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Home > News Briefs > Patrick Henry Hughes Book

Excerpt from I Am Potential

I Am Potential by Patrick Henry Hughes Patrick Henry
We arrived at band camp at the university a little before eight in the morning. It was already getting hot, and with the high humidity, the air would soon be thick and steamy. As we got out of the van, Dad commented on the TV panel trucks parked near the entrance. Must be typical preseason coverage, we decided. All things associated with University of Louisville football, even the band, had become big news in town in recent years. Dad moved me to my chair and we started toward the field.

When we got to the field, the camera crews were milling around, waiting for something to happen. I noticed they perked up when we came by. Patrick Henry was already somewhat well known in the Louisville area. Had word gotten out that he was going to be in the University of Louisville marching band? Not looking back in their direction, I said a quick prayer that they'd vamoose.

Patrick Henry was given a position among the trumpets. I felt conspicuous as all get-out, standing there behind my son in a wheelchair along with more than two hundred students less than half my age. The trumpets were split into three sections of about eight members each. Each section had a leader, an upperclassman who helps organize the section and gives the movement commands during practice.

We started with rudimentary commands. Forward march on the count of four: "One, two, ready, go!" Then we'd march in place—mark time—to a four count before stepping forward sixteen paces. We'd again mark time to a four count, then retreat backward sixteen paces. The seasoned band members knew exactly what to do. We freshmen had a rough time keeping up, and I was the worst of the bunch.

Following orders while pushing the chair was challenging, but the marching band practice field made things a hundred times worse. The field was a mess, nothing like the smooth, grassy surface of the football practice fields. The drainage was terrible, and there were sections with soupy mud, deep ruts, and standing water, perfect for the breeding of mosquitoes. Even though I wouldn't be here more than a day, I felt that the band of a major university in the Big East conference should have far better training facilities than this.

I would have had a tough time pushing the wheelchair even if the field had been pristine, but the sorry condition made it virtually impossible. The small front wheels are meant for hard, predictable surfaces, like concrete and asphalt. Not grass, and especially not mud. Each time I tried to push forward, the small wheels got stuck. This threw me out of step with everyone else, which helped me stand out even more. After a while, I realized if I wanted to move forward, I'd have to lean Patrick Henry backward and push him as though he were doing a wheelie. Going backward wasn't as much of a problem, because the big wheels on the back of the chair were going first.

At this point, my goal was to get through the day without overly burdening the other band members or disrupting what they were trying to do. I worried constantly that I might plow into someone up ahead if I couldn't stop fast enough or, when turning, back into someone.

As the hours passed, I grew more frustrated. Luckily, I had been jogging several days a week and playing a lot of golf, so I was in pretty good shape. But leaning back with the wheelchair while pushing forward for a full day was a very different kind of exercise, and it was tough on my lower back, which was now starting to ache. By afternoon, the field had deteriorated even more. Soon there were places I couldn't take the wheelchair at all. I'd have to scoot Patrick Henry over to the sidelines to get him out of the way, then run back and jump into the formation and keep going.

The worst part was the sun. I had a big sun hat for Patrick Henry and had put sunblock on his face. He had worn long sleeves and pants to protect his arms and legs, but the clothing must have made him feel hotter than blazes. I wore a golf shirt and shorts, and only a little sunblock on my face. When we'd stop, I'd quickly move to shield him from the sun, facing him with my back to the sun. This helped him, but it kept me exposed. By the end of the day, the backs of my arms, neck, and knees were severely sunburned.

Band training camp goes from eight in the morning until eight at night. It was exhausting, and I resolved to make an appointment with the president of the university the next day. Dr. Byrne is a nice guy, and I didn't want to cause him any trouble, but this was ridiculous. I took a breath and looked around. Thankfully, at least the TV camera crews were gone.

Finally, practice was over and we dragged ourselves to the van. Patrick Henry, as usual, seemed in good spirits and no worse for wear. I was completely spent. Knowing I had to be at work at eleven that night didn't help matters.

We got home and cleaned up. A cold shower never felt so good, especially on my sunburned legs. Patricia had something for us to eat, and since I hadn't eaten much of anything earlier because I was so hot and miserable, I devoured dinner. While we ate, Patricia tried to comfort me. Looking at me sunburned and all bent over, she was probably worried that doing this every day might kill me.

After eating, I turned on the TV to catch some of the news, as I normally do before leaving for work. I couldn't believe what I saw.

The teaser was a shot of me pushing Patrick Henry around the practice field and how wonderful I was to be doing that to give my son the chance to participate. The other local news channels led off with our story, too. My jaw dropped. With this on the air, I was toast. Everything pointed toward my continuing with band camp for another nine days.

Excerpted from I Am Potential: Eight Lessons on Living, Loving, and Reaching Your Dreams by Patrick Henry Hughes with Patrick John Hughes and Bryant Stamford (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2008).

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Excerpt courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Copyright 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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