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Arts & EventsThe Prize Fighter and the Hero

The Prize Fighter and the Hero

The Prize Fighter and the Hero

All photos by the Burtch Family.

The Prize Fighter gets out of bed and reaches for his guitar. He feels like singing. He always feels like singing and those who know him best feel it was something he was always born to do. He is Logan Burtch and on a usual day this seven-year-old would be getting ready for school, but today he will come face to face with his hero, a man Logan’s family feel deeply indebted to. After all, this man helped give the young prize fighter the very thing he loves so much: his voice.

Logan’s been a fighter since he was in diapers. He has struggled with asthma and multiple food allergies as well as a weakened immune system for which he needs various medications for. He was quickly diagnosed with a form of autism when he began failing early developmental tests and his parents noticed his speech wasn’t progressing. Music, however, gave him an outlet through which to express himself.

“Logan from a baby onward was just musical. Anytime music was playing he always was clapping or tapping right on beat,” explains Logan’s mother Cait, adding that he had a special bond through music with his grandparents.  “That’s where his musical genes come from. They would often be found playing the piano and guitar together.”

His speech delay continued to be a difficult barrier for those trying to communicate with him. It would take eight months before Logan spoke a single word to a speech therapist. He shut down outside of his comfort zone, and getting him to vocalize wasn't any easier at home. This all changed when the hero came into his life. Logan seemed to deviate more to one particular singer, also a favourite of his parents, usually picking up a toy guitar and strumming along to songs that tore up the charts in the 1990s. Back then, the hero was the biggest name in country music, Garth Brooks, and his songs would come to have a surprisingly joyous effect on young Logan’s life.

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Logan offers a fair trade to Garth Brooks.

The day things changed started out as just a regular one in the Burtch household. Nothing out of the ordinary. Logan, now three, was playing his guitar to a Brooks DVD his father Kevin had put on. Logan must have seen it about a million times before, but on this day something different clicked inside him and whatever it was, it just had to come out.

“Out of nowhere Logan began to sing,” Cait recalls, still astonished by this moment. “He sang word for word! We grabbed a phone and started recording him with tears streaming down our faces. We called his team the next day and showed them the video. They all were amazed. Logan sang before he could speak!”

The family, along with Logan’s team and speech therapist, began to use Brooks' music to build and incorporate a language for Logan through the musician’s songs. Even though he had now also been diagnosed with selective mutism, a complex anxiety disorder that affects children’s ability to speak in social settings, Logan was soon mastering the songs and singing them out in public as well as in his pre-kindergarten classes where he had not spoken before.

“If Garth was playing he felt free to speak through song,” Cait says, recalling how Brooks became a hero to the family. She laughs thinking back to Logan emulating Brooks so much that they started calling him Mini-Garth. He even went to the extreme of smashing his guitar one day as Garth would often do in concert.

Related: Garth Brooks Back For Record Breaking Shows.

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An ecstatic Logan Burtch.

Logan can be seen as the epitome of Brooks’ hit “Standing Outside the Fire”, a song about rising above personal adversity and challenges to find a place where “life is not tried” but “merely survived” by blazing your own paths no matter how unconventional. As he became more and more comfortable singing Brooks’ songs, the language barrier rapidly began to deteriorate and he eventually successfully completed his therapy.

If only she could thank the man who had such a profound influence on her son, Cait thought, knowing that meeting Brooks was probably just a futile dream. Thankfully, we live in a world where dreams can come true with a little help from a local radio station.

“Garth’s people came to us and offered up a couple meet and greet opportunities,” says Big Ginger of Country 101.1. He explains how, when Brooks was rolling into town for a series of record-breaking sold out concerts, the station set up a contest wrapped around the new single “PrizeFighter” by Brooks' wife Trisha Yearwood.

“We figured it would be a good opportunity for our listeners to nominate a prize fighter in their lives. We had people nominating family in the armed forces overseas, heartbreaking stories dealing with cancer and other illnesses, and stories of people that have been through more than you and I would go through in a lifetime.”

Logan’s story was one of those submitted. The selection process was not easy, says Big Ginger: “How are you supposed to put a value on one person’s story and then judge it against another?”

Considering the date, April 1, it’s easy to see how Cait may have been a bit sceptical when the call came in to inform her that Logan had won. The shock set in as she realized that this was no prank. Not only was her son going to meet his idol, but the family also had also won floor seats to Brooks’ show the next night. Her face wet with tears, she quickly ran the block or so to Logan’s school, promptly brought him home and sat him down to relay the news.

“Great! Awesome! Fabulous!” Logan screamed, unable to contain his excitement.

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Garth and Logan "began chatting like buddies would," says mother Cait.

That day Logan woke up and dressed in his Garth best: a blue shirt, a cowboy hat and, of course, his guitar. The family were brought into the Canadian Tire Centre and backstage to a special waiting room. The anticipation was nearly too much for Cait. Though it must have been only minutes, the wait seemed like an eternity. But then the door opened and in walked the man the family felt they owed so much to. Logan’s eyes welled up with tears. Cait’s weren't far behind.

“Garth then jumped on the couch and sat with Logan. They began chatting like buddies would,” Cait recalls, adding that Brooks asked her son about school and his love of music, showing a general interest in him and his life. “He was just amazing with Logan.”

At one point during the meeting Brooks was shown a photo of the boy holding a sign he had made which read: "Garth my new hat for your old one." Brooks stepped out for a moment and when he returned he had one of his signature cowboy hats for Logan. The child quickly passed his hat over to Brooks who mugged for a few photos with it on before trying to hand it back. Logan refused. To him, it wasn’t a fair trade. Brooks smiled as he thanked the child for the gift.

“Logan was over the moon,” Cait beams.

The thrills didn’t end there. Brooks came out for the concert to a rousing ovation dressed in a similar blue shirt to Logan’s and each time he was near the family the singer gestured towards them. Yearwood even blew Logan a few kisses during her set. Members of the band came down to meet him and gave the boy a guitar pick and some drum sticks. Garth had one more surprise up his blue sleeve. During the encore he acknowledged Logan from the stage calling him “the man” and saying how he’d been watching him sing all night.

“I even dressed like you did,” Brooks said as the camera zoomed in on Logan who suddenly found himself on a huge screen in front of 17,000 fans who cheered wildly for him. Logan took his hat off and waved to Brooks who dedicated the next two songs to him. They were both Logan’s favourites and instrumental in giving him his voice. Once he was afraid to use it. Now he was singing along with 17,000 strong.

You’d think that this would be the part that sticks out for him when it comes to memories of the show, but when you ask the prize fighter he doesn’t hesitate in telling you his favourite part. It’s just one word.

“Garth,” he says, ever acknowledging his hero.

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