Published in the March 22, 2017 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Lynnfield native Danielle Normile is gearing up to honor her first cousin Dylan Rizzo’s resiliency and determination by running in the 121st Boston Marathon on April 17. Normile is running with the Spaulding Race for Rehab team on behalf of Rizzo, who suffered a traumatic brain injury following a car accident in December 2010. She decided to lace up her sneakers and compete in this year’s Boston Marathon because Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was instrumental in helping Rizzo make tremendous strides during his recovery. “Spaulding and my uncle Steve have been in close contact since Dylan went to Spaulding,” said Normile. “They asked if anyone in my family would be interested in running on the team and when my uncle called me, I couldn’t say no.” Normile’s mother, Kelly Nolan, concurred with her daughter’s point of view. “Spaulding Rehab has a very special place in our hearts as Dylan was in a car accident on December 28, 2010 and suffered a traumatic brain injury,” said Nolan in an email sent to the Villager. “His recovery has been a miracle and he would not be here today without the support of many doctors, nurses and therapists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehab.” This year’s marathon will be Normile’s fourth. She previously ran in the Boston Marathon as a bandit runner while she was a freshman in college. She also ran in the Charlottesville Marathon in Virginia and the Smuttynose Half Marathon in Hampton, New Hampshire. Rizzo’s story began on December 28, 2010, when he was driving to a friend’s house to play video games. The then-19-year-old’s car hit a patch of black ice, spun sideways and crashed into a telephone pole. After Rizzo was rushed to Mass General Hospital, neurosurgeons were forced to remove the left side of his skull along with part of the right side of the skull in order create enough room to allow his brain to swell. “I remember being at my parents’ lake house for winter break, coming up the stairs and seeing my mom nearly in tears,” Normile recalled on her Crowdrise page. “I was in shock when she told me Dylan had been in an accident. It didn’t hit me until I went back downstairs and I began to cry. Memories of growing up next door from each other played over and over the whole drive from New Hampshire to Boston.” Rizzo slipped into a deep coma for two weeks, and Normile said he “finally opened his eyes after about a month.” “Doctors told us he was in a vegetative state and if he didn’t wake up soon, he may be that way forever,” said Normile. Normile said Spaulding Rehab Hospital researcher Joseph Giacino started studying the case and recommended a path forward. “(Giacino) explained that with practice, he believed Dylan’s brain could get better,” said Normile. “That’s when Dylan moved to Spaulding and they got to work.” In an interview with CBS News last year, Steve Rizzo said Spaulding Rehab doctors, nurses and therapists worked diligently to help Rizzo learn how to walk and talk again. He also learned how to climb stairs. “He never said no to any challenge,” said Steve. “Physically, anything you asked him to do, any medications, any shots, whatever it was.” Normile said Rizzo was a patient at Spaulding Rehab for five months. Since he came home, she said Rizzo has begun to live a normal life. She said he is frequently hanging out with friends, working out and is a volunteer assistant coach with the Lynnfield High School track teams. “Dylan is doing amazing,” said Normile. “He is doing better than anybody ever expected, He has got his life back.” Normile called Rizzo’s recovery “a miracle.” In a post on Normile’s Crowdrise page, Rizzo commented: “I’m going to be better, that’s it.” “Just keep going,” said Rizzo. “That’s what I always say, just keep going. That’s it.” Normile said her training sessions for this year’s Boston Marathon “have been going well.” “It’s different when you are training at the age of 27 than 18,” said Normile. “It’s been a struggle at times, but it has been nothing compared to what Dylan had to face.” Normile said she has raised $6,625 and has pledged to raise $8,000 for the Spaulding Race for Rehab Team. She said the team is looking to raise $500,000 this year. She previously held a fundraiser at California Pizza Kitchen last week, and said a fundraiser at Kings is currently in the works. “My family owes a lot to Spaulding and I am flattered that I can do my part and give back to those that helped my family live through the worst year of our life,” said Normile. Normile and her family moved to Lynnfield when she was five-years-old. She attended Huckleberry Hill School, Lynnfield Middle School and Lynnfield High School. While attending LHS, she suited up for the field hockey, swimming and softball teams before graduating in 2007. She went on to attend Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where she majored in Chemistry. “I am a high school chemistry teacher in Naples, Florida,” said Normile. “My husband and I moved to Florida a year ago, but plan on settling down in Lynnfield because I loved every part of my life growing up there. My parents have lived in the same house in Lynnfield since I was a kid.” If residents are interested in donating to Normile’s race, people should visit https://www.crowdrise.com/spauldingrehabboston17/fundraiser/daniellenormile.