Man Outraces Odds to Beat Retardation

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.

“Craig communicates in a different way than most of us do, and trying to understand that was the biggest difficulty,” said Randy Berg, one of his coaches. “You have to do a lot of sensing and feeling with Craig. It’s irrational and unscientific, but it seems to work.”

It worked well enough for Craig to be ready for the relay when the torch hit Fullerton on July 26, 1984, on its cross-country course to the Los Angeles Coliseum.

To Chan Hawley, his son’s run down Harbor Boulevard was his proudest moment as a father. “I didn’t sleep at all that night,” he said.

At the end of his kilometer, Craig handed the flame to Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton). He and his family were surrounded by a crowd of tearful onlookers and reporters, and Craig became separated from his parents.

“I looked around for Craig, and there he was, surrounded by all these people, signing his name, ‘Craig ’84, ' " Gloria said. “I didn’t know he knew how to write. I said, ‘He can’t do that.’ They said, ‘Yes, he can.’ ”

His progress did not end with the torch. As his coaches continued to run with Craig, they realized that he could run far, do well and like it. So they entered him in a 10-kilometer race just to see if he could do it. And on Aug. 26, 1984, just one month after the torch relay, Craig was entered in a race sponsored by the Fullerton YMCA.

Soaked With Blood

And he finished it.

When Craig, his father and his coaches returned home, where Gloria and Laura were waiting, they told the following story:

Craig was running well until about the sixth mile, when he suddenly stopped, started screaming and “threw a fit as only a 4-year-old, 6-foot-1 guy could do,” his mother said. No one could figure out what was wrong, and his coaches decided to take him out of the race. But before they could, Craig began to run again and finished the race at a sprint.

“When I went upstairs to shower him, I discovered that his left sock was covered with blood,” Gloria said. “I determined that one of his toenails had gouged flesh out of the other toe every time he took a step. It literally cut out a chunk.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Craig, you ran with a hurt?’ And for the first time in his life, he straightened up, and he looked at me, and he said, ‘I 10-K man.’ ”

Since that day, he has run a 10- or 5-kilometer race every month, and Gloria Hawley contends that the experience has changed her “big, likable, retarded kid.”

“He has always been a person, but he’s come into self-worth and self-recognition,” she said. “He has an identity now. He used to be Craig in his own little world, but now he gets out in a world I know nothing about. For him, running is more than mileage.”

Raising two multiply handicapped children in Southern California--a world that worships the perfect body--has turned the Hawleys into activists for the rights of their children and others like them.

Hal Eidlin, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said an estimated 100,000 retarded children are born in the United States every year.

“Craig is visible, but where are all the other children?” Gloria asked. “Why don’t we see more of them? I’ll tell you why. Because their parents have been hurt. They are afraid. There is always the mind-set in society that ‘there are places for people like that.’

“So many of the people Craig runs against don’t know he’s retarded,” she said. “You know why?” They think: “ ‘Retarded people aren’t loose out here. Retarded people don’t run. Retarded people don’t look that good. And retarded people do not pass me.’ ”

“Champions,” one of six books she has written, chronicles Craig’s growth from painful beginnings to the triumphant torch run. And he was featured in the March, 1985, issue of Runner’s World magazine.

“Because of the media attention we have received, we’ve had communication from people all over the place who have taken their children from institutions and brought them home, who have not aborted a defective fetus, who have not given up when the doctors said ‘never,’ who have prayed and trusted and seen little miracles, little progressions,” Gloria Hawley said.

Craig and Laura’s mother “will never be the mother of the bride,” she said. “No one will come along and make Craig complete. No one will come along and protect Laura. But I can’t think about that all the time.

“I do think about what they teach me, though,” she said. “Craig shows me hope beyond disaster. Laura shows me patience beyond despair. In their limitation, they awaken with joy, and that’s an endless lesson.”