Mark Chauppetta isn’t your average suburban father of four. At 50, he is training as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter to raise awareness of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a rare genetic disorder his twins Andrew and Troy live with, which causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Along with training and parenting, the Brockton resident runs a Private Investigating business, oversees a local DMD nonprofit, and mentors his sons in their online T-shirt business. His story in chronicled in a new documentary, “A Father’s Fight,” available on Amazon Prime.
How did your son’s Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis spur you to enter the ring?
I was used to a reasonable amount of chaos in my life which I thought prepared me for parenting at a young age. My first-born Elizabeth was an easy child but two years later my world changed when Troy and Andrew were born. Their DMD diagnosis introduced an entirely new kind of chaos – one that drove me to reassess what it meant to be a parent. We all tell ourselves that we’d “do anything” for our kids, but when your kids are facing disability and a shortened lifespan, you’re forced to think outside the box in terms of what can be done to help them. Everything is a fight on some level, so it made sense that, as former wrestler, I would use those skills to help raise awareness and draw a new audience toward my sons’ disease and my foundation.
How is training at this point in your life – at 50 years old – different than it was in your earlier years?
It’s certainly different than I when I was 25. Recovery takes longer and my strategy has changed dramatically. The key is listening to your body, putting your ego aside, and understanding which parts can be pushed and which need to be cared for. I’m a grappler more than a boxer these days. Punches have their place, but age has brought me down to the mat where I can use my mind and years of experience more effectively than trying to land the perfect punch against someone who may be younger, faster, and stronger than me.
What’s the gist of your docudrama “A Father’s Fight?”
The film offers a glimpse into my extended family’s world and uses my love for jujitsu as vehicle to carry viewers along the day-to-day challenges we face. Our life can best be described as a normal middle-class household with abnormal challenges. For example, Troy and Andrew recently earned their driver’s licenses, but instead of buying them a nice safe late-model sedan, I had to research and buy them an accessible van that they could drive in together safely while enjoying a freedom that many take for granted.
You’ve said this film shows ability over disability. How do Andrew and Troy exemplify this?
Research and treatment for Duchenne’s MD has come a long way. When they were born, life expectancy was in the low- to mid-teens. Today, it has reached into the mid-30s and is expected to rise. That compels us to live it to the fullest. When Troy and Andrew told me they wanted to drive, I couldn’t say no. When they told me they wanted to launch a small business, I supported it. If they’re willing to fight, I’m willing to get behind them.
What’s the most challenging part of being a father to Andrew and Troy? What’s the best part?
The challenge is that, to me, every other parent’s life seems less complicated by comparison. It’s a lot of work and there have been times that I’ve had to do things on my own. The upside is that I have discovered that I am capable of doing all of this. I make occasional mistakes like other parents, but there is an overall sense of accomplishment when everything comes together and we can gather as a family.
You and your sons established the Wheelchair Strong Foundation in 2016. What’s the goal?
The goal is to guide regular people toward the realization that small acts of support and kindness can bring about big results. Our events and fundraisers are affordable events that welcome everyone, and attendees realize the joy of playing a small part in a larger endeavor. That’s the most rewarding part: watching regular people realize that philanthropy isn’t about thousand-dollar checks, it’s about getting involved.
What do you want people to know about Duchenne's MD?
That it isn’t a death sentence, but rather it’s a challenge that a good person can meet and overcome. Years ago, I promised myself that I would keep every option open in terms of supporting my family. It kept my mind open to new technologies, new treatments and more.
Tell us a little about Andrew and Troy’s endeavor, TwinTeeshirts? You must be so proud!
Andrew and Troy have a healthy entrepreneurial streak in them. They’ve been busy revamping their collection and tending to their website. It’s a good first business for them and they’re learning that a return on investment requires hard work, focus and a little sacrifice. It’s beautiful to watch them collaborate and take the next step into adulthood. I never thought we’d all be at this point, and I’m more than thankful.