No Matter What Challenges You Face

No Matter What Challenges You Face: A Remarkable Friendship

What traits do you look for in a friend? What activities do you enjoy most with your friends? How would you communicate your feelings if you lost the ability to speak? Two-year olds and adolescents both love the feeling of independence. For the two-year olds, the feeling is fueled by the ability to move around independently — often amazingly quickly — and the ability to say, “NO!”

Most adolescents have the physical skills necessary to be independent. The next task is to develop the life skills necessary to make the many complicated choices showing we have the maturity and responsibility that accompany independence. One of those choices is how we choose to interact with people who are very different from us. The desire to fit in with our peer group may complicate our choice. Sometimes our choice may be complicated by our wish to fit in with our peer group. Sometimes our choice sets an example of the best that we can be.

Imagine having a friend who can’t go for a pizza, shoot hoops, or play video games with you. In fact, the friend can only communicate with you by blinking their eyes for “Yes.” How far would you go to provide that friend with opportunities they might not have without your help? That was the situation for Dayton and Spencer, two thirteen-year old friends in Gilbert, Arizona.

Dayton Hayward was born with cerebral palsy. Due to the severity of his condition, Dayton does not move on his own and cannot speak. He responds to questions by blinking for ‘Yes”. If there is no blink for a question, then his answer is “No” His family has always included Dayton in their activities. Family bike rides, with Dayton in a tow trailer, gave him the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and the feeling of the wind rushing past his face.

Dayton and Spencer Zimmerman became friends through their church youth group. Spencer takes the responsibilities of leadership of the group very joyously. He feels service to others is a win-win experience. “It makes you feel good and makes the other person feel even better.”

Physical activity is also very important to Spencer. He had participated in several youth triathlons and was looking forward to the 2011 Gilbert Mini-Triathlon Event. The event would require athletes to bike 12 miles, swim 500 meters, and run 3.2 miles. He decided it would be even more fun to participate in the triathlon with a friend, and he chose to ask Dayton. When their families were together, Spencer decided it would be a good time to invite Dayton to be his partner in the event. Spencer leaned down, grabbed Dayton’s knees, and looked into his friend’s face.
“Dayton, would you like to run a triathlon with me?”

Those few seconds of silence must have seemed like forever to everyone watching. Then, suddenly, Dayton began to blink…yes, Yes, YES!
After many training sessions, testing both the equipment and the boys’ endurance, Dayton and Spencer were ready to compete. The first leg was biking the 12 miles. Dayton’s tow cart was attached to Spencer’s bike. At the signal, they were off!

Spencer recalls, “It felt harder on the bike, pulling someone behind me the whole way. But it felt awesome, knowing that my good friend was within five feet of me the whole time. You can do hard things, no matter what your challenges are.”

When they finished the twelve miles, Spencer pulled on a harness attached to a small inflatable raft. When Dayton was secured in the raft, Spencer began to swim the necessary laps. At the end of the 500 meters, Dayton was lifted out of the boat and transferred into the tow trailer again, with a push bar accessory which allowed Spencer to push Dayton ahead of him as he ran. Over half way through the 3.2 miles, Spencer began to feel sapped of strength and energy.

“I was out of juice! I was just out of energy to go on. Then, I saw Dayton smiling. I could feel his spirit. The spirit was pushing me. I don’t know where it came from, but somehow I got the energy to sprint the last few hundred yards to the finish line.”

Spencer and Dayton proved that it is indeed possible to do hard things, no matter what challenges you face. Spencer did not expect to have the video clips of their triathlon become a YouTube sensation. He just wanted to share the experience with his friend and give Dayton the chance to feel the wind in his face. Neither did he expect to receive the Gilbert Citizen of the Month Award from Gilbert Mayor, John Lewis. Dayton was there to share in the moment too. Spencer pushed him forward in his wheelchair to share in the ceremony.

And how did they do in the triathlon? They finished 82nd overall, but with two First Places… one in Relay…and the other in Friendship.

  1. How does Dayton’s medical condition affect his daily life?
  2. What extra practice and support from others may have been necessary for Spencer and Dayton to participate in the triathlon?
  3. Explain what you think Spencer meant by his statement, “You can do hard things, no matter what your challenges are.”
    ©2012, AGREE / SLS Page 3 of 3 No Matter What Challenges You Face
  4. Once Spencer mentions that “feeling his good friend was within five feet” of him during the whole event was awesome. Later he says that feeling Dayton’s spirit gave him the energy to push on when he was out of juice. What do you think that Spencer sees in Dayton that others might not notice?
  5. Take a position on the following statement and explain your reasoning:
    It would be easier for a teen-ager to engage in a friendship with someone who has a severe disability than it would be for an adult to do so.
    EXTRA: Go to and look up Golden Rule Award Banquet, 2013. Discover what famous personality spoke about Spencer and Dayton before he spoke about his own award.