ERI, Pennsylvania. Penn State Behrend men’s soccer coach Dan Perritano has an ambitious off-season training regimen: He just walked from Erie to Washington. D.C. – 320 miles away – with daughter Emma.
The couple made it to the White House on June 11. They walked for 23 days. Emma, 23, led the way; she has cerebral palsy and travels in a special Team Hoyt wheelchair. Her father pushes him.
“She likes it,” he said. “She is getting fed up with it. In the mornings, she’s like a cannon.”
Dan Perritano plans a long walk every summer. He started the tradition in 2015 by pushing Emma down Highway 6 to Port Jervis, New York. As they accumulate miles, the couple raises money for local charities.
“We’re making a really concerted effort to look at the organizations that influenced Emma,” said Dan Perritano.
This year the walk raised money for the MOVE (Creating Opportunities for Volunteering and Research) program coordinated by Erie Homes for Children and Adults. Emma attends kindergarten for adults four days a week.
The Perritanos crossed Pennsylvania several times. In 2021, they were walking through Colorado.
The tradition began when Dan Perritano saw an ESPN story about Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father-son racing team. The Hoyt family has run over 1,000 road races, including six Ironman events. In 1992, they crossed the United States, covering 3,735 miles in 45 days.
Rick Hoyt has cerebral palsy. His father pushes him in a customized racing wheelchair.
“We decided we needed one of these buggies,” said Dan Perritano.
Thanks to a grant from Achieva, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization, the Perritanos were able to purchase a Hoyt wheelchair. They spent the winter walking around Erie, exploring it in ways they never could before.
Then at a board meeting of the Erie County ARC, which provides support and services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Dan Perritano decided to go even further.
“I kind of impulsively said, ‘Let’s take a walk around Pennsylvania,’” he said.
Walks are carried out in stages. In the early days, the couple walks up to 17 miles a day. While walking, they listen to music from Emma’s eclectic playlists. Johnny Cash, The Beatles and the Hamilton soundtrack are among her favorite songs.
They often have company: Behrend football alumni join them at different milestones. Patrick O’Driscoll, the head coach of the Behrend women’s soccer team, also went with them.
Sometimes they walk with strangers who have heard the family’s history and want to know more.
“There was a lot of interest,” said Dan Perritano. “It ranges from ‘You’re crazy’ to ‘I’d like to know more.’ Sometimes people will see us, stop and make a donation.”
His wife, Jane Brady, serves as a gang leader of sorts. Brady, a receptionist at Penn State Behrend, follows his family in a support van, taking them home at the end of each day. Then they will drive back and continue the path where they left off the day before.
Once they go too far, the Perritanos pledge to stay on the road. The rest of the nights they spend in hotels or college dorms.
Brady has veto power over the route: This year, when the stretch of road got too narrow for Hoyt’s chair to safely ride, they turned onto the Western Maryland rail system.
“We have learned how to be safe, increase mileage and find help along the way,” said Perritano. “Jane is sort of the voice of reason.”
“It gives us memories to look back on,” Brady said. “We also have regular summer holidays, but this may be more significant. It’s like a little adventure.”
Learn more about Dan and Emma Perritano’s summer outings at Erie Homes web page for children and adults.