WICKED LOCAL WESTFORD
Westford’s Nancy Feehrer knew a great thing when she saw it. After watching Boston Marathon Director Dave McGillivray speak to Abbot students about perseverance and determination, Freehrer hatched the idea for a children’s book collaboration. The twist – the book would be written with the help of the very students who sat before McGillivray that November day, hanging on his every word.
“The kids were spellbound,” said Freehrer, a reading interventionist at Abbott School.
“You could hear a pin drop throughout the whole presentation,” agreed Scott Middlemiss, recent assistant principal of Westford’s Abbot and Nabnasset schools.
He had invited his Boston Marathon friend McGillivray to speak to Abbot students that day.
Two years later on March 1, 2018, they published “Dream Big, A True Story of Courage and Determination,” based on McGillivray’s life story. The book was a collaboration between McGillivray, Feehrer and 392 Abbot School third- to fifth-grade students, and was illustrated by veteran children’s illustrator Ron Himler.
Feehrer, McGillivray, and Middlemiss told their story to the Westford School Committee April 23.
“It’s about dreaming big and stepping out of your comfort zone,” said Middlemiss.
When McGillivray first tried to run the Boston Marathon, he collapsed, then went on to run it for 45 years, eventually directing the marathon for 30 years.
“Dream Big” has received accolades from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, actor and producer Matt Damon, and New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft.
“The opportunity did not come about by accident,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kerry Clery. “These dedicated, passionate individuals were once strangers and came together because they were open-minded and willing to take risks.”
A creative spark
Middlemiss remembered how the collaboration started.
“I got an email from Nan and she said ‘Scott, I was so inspired by Dave’s presentation...I thought it was incredible when the students were quietly listening and all of the sudden they were cheering for him when he got up and started running again...’,” Middlemiss recalled. “She said to me in the email, ‘I kind of put together a manuscript...here it is. Should I talk to Dave about it?’”
“I said, ’that’s what his whole presentation is about, its about dreaming big and stepping outside your comfort zone,” said Middlemiss. “I immediately wrote to Dave who coincidentally was thinking about putting together a children’s book.”
“The great part about this is that they involved our students... the entire Abbot community in the making of this book,” said Middlemiss. “They wrote the book and asked the students to give input on wording, and some of the storytelling, and also the illustrations.”
“Later that year Dave actually came back with ... authors ... and illustrators and we had a publishing day,” said Middlemiss. “Students went around to different stations throughout the day and learned about the publishing process.
“The book was released March 1 and is available on Barns&Noble and Amazon, said Middlemiss. “The great thing is that the Abbot community is mentioned in this book.”
Abott community jumped in
Freehrer said she was impressed with the openness of the Abbott community to contribute to the book project.
“When I went to them and said I wanted to do this project, every single person asked, ‘how can I help?.’ ” said Feehrer. “I went to all the classrooms, third through fifth... I got the kids started writing their own manuscripts then Dave and I sat down with all 392 kids.”
“We tried to incorporate as much as we could into the final manuscript,” she said.
The children wrote about and illustrated McGillivray’s first unsuccessful attempts to run the Boston Marathon, his retries and success, and his then becoming director of the marathon.
Freehrer showed the school committee a few drawings the children completed and explained the transition into the professional artwork created by Himler.
Freehrer had looked through children’s books at the school library for illustrations that resonated.
“He [Himler] included a lot of the kid’s details,” she said. “Dave had a cat named Angel... Angel kept showing up in the kid’s manuscripts...so we asked the illustrator to put Angel in the book.”
“In my own life I’ve wanted one thing ... and that was to be given a chance...I was challenged, I was vertically challenged,” McGillivray said, indicating his stature. “But I always wanted to be an athlete and unfortunately I kept getting cut from the teams and I was always the ‘last pick’.”
McGillivray’s first book was therefore called “The Last Pick.”
“But then I started to run, because no one could cut you from running, and I took down that path,” he said.
“Having Scott contact me that week at the Abbott school was a huge chance to create this book and give back even more,” McGillivray said. “I always felt that when you give, it’s a trick, because when you give you receive even more in return.”
“I’ll be forever grateful for that opportunity,” he said.
McGillivray said that he’s given over 1,900 motivational talks and run in marathons all over the world. He’s raised over $200 million for worthwhile causes.
Dream Big’s Impact
“You’ve got two superstars here. The most caring, giving, compassionate people I’ve ever met,” said McGillivray. “Westford is really blessed to have these two.”
“I took the book with me in January... to the World Marathon Challenge where I ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. There were 50 of us from around the world that did this,” McGillivray said. “I passed it around on the plane to everyone and they all read the book and it inspired them and they got through a really, really tough ordeal.”
“It has already exceeded my expectations in terms of the amount of interest that this book has generated,” he said.
The proceeds from “Dream Big” will benefit the Joseph Middlemiss “Big Heart” Foundation. According to it’s website, the foundation supports families with children struggling with heart conditions and promotes “Random Acts of Kindness on local, national and international fronts.” The foundation is named after Scott Middlemiss’s son Joseph, whom they lost to a heart condition, Cardiomyopathy, at age six. His son Jack Middlemiss, 3, recently went through a heart transplant.
“He’s my little hero,” McGillivray said. “All this is about giving back. To give other kids a chance. Jack got a second chance. I got a second chance.”
Dream Big Marathon
“The whole idea of this book is for kids to read it and to follow their heart,” he said. “The last part of the book is called the dream big marathon.”
McGillivray challenges kids to run 26 miles, read 26 books, and do 26 acts of kindness in 26 weeks. Once completed, children receive a Dream Big Race Medal.
“The whole idea is to inspire kids to accomplish,” McGillivray said. “What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be an accomplisher.”
McGillivray spoke at the Robinson and Crisafulli Schools and will be speaking soon at Abbot. He and Freehrer also have additional books planned.
“We are going to do a series,” said McGillivray. “The next book is called ‘The Homerun,’ and is about when I ran across the country and ended up at Fenway Park.”
SEPAC supports challenged kids
The School Committee next heard a SEPAC update by Kathy Healy Norton and Alicia Mallon. SEPAC supports Westford families with special needs children in the Westford community.
Healy Norton’s daughter Meggie, a sixth-grader at Blanchard Middle School, joined the school committee for the evening and listened to McGillivray’s talk about not letting challenges hold you back.
While not an advocacy group itself, SEPAC, a state-mandated committee, offers educational speakers, parent socials, and a gateway for families to obtain the legal and academic support they need for special-needs children. Parents of children with IEPs, 504s policies, or special needs concerns are encouraged to attend SEPAC’s events.
For more information, contact Kathy Healy Norton at or go to westford.org/sepac or write to WestfordSepac@yahoo.com.
[Editor’s Note: Information from the dreambigwithdave.org website was used in this article.]