FOXBORO – As a postscript to a mass mailing of Christmas cards to a Kentucky boy with advanced cystic fibrosis, Foxboro strongman Justin Sulham last Thursday singlehandedly pulled a 16-ton fire truck along a Kentucky road.
Dalton Dingus, who breathes with the help of bottled oxygen, watched in awe from a wheelchair on his front porch.
Sulham, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 310 pounds, and 9-year-old Dalton then went inside the house and ripped up a few telephone books together.
“I couldn’t rip the phone books without Dalton,” Sulham said. “It was his karate chops that made the difference.”
The event – for which Kentucky State Police closed off traffic in front of the boy’s Salyersville home – was the latest and, for Sulham, the most moving exhibition he has done through his group, “50′ Closer.”
“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “To travel a thousand miles to have an impact on a family – it’s the right thing to do. My whole philosophy is, if you want to see the change, you have to be the change – for everyday people to step up and try to make a difference.”
Also individually performing the truck pull were Foxboro resident Dan Cahill, owner of Cahill Lawn Care; strongman Danny Holt, of Norwood; and bodybuilder Steve Hansen, of Medway. Cahill’s donation made the trip possible.
Sulham first heard of Dalton on Dec. 12, learning also of the boy’s desire to break the world record for Christmas cards received in one Christmas.
Dalton’s mother, Jessica, showed the boy a video of Sulham doing a truck pull for Founders Day in Foxboro and told his mom he wishes he could see something like that in person.
“Fire trucks are his favorite,” Sulham said, adding that the boy is both an honorary firefighter in his town and an honorary state police officer.
Within three days, Sulham and his friends, some associated with “50′ Closer,” the group he formed to conduct demonstrations for charity, sent about 2,800 cards to the boy.
On Christmas Eve alone, he received 360,000 cards, and is likely to hit 700,000 cards in all, Sulham said Wednesday.
“They were coming from all over the world.”
Sulham and his friends encouraged people to send cards to Dalton by promising to perform deadlift repetitions in proportion to how many cards are sent to Dalton through 50′ Closer.
“Because we had so many cards and such a short time to do it, we just let Dalton pick the number between 500 and 1,000,” Sulham said.
There were five stations: flipping two 500-pound tires (150 reps, each tire); a barbell draped with steel chains, totaling 245 pounds; and the car lift.
On Dec. 16, he and 14 other athletes made good on the pledge by putting on an event at Medway Nutrition, Hansen’s business. The group aimed to do a total of 780 deadlift repetitions within 10 minutes. Sulham, for his part, repeatedly lifted the back end of a Hyundai Sonata.
Beneath the showmanship is Sulham’s longstanding belief in the need to stand up to adversity – and help others to do the same.
Sulham, 31, has the phrase “We shall overcome” tattooed in black on his left forearm.
“For me,” he said, “it’s a daily reminder that no matter what, we’ll get through it in life: we’ll have to work together.”
He tried to translate that ideal into the concrete language of a child – including by sending Dalton a Curious George stuffed monkey.
“My mother gave me Curious George when I was a little boy, and it got me through some dark times,” he said. “I figured George could help him.”