Daniel Pitaluga’s photo submission caught the judge’s eye with its charm, cuteness and its special message.
Online Exclusive posted Friday, November 9, 2018 – 9:44am
Daniel Pitaluga’s photo of his child, Joey, was a clear choice for the judges of the Wheels UP! Photo Contest. The 10-week-old fits perfectly in the seat of Daniel’s quad rugby chair and the judges couldn’t turn away from his sweet, sleeping face.
“It was for his baby photoshoot,” Daniel says. “I got the idea because I wanted to incorporate him with my favorite hobby, wheelchair rugby.”
Daniel got injured in a car accident in 2009 and came out with a C6-C7 spinal-cord injury (SCI). As a quadriplegic, Daniel tried many sports such as billiards, kayaking and swimming, but the one sport that won him over was quad rugby.
“I love the athleticism in rugby,” he says. “It’s a high intensity, face paced sport. It has the excitement, the nail-biting moments, the big ‘wow’ moments and keeps you on your toes the whole time. As a player, it encourages you to be the strongest, smartest and fittest athlete you can be.”
Daniel has been playing quad rugby for nine years. He started just three months after rehab and has been addicted ever since. He plays for the Buckeye Blitz team in Columbus, Ohio. His love for quad rugby has helped keep him motivated to be the best version of himself.
“I love that I have to work to be better. It [quad rugby] lets me create goals for myself and gives me a chance to work to achieve them,” Daniel says.
When Daniel first held his son, it was a moment to remember. He was nervous, excited and felt many other emotions he can’t explain. Meeting his son was like a dream.
“When I first held my son, he felt so fragile, so small,” Daniel says. “I couldn’t compute in my head that this was a real human being – he looked like a doll!”
The picture Daniel submitted is meaningful to him as it combines two of his greatest loves, and it sends a message. As his son grows older, there is something Daniel hopes Joey learns about disabilities.
“I hope he learns about inclusion, reality and intolerance for discrimination, and how disabilities drastically change people’s lives. Lastly, [I hope he learns] how he can help others,” Daniel says.
When it comes to being a father, Daniel has learned a lot from his father, who is also his biggest inspiration.
“Now that I’m older, I can appreciate how he [my dad] brought discipline, structure, fun and an overall wonderful childhood, but he did it all through love. The love he had for me and our family was demonstrated in all of the self-sacrificing things he did on a daily basis. I hope my family can see how much I love them the way I see how much he [my dad] loved me.”
As a first-time parent and a quadriplegic, Daniel has learned a new way of life over the past few months. Through growth and love, Daniel has some advice for parents with an SCI.
“Be prepared to get uncomfortable,” he says. “Be prepared to adjust your daily routine and make modifications to be an involved parent. Be prepared for stressful days and nights. But know there’s nothing quite as special as your own family and a child who will look up to you forever.”