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THEY NEVER GAVE UP
Richard Hoffer
December 25, 1989
Five accomplished athletes, disabled while performing their sports, faced their most difficult challenge and succeeded, against enormous odds, in building new lives
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December 25, 1989

They Never Gave Up

Five accomplished athletes, disabled while performing their sports, faced their most difficult challenge and succeeded, against enormous odds, in building new lives

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"So I got a job," he says, as if still surprised by the idea. A man in his mid-30's, no skills, no job experience. One day his aunt Lois Encarnación told him of an opening in a Tacoma school district for a paraprofessional. Seales had no idea what the job was, but he was sure he was suited for it because he had only recently left the ranks of the fully professional. He went to work at Lincoln High School, helping autistic children go to the toilet. "Not artistic," he says, "but like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Autistic."

Taking children to the toilet was the original job, but Seales has turned it into something more. "What I am really doing," he says, "is teaching them independence." Four days a week, he stands over the children at their workshop, in which they do simple manual labor such as packing doll heads into boxes. Another day each week he takes the class to an apartment where they practice housekeeping skills, which can keep the lucky ones from graduating to an institution.

Seales has been doing this for three years, which is about 2½ more than he thought he would. The wages are low, and for a man who made something of a name for himself in boxing, surely there are other opportunities. "Now that Boeing's settled their strike," Seales says, "and I have friends there, I could look into it. But then again, I'm not ready to leave the kids just yet."

He tells the story of 22-year-old Doug, one of his former students. "This student, you had to stay on task every second. 'Next one, let's go, babe. Next one, Doug.' Every second. It got so bad we used to kid each other, 'C'mon, wanna fight?' Well, I went to a work site before this summer to see where he's at. This kid is standing by himself, nobody controlling him, assembling cardboard boxes. He assembles them, goes to another site and puts them down, then he gets some more and comes back to his work site, and he keeps working. I had worked with this kid every day for a year. And now he was out there and he was doing it on his own.

"Maybe I was somebody after all," Seales says. When Doug looked up and recognized him and said, "C'mon, wanna fight?" the gold medal winner for whom nothing had broken quite right began to cry. Doug stacking boxes. The big, nearly blind man never thought he would see that.

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