New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Sandy Hook father Ian Hockley running to honor son, spread hope
Powered by his legs and lungs, and to no lesser degree the memory of his son, Ian Hockley on Saturday will run through the darkness and sunlight of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut as part of a three-man team covering 95 miles over about 14 hours.
From the time Hockley’s group lines up at 4 a.m. for the start of the RiMaConn Relay at Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, R.I., to the time his “Beer Witch Project” team finishes at Riverfront Plaza in Hartford around 6 p.m., he will pull the unique cooperation of physical and emotional extremes through seemingly endless tree-lined trails.
“It’s a very intense shared experience,” Hockley said. “We call it running for Dylan. There’s that emotional content, and just the exhaustion, the exhilaration — all rolled in.”
Hockley’s son, Dylan, was one of 26 victims, 20 of them first-grade students, killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown. He was 6 years old, a little boy who struggled with speech development and was autistic, yet a charismatic force in discovering ways to express himself.
“When Dylan would get excited, really overstimulated, he would jump up and down and flap his hands,”
Ian Hockley said. “That’s how he got that out of his system. His mom asked him one day, ‘Dylan, why do you flap?’ And she wasn’t sure he was going to answer. But he said, ‘Mummy, I’m a beautiful butterfly.’ ”
The memory of that exchange, and Dylan’s general appreciation for simply joys that tend to leave the world in a better place one interaction at a time, inspired a powerful movement that took hold shortly after his death.
That movement has sustained through the actions of “Dylan’s Wings of Change,” a nonprofit foundation that promotes positive relationships among peers.
The initial incentive for the foundation, established months after Dylan’s death as a way to harness and redirected monetary donations, was to assist students with special needs. It became something more expansive, touching the lives of young students with programs that promote empathy and positive, supportive relationships. More than 50 schools have been involved, many of them in Connecticut, and thousands of students.
The Hockleys, including Ian’s ex-wife Nicole, told the story of Dylan’s flapping during their son’s memorial and numerous times in various settings afterward. Someone responded with a story about the butterfly being a symbol of change, sparking a movement.
“The caterpillar goes through amazing transformation, comes out as this fragile, yet resilient, beautiful thing,” Ian Hockley said. “There’s also the butterfly effect. In chaos theory, small changes accumulate and have a massive impact. The butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. You only need to create small change. If there are other people that are with you, like-minded — What if we decided to pick each other up, not put each other down? Think of the ripples that spread out from those decisions.”
The Hockleys’ life was torn apart on Dec. 14, 2012. But if ever there was evidence of something so fragile becoming so resilient, so beautiful … it is the way they have spun unimaginable heartbreak into way to unlock powers of the human spirit.
Hockley’s job with IBM led to the family’s move to Connecticut from England in
2011. He later left the company to run Dylan’s Wings of Change full-time but went back to work in finance management during the pandemic, as the foundation’s events and fundraising were all but eliminated. He remains the foundation’s executive director.
Hockley, a motivational speaker who has teamed with high-profile groups and politicians, is one of the more visible members of the Sandy Hook community. Nicole Hockley has been equally active in leading conversation about gun violence, and she is on the Dylan’s Wings of Change advisory board. Nicole is the co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a violence prevention foundation.