Insider September-October 2007

by Quest Staff on September 1, 2007 - 11:09am

QUEST Vol. 14, No. 5

The Guy you can't deny

It’s said Guy Buzzelli Jr. won’t take “no” for an answer when he’s seeking sponsors for MDA Pittsburgh’s annual Muscle Team fund-raiser.

Buzzelli doesn’t go quite that far. “I wouldn’t say I’m tenacious, but I’ve learned that not many people will come up and give you money for a sponsorship unless you ask them,” he says. “And I DO ask them.”

Buzzelli’s diagnosis of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy in 1972 wasn’t a stumbling block to his personal drive. Now 44, he worked 22 years for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, Pa., but even before retirement he sought additional outlets for his unbridled energy.

He found one with his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates; to say he is an enthusiastic fan would be an understatement. Today he’s a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates Gold Club, a group of local business professionals who obtain renewals for current season-ticket accounts and attract new ones.

Guy Buzzelli (right) beams upon being named the Pittsburgh Pirates' top ticket salesman.

Buzzelli seems to have done well in that role. He was the first club member to sell $300,000 in tickets in a single season. He also was the first to sell $1 million in career ticket sales, then the first to reach the $2 million mark.

Prior to a Pirates game in July of last year, Buzzelli was presented with a plaque for his sales prowess, at home plate in front of thousands of cheering fans.  On the same occasion, Exceptional Parent magazine honored Buzzelli as “a friend and advocate for the special needs community.” And, since the timing was appropriate, MDA representatives presented him with a plaque naming him the 2006 MDA Personal Achievement Award recipient for Pennsylvania.

Buzzelli has been on MDA’s local Muscle Team committee for three years, and the event’s continued income growth is a direct reflection of his personal work ethic, says MDA District Field Representative Randi Minerva. He helps recruit not only new sponsors, but also big-name athletes to attend the event, and 2006 was a gangbuster year for him on both accounts.

In recognition, MDA, at the 2007 Muscle Team gathering in April, awarded him the inaugural Guy Buzzelli Jr. Champion of Spirit Award for “making an astounding difference in the Pittsburgh community while spreading awareness of neuromuscular disorders.” At the start of the presentation, Minerva chanted, “2006 was the year of Guy! The Guy you can’t deny!”

In the future, the award named in Buzzelli’s honor will be presented annually to people who exemplify the same spirit and drive he demonstrates full time.

“I wanted to be a part of the Muscle Team because when I was a kid I had the opportunity to attend MDA summer camp every year, and I remember how much fun I had and how much I looked forward to it,” he says. “I want to give back now, to see that other kids have the same opportunity I did.

“My motto has always been, ‘work hard, stay positive and pursue your dreams,’” he says. “Since I was a kid growing up with muscular dystrophy, I never wanted people to be sorry for me. I stayed positive and worked hard, and I pursued my dream, which was to become a Pittsburgh Pirate some day.

“It’s funny how things turn out, because now I look at it like I’m playing for the Pirates, just in a different capacity.”

Key chains help teen win world record

Nineteen-year-old Brent Dixon of Valdosta, Ga., has set a new world record for the largest individual collection of key chains — 41,418 unique key chains in all. He will appear in the 2008 or 2009 volume of the Guinness Book of Records.

Dixon amidst some of his 41,418 key chains. (Photo courtesy of the Valdosta Daily Times.)

Dixon, who has spinal muscular atrophy and uses a power wheelchair, started his key chain collection in 2001 as a hobby suggested by his mother, Karen. As people found out about it, they mailed him key chains from across the country and around the world.

When his collection grew to 2,500 key chains, Dixon decided to go for the record, which was around 25,000. In February, Valdosta Mayor John Fretti personally presented the Guinness award to Dixon.

“The experience taught me that no matter what disability you have or what obstacle is in your life, you can do anything,” says Dixon, who graduated from Lowndes High School in May. “Don’t quit and take every challenge that you can.”

Showing a mini champion

Kari Ginther of Raymond, Wash., lives and breathes miniature horses. For 13 years, Ginther, 24, has worked at Mountcastle Miniature Horses, a farm owned by her parents that’s devoted to breeding, selling and showing mini horses.

"Our goal is to breed horses that truly look like horses in miniature," says Ginther, who has Friedreich's ataxia (FA) and uses a power wheelchair. Mountcastle's horses all are 31-34 inches tall.

Ginther and Tigger show off their Grand Championship.

Ginther, who was in 4-H as a child, makes all the farm's buying, selling and breeding decisions, and has shown her mare, Mountcastles Reality Check (aka Tigger) in more than 30 shows, many of them halter classes, in which she walks and trots Tigger on a halter to show off the horse's body conditioning and natural movements. The team used to do driving shows, but Ginther's FA has progressed to where the driving cart doesn't offer enough support.

"My favorite class is the Liberty Run, where the horse is brought into the arena and turned loose," she says. "The horse works at liberty for a minute and a half, while music plays (Tigger's song is the Monkees' 'I'm A Believer'). The handler then has a minute and a half to catch the horse!"

This year, Ginther and Tigger have taken home a variety of awards, including being named Grand Champion Amateur Mare three times.

"Minis are perfect-sized horses for someone with a disability," says Ginther. "Many times, a large horse is too much to handle. I'd love to talk to anyone interested in owning, showing or breeding miniatures."

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