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Vol. 3, Iss. 10
June 25, 2014

Boston Strong:
Insurance Coverage Veteran Jim Wagoner Has A Story You Need To Hear

I know what Boston Strong means – and so do you. It’s an attitude. An emotion. It exists in your head. Your heart. But for McCormick Barstow’s Jim Wagoner the strength also extends to his arms, legs and lungs.

The veteran and highly accomplished coverage lawyer from Fresno, California ran in the 2014 Boston Marathon. That’s an achievement that very few can claim. But Jim’s race experience differs from just about everyone else’s. With 35,000 participants in the marathon the runners are hardly alone. But Jim Wagoner was really not alone. He completed the 26 mile course while pushing his 18 year old son Colby in a racing chair. Here are a few more numbers to consider. Jim is age 65. He weighs 150 pounds. Colby is 6’3” and weighs 241 pounds. His nickname is Moose. The racing chair weighs 80 pounds. It is not hard to figure out that Jim is pushing well over twice his weight.

Pushing his children in a road race is nothing new for Jim. It is something that he has done for years with his children in an annual Father’s Day race close to home. He would do so until they grew out of the stroller and were able to run with him. But for Colby the stroller has never disappeared. It just got bigger. Colby has learning disabilities, hypotonia, autism and cannot speak.


Jim’s run with Colby earlier this year in Boston, on the world’s biggest marathon stage, was undertaken in support of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress. But the 6½ hours that Jim and Colby actually spent on the streets of Boston was just a small part of the marathon experience. It also included pre-race fundraising, a 6,000 mile round-trip journey between Fresno and the Bay State -- in a motor home, no less -- and participation in various events surrounding the race. In “Our Boston Marathon Adventure,” below, Jim shares the experience of a lifetime. Jim Wagoner is truly Boston Strong in every sense of the term.

A few words about Jim Wagoner – insurance coverage litigator. He is a partner in the Fresno office of McCormick Barstow, where he has practiced for the past 40 years. The list of reported coverage decisions in which he has been involved is endless – the names of many of which are recognizable. I can’t imagine that there are too many coverage lawyers anywhere that can compile a list as long. As a coverage lawyer Jim Wagoner has run numerous marathons.

Tim Puin of the Janik law firm brought Jim Wagoner’s story to my attention. As Tim put it when describing Jim’s story to me – Some duties are even broader than the duty to defend. Thank you Tim for alerting me to Jim’s story and to Jim for letting me share it with Coverage Opinions readers.

Our Boston Marathon Adventure
By Jim Wagoner
Based on what happened last year, I figured that if I was ever going to push Colby in the Boston Marathon, this was the year to do it. We applied and were accepted to run by the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress in support of its organization and its theme of “Promoting Acceptance And Inclusion,” a cause which could not have been any more appropriate for our family. I also had to get the racing chair approved by the Boston Athletic Association, including proof we had the right type of tires. In addition, I had to convince the guy from the Race Director’s office who called me that I wasn’t crazy (although I wasn’t so sure myself) and that I could run the course pushing 300+ pounds.

According to what I was able to determine, the course had 783 feet of uphill and there were 34 hills. I started training in November, pushing Colby up hills in Fresno’s Woodward Park. My best pre-race training memory was one time when I had just gotten through struggling to push Colby up a hill when a woman on her bike rode past us and said, “It is my birthday and you just made my day.” As she rode away, I thanked her, told her “Happy Birthday” and thought to myself – she just made mine too.

We had a lot of great fundraising moments, including Nicole’s lemonade stand in front of our house the week before we left, the ladies at Colby’s special needs class at Northwest Church spontaneously starting their own fundraising effort to help us with the travel expenses to and from Boston, the McCormick Barstow employees holding a Jeans Day and raising over a $1,000, the complimentary fundraising luncheon hosted by Fleming’s which raised almost $4,000 and the video of Glee’s Lauren Potter and the MDSC kids welcoming Colby to Boston and singing “Happy Birthday” to him. But the best “fund raising moment” was this: Colby attends school at Ramacher, which is for children and young adults with various types of disabilities. When the teachers heard about us being in the Boston Marathon, they started, on their own initiative, a fundraising effort. They had “Team Colby” t-shirts, with Colby’s picture on the front, made up for all the staff to wear on the day of the race. They also sold raffle tickets for 4 gift baskets they put together.

Wendy and I were asked to come to the school to pick the winning raffle tickets. When we got there, all the other disabled students, along with their teachers and aides, were waiting in the school yard for us and gave us a cheer. They had signs reading “Good Luck Colby” and “We Are Proud of You.” One of the non-verbal students came up to me just to touch me (I am still wondering if she was trying to say anything other than “Hello”). The best of the baskets, which was considered the grand prize, included 4 tickets to a San Francisco Giants game. One of the teachers really wanted to win it so that she could give the tickets to her dad, a big Giants fan, for his upcoming birthday. So she put her raffle tickets in her Bible and left them there and prayed all week to win it. If there was ever any doubt about whether God was blessing our journey, that doubt was erased when I pulled one of her tickets. (The raffle raised over $1,000 for MDSC).

Since Colby doesn’t do well on planes, we left for Boston on Sunday, April 13th in a rented motor home with Wendy and I sharing the driving. We saw snow in every state from Utah to Massachusetts and played the license plate game. The first night we stopped in an RV park in Utah. Colby made it clear he wanted us to explore other options for sleeping arrangements and we spent the rest of the road nights in hotels where he could walk around. For the most part, Colby loved the trip as he enjoyed being close to the family. He would watch movies (with Flora Jean dutifully holding the TV while simultaneously playing board games with Nicole), look out the window and occasionally take naps. The best “Fresno to Boston trip moment” was at the hotel in Joliet, Illinois, meeting the desk clerk, Michael, who did not have a right hand. He enjoyed hearing about our adventure and wished us the best of luck, while reminding me why God gives children with disabilities to certain parents. The rest of the trip was largely uneventful, although I did get a ticket on notorious I-90, just two miles across the state line into New York. The State Trooper was parked alone on the side of the road with his lights flashing for no apparent reason. Because it was extremely windy, I was just trying to keep the motor home going straight so I didn’t change lanes. When he pulled me over, he explained the New York law requiring drivers to move over for stopped emergency vehicles. When I explained to him why I didn’t change lanes because of the extreme wind and the safety of my family, he replied “I would have done the same thing” as he handed me the ticket. Undeterred, and since we were making good time and Colby loves waterfalls, we stopped at Niagara Falls and took pictures.

We arrived in Boston on Friday, April 18th. At the W Hotel we were greeted warmly by everybody and Colby became an instant “rock star.” One of the housekeepers on our floor, Rita Montero, became especially attached to Colby and gave him big hugs every time she saw him.

Throughout the city, “Boston Strong” signs, shirts and jackets were everywhere, and many of the marathon runners wore their bright orange or blue “Boston Marathon” jackets. We were met in Boston by a distant cousin of Wendy’s, Laura Lewis, who is a police officer for the Massachusetts Port Authority. Laura trained with Sean Collier, the M.I.T. Officer who was killed last year in the aftermath of the bombings. Talking with her about Sean and his death brought us much closer to last year’s tragedy.

Colby and I were the third leading fundraisers out of thousands of charity runners, raising over $61,000 for MDSC. The top 20 fundraisers were invited to attend a Red Sox game on Friday night in the John Hancock luxury suites at Fenway Park. Going up the elevator, a man handed Nicole a batting practice foul ball which she now cherishes and is going to encase. We were greeted at the game by, and had the pleasure to speak with, the last American winners of the Boston Marathon -- Joan Benoit (1979, 1983), Bill Rodgers (1975, 1978, 1979, 1980) and Greg Myers (1983).

MDSC held a luncheon on Saturday honoring the entire MDSC team which raised over $116,000 and we all wore our “Team Colby” shirts. When we first arrived and Maureen Gallagher, the Executive Director of MDSC, came over to introduce herself, Colby promptly pulled her hair (not quite the introduction I was hoping for). At the luncheon, we also met many of the other MDSC team members who were running in the marathon and their families.

On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny came to the hotel and Nicole and Alana were successful in finding everything he left in one of the hotel rooms. We also checked out the course (Heartbreak Hill didn’t look so bad… from the inside of a car).

On the morning of the race it was a big hassle finding the right bus to board to reach the starting line and making sure the racing chair got there. But everything worked out. The buses with the wheel chair, duo team and mobility-impaired runners were given a police escort and they literally closed down the Massachusetts Turnpike for us for about 25 miles. On the bus we had the honor of meeting and speaking with Dick and Rick Hoyt. Dick’s wife also joined us, and when she saw Colby she asked if he was “Moose.” The “best starting line moment” was at the Runners Village at Hopkington Common when Wendy, Dan, Nicole and Flora Jean gave me last hugs and Nicole said to me, “Daddy, you may not be the fastest, but you’re the best.”

The race itself was an incredible experience. The mobility-impaired runners started at 8:50 a.m. Some were blind and others went the whole way on crutches. Colby and I started with the other duo teams and the wheel chairs at 9:17 a.m., followed by the elite women runners at 9:40 a.m. and the official start at 10:00 a.m. The elite woman runners passed us at about mile 4 and they were literally flying by. At about mile 6, the elite men runners passed, one of whom slowed down enough to say hi to Colby and try to give him a high five. The strategy of the elite American men runners, to work together against the African competitors, to help Meb Kefeizighi become the first American to win in more than 30 years, was amazing – it was like a poker game broke out in the middle of a marathon.

Over a million people lined the course to watch the race and they were incredibly supportive, constantly yelling, giving us high fives, ringing cow bells and shouting words of encouragement. There were quite a few signs honoring the people who were killed in last year’s bombings as well as Sean Collier, and tons of both “Boston Strong” and “M.I.T. Strong” signs. There were also quite a few signs reading, “No More Hurting People. Peace,” the sign originally made famous by Martin Richard, the 8 year old boy who was killed in last year’s bombings.

Colby loved the race, frequently letting out yells and flapping his arms. Quite a few people tried to give him high fives and one woman stopped and offered to shake his hand and he actually shook her hand. Dennis Alves, my friend in the town of Ashland, was there with his family at the 4 mile mark and had a sign supporting us. Our friends, Paul and Susan O’Sullivan, were at mile 10 in the Town of Natick and saw us again at mile 24. The MDSC cheering section was stationed at mile 17 and the whole family—Wendy, Nicole, Dan, Joe, Abby, Alana, Ashley and Flora Jean—met us on Heartbreak Hill at about mile 20. We passed the “Official High Five Station” manned by a bunch of kids handing out high fives and also the various “scream tunnels,” including that of the Wellesley College girls who also offered kisses to runners passing by and holding signs saying things like “Kiss Me, I’m Getting Married” and “Kiss Me-I Am The Fun Size.”

Our best “during the race moment” occurred when a woman runner from the Central Valley who recognized us, ran past, and began pointing to Colby and shouting “Colby, Colby, Colby” to the crowd. The entire crowd then began chanting, “Colby, Colby, Colby” for about 100 yards and Colby began flapping his arms.
I quit counting hills when I realized that what they considered a hill, and what I considered a hill pushing Colby, were two entirely different things. We did the first 10K at under a 5 hour marathon pace. But after that, despite all our training on the hills in Fresno, and the three half marathons we did with no problem, my legs began cramping and I kept having to stop and stretch (the hills of Fresno are no match for the hills of Boston). After stretching, I would start up again and the crowd would cheer us like they would a boxer getting off the canvas on an “8 count.” I also remember thinking with about 10 miles to go that it seemed like there was a rolling clap of thunder starting about 10 feet in front of us which kept leading us as we made our way through the course.

During the last several miles I saw several runners collapsed on the street receiving oxygen and other aid as the temperature warmed up. That was one thing that made me grateful for training in Fresno. As we approached the finish line, the announcer acknowledged “Jim and Colby Wagoner” having come “all the way from California,” the money raised for MDSC and asked the crowd to thank us and our donors. And they did. We finished eighth out of nine duo teams at 6:33:16. (It was Dick and Rick Hoyt’s last race together so they took their time, finishing at 7:37:33.) After the race, we again met with Laura and also met her husband, Aaron, who works at M.I.T. and also knew Sean.

By the return trip most of the snow had melted. The best “return trip moment” was when we were driving on I-80 through Nebraska and the “Change Engine Oil” light in the motor home came on. We pulled off the freeway in Lincoln, Nebraska, eagle-eye Wendy spotted a Jiffy Lube and we met Steve Scheidt, the Manager. We began talking about the Cornhuskers coming to Fresno to play the Bulldogs for the third game of the upcoming season. While we were all in the waiting room, we struck up a conversation with Codie McGrath, a young lady who worked there and who had previously lived in California. She seemed to really like Colby. When we left, she commented that we “made her day.” As we pulled out, I thought about the woman bicyclist in Woodward Park who said the same thing and how I again felt the same way. As I thought about all the people we had encountered during the entire adventure, it also occurred to me that any time anyone slows down long enough to look for the good in someone else, they’re probably going to find it.

We were making good time and were shooting to get back home on Saturday, April 26. However, coming out of Baker, California (about 80 miles west of Las Vegas), the generator in the motor home caught fire. A man driving by saw the flames coming out of the side of the motor home and motioned for Wendy to pull over. After quickly getting everybody out of the motor home, and sitting Colby on a blanket on the side of the freeway so grandma could feed him pizza to keep him content, I tried the fire extinguisher. It gave me about two seconds worth of retardant before it pooped out. Wendy and I then began throwing everything liquid we had at the flames, including milk, orange juice, Gatorade and sodas. (It must have been quite a sight to the other drivers on I-15 heading to L.A. -- a couple trying to put out flames with a half-gallon of milk and some orange juice while Colby and Flora Jean were having a picnic on the side of the road sharing a pizza.) Eventually, another motorist with a fire extinguisher stopped and we got the fire completely out. Everyone was fine, although Nicole did become a bit upset during the first few hectic moments worrying about getting Colby out. We were told by the Fire Department that the motor home was rendered un-drivable. Nicole later commented to Flora Jean, in her typical dramatic fashion (and in all seriousness), that “this is the sort of thing that could scar me for life.”

The company we rented the motor home from claimed they could not get us a substitute until Monday because all of their locations were “closed on weekends.” When I pointed out to the gentlemen on the phone that I had picked up our motor home from their location in Clovis on a Saturday, he had no direct response and ultimately was of no help. We wound up taking a taxi back to Las Vegas, rented 2 mini vans at the airport, and drove all night to Fresno, arriving about 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

It was an honor to participate in what was a historic event in both the running community and beyond. It was also an honor to represent all of our donors (over 200 from 15 states) and supporters who helped us through this amazing adventure. The entire experience was a catharsis for our family and we are greatly appreciative of everyone who helped and supported us along the way, particularly Maureen Gallagher, Becca Canavan and Josh Komyerov at MDSC, Susan Hurley of Charity Teams and Kara McDonald of the Boston Athletic Association, and, most importantly, the students, teachers, aides and staff at Ramacher.
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