WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Diagnosed at age seven with the debilitating Charcot-Marie-Tooth muscular atrophic disease known as CMT, no one expected Michael Falcone to be playing youth tackle football at 12-years-old. No one except Mike Falcone that is.
"I wanted to play football like my friends and now I'm doing it," said Falcone, who joined his teammates at the White Plains Tigers football pre-game dinner last Friday before playing in Sunday's Super Bowl games at White Plains High School. "I do get tired being on my feet, but the braces help keep my legs straight because CMT makes them bend."
Yes, that's right. Falcone wears therapeutic braces that help keep his legs straight and useful to a pre-teen in place like school, football practices and games.
"Playing football helps your body," Falcone said. "I play nose guard and defensive line. The sprints and running the hills kind of tire me out. When I was younger and didn't wear my braces I would trip a lot. Football helps me get stronger."
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, CMT is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, affecting approximately 1 in 2,500 people in the United States. CMT, also known as hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy (HMSN) or peroneal muscular atrophy, affects peripheral nerves. It is characterized by loss of muscle tissue and touch sensation, predominantly in the feet and legs, but also in the hands and arms in latter stages.
Falcone's positive approach to living a normal life has inspired his uncle, Charlie Norris, to help raise awareness and funding for CMT research. Norris will be running the Philadelphia Marathon on November 20 as a fundraiser for the CMT Association in honor of his nephew.
"Michael is such an inspiration," said Norris, a White Plains resident, attorney and former three-sport athlete at Woodlands High School. "When we learned that he was diagnosed with CMT, it brought back memories of a childhood friend Clyde Wade, who had Muscular Dystrophy. Like Clyde, Michael is a normal kid who just wants to play sports like everyone else. He motivated me to do what I can to make that possible for kids like him who deal with CMT."
Norris's son Ben, a film student at Temple University in Philadelphia, has organized a marathon party to help with fundraising and young Mike and his family will be on hand to greet his uncle at the finish. Ben Norris also produced a YouTube video featuring his father and cousin Mike.
"I've done a few marathons, but wasn't planning to do another until this opportunity came along in Philly," Norris said. "It will be a great family effort. CMT affects one in 2,500, but no one seems to know about it. We've been told that researchers are close to finding a method of reducing the PM-22 the body produces that causes CMT, so our goal is to help that work with 'Team MGF'."
Young Falcone proves that the odds can be beaten by defying those who believe he can't play football and inspire his coaches and teammates.
"It is an amazing story because we really had no idea Mike came to practice and played in games and then puts his braces back on when he goes home," Tigers president and coach Jim Heubner said. "His mom has to help him get up stairs sometimes, but he's out there playing just like the other kids. He's made at least four solo tackles this year."
Along with those tackles comes the title he has earned on the field: "Michael Gene Falcone, White Plains Tiger". To view the YouTube video or for more information on how to contribute to Charlie Norris's marathon fundraiser, log onto YouTube and search "Team MGF Donation Video".
Those who wish to donate may do so in the name of "Team MGF" on line at www.smtausa.org/index.