By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Only 7 percent of Boy Scouts achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, the organization's highest honor, and even fewer who have intellectual disabilities do so.
Daniel Fitzgerald, 20, who is autistic, is among this elite group. A member of Northborough's Troop 101, he officially became an Eagle Scout April 22.
“Troop 101 feels especially honored to be presenting Daniel with this honor because we have watched this young man overcome momentous difficulties throughout,” Committee Chair Rod Pfannenstiel said. “Daniel has had to overcome numerous developmental disabilities compounded with vision and hearing loss.”
Daniel began his Scouting career at 10 years old as a Cub Scout, then crossed over to a Boy Scout. He has earned 37 merit badges and was the first in his troop to earn the cycling merit badge, riding 50 miles in 8 hours.
According to Daniel, it was difficult challenge. “It was all uphill,” he said.
He was committed to being a Boy Scout. He attended meetings every Thursday night at Trinity Church, making perfect attendance for several years. He said he enjoyed a trip to West Point and wilderness survival camping trips.
His father Dennis was always with him on his trips and was his biggest supporter along with his mother Pam. The troop, particularly Scout Master Leo Waible, was also supportive.
“A lot of being a Boy Scout is very cut and dried,” said Daniel's mother Pam Fitzgerald. “The whole troop, especially Leo, made accommodations so Daniel could achieve his badges and be a part of the troop.”
For his Eagle Scout project, he oversaw the building and installation of 12 footbridges for the Bennett Trail, a part of the Mt. Pisgah Trails area along the Northborough/Berlin border. Daniel and his team of Scout volunteers removed the old planks and replaced them with 96 linear feet of bridges using materials and equipment supplied by the Northborough Trails Committee.
The project started in October 2012 and the bridges were installed in the spring of 2013, after 120 hours of volunteer work. Daniel was responsible for bringing together teams that were strong enough to load, unload and carry into place along the trail.
Because of his autism diagnosis, Daniel was allowed an extension to complete his project, as Scouts are usually required to do so before age 18.
He went before an Eagle Scout review board as part of the process and answered questions about his project.
“It's about 45 minutes of questions,” Pam Fitzgerald said. “It's very formal. It was terrifying for him.”
To help him prepare, Waible and other Scout leaders volunteered their time to sit down and go over questions to prepare him.
“It helped his anxiety,” Pam said.
When he met one of the judges at the review, he introduced himself: “I am Daniel Fitzgerald. Did you know I have autism?”
“Boy Scouts has done more for his self-esteem,” Pam noted. “He is comfortable with who he is.”
His troop is quick to note that Daniel did as much for the troop as they did for him.
“Daniel's accomplishment and unfailing motivation has inspired our entire troop,” Pfannenstiel said.
Daniel grew up in Northborough, and attended Algonquin Regional High School until his sophomore year, when he transferred to the Devereux School, a behavioral healthcare provider in Rutland. Daniel is presently enrolled in the automotive repair program at school and intends to become an auto mechanic once he completes his schooling.
In addition to cycling, he enjoys basketball and watching all Boston sports. He was excited to receive a football signed by the Patriots” Tom Brady for his birthday recently. Daniel earned 14 gold medals in the Special Olympics, plays on two basketball teams and was awarded first place overall in a “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition sponsored by the Massachusetts Special Olympics.
Though he is very shy when it comes to expressing his feelings about achieving his goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, he said he was very grateful to his parents and “I am very proud of myself.”
The Court of Honor to officially recognize Daniel's promotion to Eagle Scout will be held at Trinity Church, 23 Main St., Saturday, June 21, at 1 p.m.