Man Outraces Odds to Beat Retardation

September 16, 1985|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

It was 4:20 on a recent Wednesday afternoon, and 20-year-old Craig Hawley descended the stairs of his Fullerton home dressed in light-blue running shorts and a striped tank top. Two of the distance runner's coaches were due at the house in a matter of minutes to put Craig through his regular workout, a three- to six-mile run in the Fullerton Hills.

Craig flopped on the family room sofa. His mother, Gloria, sat beside him, put his running shoes on his feet and tied them in double knots. The television set was tuned to "Sesame Street," and soon Craig was on his knees, calling out to the Muppets, who gamboled about on the screen: "Snuffy, friend. Snuffy."

"He may be a runner," Gloria said, "but he's still retarded."

When Craig Balwin Hawley was an infant, doctors told his parents he would never walk or talk and might die. Plagued with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, water on the brain, a curved spine and a sunken chest bone, he was destined to be locked into the isolated world of the multiply handicapped.

Today, Craig Hawley is a skilled distance runner, competing against--and often beating--many able-bodied athletes in 5- and 10-kilometer races around Southern California.

It was fitting that he recently was asked to participate in his first invitational race, the Sept. 22 seventh annual South Coast Classic, which raises money for Childrens Hospital of Orange County and is billed as a "Run for Kids Who Can't."

But it has been a long and difficult struggle.

Chan Hawley and Gloria Santilli were married in 1955 in Maryland after a whirlwind five-week romance. She was a graduate student in nursing and he was a rising young business executive. They dreamed about starting a family, and two years later Gloria was pregnant.

But as their family was starting, their dreams were ending.

After 37 hours of labor, at the end of a traumatic delivery, Laura Jeanette was born. During her birth, the infant was hurt badly, receiving a brain injury called a subdural hematoma. Because her condition was not immediately diagnosed, Laura eventually worsened, Gloria said. Inflammation gradually enveloped her whole brain, and today, at 28, she cannot communicate, cannot groom and dress herself and must be cared for continually.

"When our daughter was born we were told to put her away," Gloria said. "We didn't. We took our daughter home and lived with the child she became."

When Laura was 5, Chan and Gloria underwent genetic counseling and were reassured that they would never have another disabled child. The family moved to California, and when Laura was 8, her brother, Craig, was born.

Although he was pronounced perfect at birth, Craig did not develop normally. He was bright, but he couldn't sit up. He didn't crawl; instead, he rolled. Throughout his first year, doctors kept insisting that Craig was fine.

"Then there came a day when no one could deny it," Gloria said. "I went into a stupor for two years, took care of my kids and took pills."

It was, Chan said, "an intense disappointment, the realization that nothing could be done to help my children."

Craig's life was one round of therapy after another, and he received care that was not available to his sister. Physical therapy strengthened his body and, by age 4, he took his first steps. He learned to communicate to a limited degree. But Craig, like Laura, must still be dressed, showered, groomed and cared for by his mother.

The Hawleys eventually joined the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, where Gloria started a Special Olympics program in 1982 for the disabled children in the congregation. Craig joined, loped along, had fun.

But when Fred Dixon, who competed in the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics, began coaching the team, Craig began to change.

"I noticed Craig enjoyed the running and had a great time at it," Dixon said. "Craig has more ability than most of the kids, who are very much physically impaired. . . . He has an easy, loping kind of stride that's well suited to distance."

Talent Developed

The more Dixon worked with the boy, the more Craig's talent developed. Eventually a cadre of other runners joined the training effort. When Craig reached 19, the Olympic Games were headed to Los Angeles, and his church bought him a kilometer in the torch relay.

In April, 1984, Craig began training for the relay in earnest, running several times a week with his coaches and working out with weights and exercise machines at a Fullerton health spa that gave him a scholarship.

But it didn't always look like Craig would make it. The Rev. Paul Sailhamer said Craig's Special Olympics performances were heartfelt, but far from stunning.

"At first, if it was time to start the race, he might not want to run," Sailhamer said. "He might wander off the field (or) stop when he didn't want to run anymore."

The biggest hurdle was Craig's inability to communicate. Although Gloria said he speaks at home, his public conversation is rarely more than mimicking.

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