In the spirit of 'Rocky'

Felice Cantatore (left) and Rocky impersonator Mike Kunda give Hyatt a hand at the top of the Art Museum steps.
Felice Cantatore (left) and Rocky impersonator Mike Kunda give Hyatt a hand at the top of the Art Museum steps.

Woman with cerebral palsy takes the Art Museum challenge.

Posted: July 30, 2012

The climb up the 72 steps that lead to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art began at 10 a.m. Saturday for the woman known as the Left-Thumb Blogger.

Glenda Watson Hyatt, a 44-year-old writer with cerebral palsy whose autobiography is called I'll Do It Myself, didn't quite do it alone.

The Rocky devotees wouldn't let her.

Hyatt was surrounded by a Rocky impersonator, a newspaper executive who wrote a book about Rocky, and a band playing the Rocky theme. Former boxer Chuck Wepner, the inspiration for the movie that made climbing the steps a symbol of personal triumph, was a little late.

But by 10:02, Hyatt was a few wobbly steps into fulfilling a dream that took shape a few years ago while she watched a Rocky movie marathon on her laptop.

"A little voice whispered in my ear, 'I want to do that,' " Hyatt said in an e-mail interview Friday. "I brushed it off with a, 'Yeah, sure, as if.' But once I heard that voice, I couldn't unhear it."

For the writer and accessibility expert from Surrey, British Columbia, climbing the steps was a personal dare that she embraced to defy perceptions about people with disabilities. Her effort, she hoped, would encourage people living with those challenges "to try something new."

Hyatt's condition, a result of oxygen deprivation during birth, has affected her speech, muscle coordination, and balance. She has been labeled functionally nonverbal and uses a wheelchair or scooter. She often uses a text-to-speech application to communicate. She types with one finger.

Her achievements themselves - bachelor's degree, marriage, successful career - defy the conventional wisdom of 44 years ago, when doctors told her parents to institutionalize her.

They didn't. Instead, her family immersed her in activities. She camped, rode horses, and went snowshoeing.

Hyatt first expressed her desire to follow in Rocky's footsteps on her Do It Myself blog. From there, word spread online and by phone. Soon, pledges to help came from Mike Kunda, a Rocky impersonator from Camp Hill; Felice Cantatore of Long Island, author of Rocky Spirit, a book about life lessons in the movie; and Dave Girgenti, the Cherry Hill founder of a website and foundation that grants wishes. Cantatore called Wepner, who said to count him in.

"Here's a woman who types her blog with one finger and she's about to ascend the Rocky steps," said Girgenti, founder of Wish Upon a Hero, a Voorhees group that connects people who make wishes with wish-granters.

Hyatt scheduled the climb during a swing through Pennsylvania for a motivational speech. On Saturday morning, a crowd of about 50 started to gather at 9.

The sun was hot, and the humidity made it feel hotter.

About 9:20, Hyatt rolled up on a red scooter stocked with bottles of water. She said she felt nervous.

At 10, it was time. The Rolling Trumpet Ensemble from Rowan University took its place at a landing near the top.

Cantatore, Kunda, and a few others flanked Hyatt and held on to her as she stood and gingerly began the climb.

Cue trumpets.

Seven minutes later, Hyatt was at the top. Cheering well-wishers surrounded her. By then, Wepner had arrived, and the party was complete.

Hyatt described the feeling as "awesome." Wepner called Hyatt's achievement a "great thing."

The journeyman boxer, whose life is the subject of a forthcoming movie, The Bleeder, said Rocky's climb was inspired by a training routine he did at Stephen R. Gregg Bayonne Park in New Jersey.

Wepner, 73, said he could still do it today - "Just make sure you have a defibrillator at the top."

Also waiting for Hyatt was Peter McGuinness, director of admission at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy in University City.

McGuinness presented Hyatt with a picture painted by several students who wanted "to join in the spirit and show their appreciation," he said.

When it was all over, Hyatt, back on her scooter, made her way down a ramp.

She stopped to pose for pictures in front of the Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps, and raised her arms, like the fictional underdog, in triumph.


Contact Kristin E. Holmes

at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|