A self-described baseball fanatic, 9-year-old Dylan Boehler spends the warmer months playing on a Little League team, watching baseball on television or taking in a game at Miller Park.
“I just love everything about it,” said Dylan, a fourth-grader at St. Gabriel School, Hubertus. “I don’t care what position I play; I just like to play.”
Born with a hearing impairment that grew worse by the time he was 3 and a half, Dylan’s parents, Mark and Amy, took him to auditory verbal training and had him fitted with bi-lateral hearing aids. His hearing worsened, despite adjustments to his hearing aids. He received a cochlear implant last year, which has bestowed nearly normal hearing upon him and allowed him to hear his coach and play baseball.
Another baseball enthusiast, 24-year old Jacob Landis from Annapolis, Md., who also has a cochlear implant, recently inspired Dylan.
Landis, of www.Jacobsride.com, had to quit baseball at age 10 because he could not hear his coach. He recently spent nine months biking across the United States, stopping at all 30 Major League ballparks in an attempt to raise $1 million for people who cannot afford the cochlear implants. Many insurance companies do not cover the $75,000 implants.
When Dylan learned Landis was coming to a Milwaukee Brewers game on one of his stops, he raised money to give to him when they met at the game. With permission from school principal, Judy Mortell, Dylan asked fellow students and teachers for donations.
“I posted requests on Facebook, and Dylan went out and asked family members, friends and people in our neighborhood for donations,” said Amy. “In just a week, he raised $650 which he gave to Jacob on May 21, when he met him at the Milwaukee Brewers game, about a third of the way through Jacob’s journey.”
Inspired by Dylan’s tenacity, the Jacob’s Ride team launched The Dylan Challenge to inspire younger communities to lend a hand. The top fundraisers competed for three prizes: a trip for two to Miami for the ride finale Sept. 24, a new bicycle and memorabilia from Jacob’s Ride.
In all, Dylan’s Challenge raised more than $1,500 and Mortell is not surprised with the efforts of the generous boy.
“The whole Boehler family is very active at St. Gabriel School. With four young children, they are consistently volunteering and they play a key role at events. They have a deep commitment to the Catholic faith and demonstrate this commitment by choosing to make the sacrifice to send their children to a Catholic school,” said Mortell. “This commitment to faith has had a great affect on Dylan. He has faced his challenges with hearing in such a way that his peers treat him just like any other student. Dylan is generous and quick to help.”
Mortell recalled her surprise that the day Dylan returned to school after his cochlear implant surgery, he began fundraising for Jacob’s Ride.
“Parents were at school for a Mother’s Day breakfast and after listening to Dylan discuss Jacob’s Ride, they began reaching into their purses to contribute,” she said. “Dylan collected over $150 that morning. The next day, students brought in contributions. Dylan has demonstrated courage in facing his challenges and he has demonstrated his generosity in supporting Jacob’s Ride; he is well liked and respected at school.”
This is not the first time Dylan has championed for cochlear implants. Four years ago, he and his parents traveled to the capital and spoke in front of the Wisconsin Legislature to request that insurance companies be required to pay for cochlear implants and hearing aids.
“He was able to go into then-Governor Doyle’s chambers when he signed the law mandating insurance companies to cover hearing aids and cochlear implants for kids under 18,” said Amy. “The law affects 27 percent of residents in Wisconsin, mainly the big companies. Some insurance companies don’t have to follow the state law. We have heard from people who were able to get hearing aids and implants because of this law and that makes us very happy.”
For Dylan, the desire to help others runs deep as he is always thinking of making lives better for those who cannot hear. Amy said her son has always been generous with his time and resources, giving money to others, and finding ways to help.
“I really want to help others and I pray for the other kids who can’t hear all the time,” Dylan said. “God helps me think of things to do, and I wanted to help Jacob because I didn’t think he was going to reach his goal of a million dollars.”
While Jacob fell short of his goal, he managed to ride 10,500 miles and raise $150,000 for the Gift of Hearing Foundation to provide cochlear implants for 15 people with matching grants funds. Unfortunately, Jacob’s ride was cut short as he was struck by a semi truck just 170 miles from his final destination at Marlins Park in Miami.
“I was so scared,” admitted Dylan. “I wanted to know if he was hurt, how he got hit, where he got hit and when I could see him.”
Fortunately, Landis’ injuries were not life threatening, but left him with a fractured cheek, broken nose, damaged arm and chipped teeth. It also left onlookers wondering why the truck driver did not stop after hitting the charity cyclist.
“Despite this terrible accident, this story has done a lot for my faith, and there are some really good hearted people in the world,” said Amy. “I just have to believe in my heart that the trucker was a good-hearted person who just didn’t know he hit Jacob.”
Through Dylan’s efforts, he made new friends in the hearing and the deaf communities.
“We don’t want Dylan’s world to make him different with groups that include only deaf kids, but we wanted to raise him in a world where he could experience many groups of people,” said Amy. “That is why we sent him to St. Gabriel and integrated him with the hearing world. We worked with him when he was very young in auditory training and mainstreamed him, and the whole experience with Jacob’s Ride just broadened his whole world.”