the water all day long,” Susan says with a laugh.

Jake participates on the Special Olympics Swim team, he just recently completed his first unassisted race; he swam the 25-meter freestyle.

The smiley 10-year-old just crossed over to official Boy Scout status, “It’s extremely significant for any kid but for a special needs kid to be able to do that is pretty impressive,” mom proudly states.

There’s so much he can do, and even if he “can’t” the two of them find a way.10406516_578322298986321_3220717445817775189_n

Jake grabs his tablet and opens up a list complete with a plethora of expressions and begins to pound away.

“Go! Camp! Marshmallows!” The device blurts out as Jake looks up with a smile that could light the night.

He had just returned from his 5th-grade outdoor education field trip in Estes Park.

“He could talk about that all day,” Susan says.

Don’t try to tell her he can’t talk.

13339505_630228723795678_4215018264752037957_nOr maybe people should keep telling them what Jake can’t do, because every time somebody doubts the two of them, they find a way. They said he couldn’t ski—he’s on the slopes. They said he couldn’t play baseball—he’s swinging for the fences. They said he’d never make friends—the kids at school argue over who gets to sit with Jake.

So despite him not being able to run, they even found a way to participate in triathlons together. Their bond is strong, but it shines brightest when they take to the course. With the help of a cart that Susan pushes from behind, a bike trailer and a raft that straps to her waist, Susan competes in full triathlons with Jake at her side.

“We race for Athletes in Tandem, a non-profit that helps individuals with disabilities participate in all kinds of activities,” she explains.

They competed in their first race in 2014 and both of them loved it, so the next year they turned it up a notch.

“2015 we did a bunch of races together, I just wanted to get into it more,” Hogarth explains, pointing to the dozens of pictures lining every wall in the house the two of them share. “We did eight triathlons that season; it was awesome. You just get more fulfillment out of a race like that.”

“He really enjoys it which is great, it’s why I do it,” she adds. “If he didn’t enjoy it there would be no point. He points to the pictures like, ‘When are we going?'”13439175_640124942806056_4007645221893309066_n

For Susan, it’s hard work, a massive challenge getting Jake, now 95 pounds, through the course. For Jake, it’s his celebrity moment.

“He’s just such a social butterfly; he’s out there and he’s waving at people. He’s like Miss America,” she jokes. “I look back in the raft to make sure he’s okay and he’s waving and making noises, or he’s got his hands behind his head just kicking back and relaxing.”

Jake’s celebrity has actually grown in the racing community. Each year, the two of them are the official starters of the Tribella Women’s Triathlon, but what they give to participants at the beginning of the race pales in comparison to what they give them at the end.

“I’m kind of walking and pushing him, and the other women are like, ‘If you’re pushing him, I can run. You give us so much inspiration.'”

You don’t need a bib to take inspiration from Jake and Susan, though, they are a constant reminder to never put limits on anyone.

Last week the two of them finished the Tribella—a 1/2-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 3.1-mile run—in a record time of under two hours, despite Jake coming in 20 pounds heavier than the last time they took to the course.

Soon, Jake will compete in his first triathlon on his own—something he was already signed up for before the race was cancelled—in the fall he’ll be in middle school where he’ll join the theater club and try for a role in the school play. He’ll continue to do all the things so many thought he 13529121_640124859472731_220188098821717667_ncouldn’t and his mom will be right there all the way, cheering him on. He has someone who believes in him, and that’s all he needs.

Sometimes, the beautiful relationship between a mother and her son needs no words.

“I can’t even put it into words; this is all I’m putting my heart into right now.”

Spend some time with Susan and Jake Hogarth and that will never be more apparent.


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