Connor McHugh doesn’t necessarily know how the word inspirational applies to him.
The 13-year-old St. Michael’s Parish School student enjoys sports, video games and history and just wants to be known for “being me,” he says.
What draws so many people to Connor is how he has overcome lifelong physical limitations – he was born without arms, is missing a fibula bone in one leg and has only three toes on one foot – to do much of what most teenagers do.
On Thursday, Connor will receive the Inspirational Athlete Award during the 25th Annual Comcast SportsNet Sports Awards in Chicago. The event, presented by Comcast SportsNet Chicago and the March of Dimes, honors one member from the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, Fire and White Sox as well as a legend from each team and an Inspirational Athlete – an individual who has overcome his or her birth defect by excelling athletically.
“I really don’t feel like I’m inspiring,” Connor modestly offers when asked about the award.
Patti McHugh, Connor’s mother, sees things a bit differently.
“I think he has a naturally positive attitude, and we’re just really faithful,” she said. “We tell him he’s here for a greater purpose. He doesn’t recognize how he inspires people.”
Connor, who has three older siblings, also doesn’t dwell on his physical differences, partly because “he’s just him, he’s never known any different,” Patti added.
That likely explains his adaptability, such as learning to pick up objects with his toes when he was six months old. As a toddler, he impressed his older brother’s classmates by stacking a dozen pennies using his toes. Now in eighth grade, Connor types on a computer keyboard with his toes and completes his tests and class work in the same amount of time as his classmates.
He’s also using a voice-activated computer program which helps him with some of his school work and other everyday tasks. Connor’s love of technology helped grow his love of sports through video games, including the popular Madden football that has made him very passionate about the gridiron. He served as St. Michael’s special teams coach this season.
Connor, who will be a freshman at Wheaton Warrenville South in the fall, also is a baseball fan. He played “buddy ball” in his hometown and served as an ambassador for the Easter Seals of DuPage County. He dreams of someday teaching history and coaching football, but for now he’s preparing for Thursday night and working on his speech.
“I might get nervous,” he said, but he expects a lot of excitement.
Mom, on the other hand, laughs a little when talking about all the attention Connor and the family will receive.
“We’re not used to that kind of spotlight,” Patti said. “I think it’s just awesome he’s being recognized for being who he is … courageous every day.”
The show, including the presentation of Connor’s award, will be aired on tape delay at 11 p.m. Thursday on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.