Team Irvin: Care for cerebral palsy helps him reach his goals

teen with cerebral palsy gives a thumbs up with his doctor
Boomer is a legendary thunderbird. Paws is a scruffy, fun-loving dog. Nestor is a friendly owl. But these three different characters have one thing in common: They’re all the alter-egos of Irvin Rodriguez. At just 13, Irvin is enjoying a burgeoning career as a professional mascot, representing sports teams near his home in Western Massachusetts.

It started as a playful hobby: After getting his hands on a parrot costume, Irvin began performing at birthday parties. But it wasn’t long before a family acquaintance who worked as a sports mascot suggested that he might want a job. Enter the latest iteration of Boomer, the mascot for the Springfield Thunderbirds, a minor league hockey team. A role as Paws, the canine mascot for the Valley Blue Sox baseball team, soon followed.

They’re gigs that aren’t just entertaining for Irvin but that make other people smile, too. “The best part of being a mascot is meeting other kids and giving them high-fives,” he says.

teen with cerebral palsy poses with his mom
Irvin and his mom, Isabel

Helping him reach his goals

Irvin’s success is a testament to teamwork, both on and off the field. In fact, he has his own team working with him to ensure he’s at the top of his game. The teen, who has cerebral palsy (CP), has been receiving care from clinicians in the Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center at Boston Children’s Hospital since 2012.

“We decided to come to Boston Children’s because we wanted the best treatment for CP,” says his mom, Isabel Belen. “We knew that the care here is high quality.”

For the past several years, Irvin has been seeing Dr. Benjamin Shore, one of the center’s co-directors, every six months. He also visits physiatrist Dr. David Fogelman, who administers injections of botulinum toxin that help address spasticity in his legs — a common symptom of CP. Like most kids, Irvin isn’t a fan of getting shots, but says that Dr. Fogelman and the rest of the staff help ease his anxiety. “Dr. Shore and Dr. Fogelman are both Irvin’s cheerleaders,” says Isabel. “They work together to help him reach his goals of being a professional mascot.”

Teen with cerebral palsy poses with his other mascot friends
Irvin as Boomer the Thunderbird (back row, middle) poses with some of his fellow mascot buddies [PHOTO COURTESY OF ISABEL BELEN]

More than just fun

Irvin is well on his way to achieving those goals. Westfield State University’s Owls recently asked him to represent them as their mascot, Nestor. And he’s doing some other networking, too: As a result of his work, he’s met most of New England’s major sports mascots, including Wally (Boston Red Sox), Pat Patriot (New England Patriots) and Blade (Boston Bruins).

“My friends think it’s pretty cool,” Irvin admits. “They think I’m famous.” But he and his family know that being a mascot isn’t just fun and games. “He really sees this as his job, not just a hobby,” says Isabel. “It’s wonderful to see him living his dreams.”

Learn about the Cerebral Palsy and Spasticity Center.