Alan Hieber

The late summer through the fall is a time of year I adore, not for it being a period for all things pumpkin, but as a convergence of my favorite sports such as football, basketball, tennis, and auto racing. Since I was young, sports, for me, have been a meaningful source of enjoyment, motivation, and shared interest among friends and family.

This love of sports is priceless when it comes to facing the toughest opponent I have in life, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

In my room, there are life-sized graphics on the wall of LeBron James, US women’s soccer star Alex Morgan and former NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon raced in. There is also a framed Peyton Manning jersey up there and an autographed football by him in a display case. A pair of Jordan sneakers are in my closet too. These possessions are reminders of how much sports matter to me.

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Alan Hieber, center, is pictured with his mother, sister, and father in the back row, and Colts players Ryan Diem (left) and Jeff Saturday (right) after a Colts victory and memorable day for Alan. Credit: Alan Hieber

When Jeff Gordon was in his prime on the racetrack, I was mesmerized by watching him on television, especially as a kid. My dad liked him in his early years, which I think rubbed off on me. When he won it was almost like Christmas morning for me. I can recall that day when he won the Daytona 500 in 2005, and there was clearly jubilance in my voice and my spirit. It’s moments like this when I feel a sense of accomplishment because I didn’t let DMD rob me of my joy.

Read more about DMD diagnosis and treatment

The fondest memory of connecting with my family through sports was probably when I went to a home game for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2009. By that year, I had been a fan of the team for several seasons. I was a freshman in high school then, and a former football player there happened to be visiting one day. There was a point when I started talking to him when fate would have it I found out that he had been in the NFL and played for the Colts for one season. One thing led to another, and he ultimately provided me and my family with tickets to a game that season.

In December of 2009, me, my parents, and my sister took a 90-minute drive to Lucas Oil Stadium—home of the Colts. When we got to our seats I was surprised by how good of a view it was. It ended up being a perfect setting to see my all-time favorite player Peyton Manning sling his precision passes on the way to a Colts victory.

After the game, it had been arranged that I could go down to the field and talk to some players. I met with Colts offensive linemen Ryan Diem and Jeff Saturday. We took a picture together, and they sighed as they bent down on their tired knees to get next to me. The cherry on top of that day was getting to hold one of the team’s Super Bowl rings. I cherish memories like this with my family. I’d rather remember that than a trip to the hospital with my parents.

Then there is, of course, the inspiring aspect of sports. At first glance, you might imagine that it could be hard for me to relate with athletes since I’m on the complete opposite end of their physical abilities. However, DMD hasn’t touched my mind, which means that I can still adopt an athlete’s mindset. 

For example, as I’m writing this, woman’s tennis icon Serena Williams has been winning matches at the US Open. This is despite there being doubters of the 40-year-old on the verge of retiring, or “evolving,” in her words. Here, I can relate to the fact that I’ve done things that could appear out of my reach to some, such as earning a college degree.

I also recently had the fortune of being able to purchase a video message from the service Cameo by my favorite tennis player Madison Keys. This app is meant for ordering special shout-outs for moments like birthdays or a pep talk, which various people in the public eye do. She said to me that it was a really cool thing that I see writing as my own sport. I can now replay this clip whenever I need a motivational boost.

I know that I won’t always have good days like the ones described above. But I’m reassured knowing sports will always be there to offer me sanctuary.