Josh Duhamel helps family honor the local golfer who dared to stand out
The actor and North Dakota native helped encourage the family of Danny Mapes to set up a charity in honor of the man who never let physical limitations get in the way of achieving his dreams.
WEST FARGO — Most people's lives can’t be defined in a matter of seconds. But most people aren’t Danny Mapes.
Mapes, a West Fargo native, died at the age of 36 on the last day of 2021. But, in a way, his life was summed up 13 years earlier, in 2008, on an observation deck of America’s tallest building.
“He was deathly afraid of heights,” recalls his older brother, Chris Mapes, of that day on the skydeck of Chicago’s Willis Tower, 110 stories off the ground. Despite his fear, Danny rolled his wheelchair into the glass-encased ledge that jutted out from the building, enabling him to see the city 1,353 feet below.
Chris said after Danny faced his fear, he came inside and bought a souvenir wristband.
“It said ‘dare to stand out,’ which basically meant to be brave, to be bold, don’t be afraid to stand out, be different, don’t be afraid to chase your dreams or let limitations hold you back.”
In other words, Danny Mapes in a nutshell.
Now with the help of his family and one Hollywood heavy hitter, the words on Danny’s wristband are the guiding mission that could inspire generations of new Dannys.
A smile from the start
Danny was born in the summer of 1985 to Gary and Sharon Mapes of West Fargo. He was born with spina bifida, a condition in which the spinal cord and column don’t properly develop. Despite his physical limitations, Danny had no trouble keeping up with his three rambunctious older brothers.
“We’d play baseball, basketball, football, golf, anything to do with sports and he’d be right there with us. He loved every minute of it,” Chris said.
Chris said Danny always had a smile on his face no matter what he was up to.
“He just kind of knew that he was different and really took that to heart and just showed people that it's cool to be different, and to be accepting of people that are a little bit different,” Chris said.
Following graduation from West Fargo High School in 2004 and a short stint at Minnesota State University Moorhead, he worked for the West Fargo Park District as a youth baseball coach and mentor.
But Danny wasn’t just interested in sports. He also took a job with one of his favorite country bands, 32 Below. He went on the road and saw the world with the musicians who eventually became like family to him. He even traded in his golf clubs and baseball bats for a guitar, although he never played onstage.
However, golf never really went away. Chris said one day while watching The Golf Channel, Danny saw an ad for The Golf Academy of America in Orlando, Fla.
“He just said at that moment he knew that’s what he wanted to do,” Chris said.
He became the first disabled student to attend and graduate from the academy. His passion became introducing children — both with and without special needs — to golf through programs such as Little Linksters and the G.O.A.L.S. program.
Chris said his brother loved teaching, but he also loved being around Disney World. He was such a fan that he even started a blog to help visitors navigate vacations there.
Despite living in Florida, Danny stayed close to family, often speaking to his dad a few times a day. When no one had heard from Danny around New Year’s Eve 2021, they started to worry. They called the police to do a welfare check, and sadly learned that Danny had died. The family recently found out that the cause of death was blood clots, a complication from COVID-19.
Chris said they were surprised because Danny’s symptoms had been mild and he was healthy and strong. Through their grief, the family started planning Danny’s funeral.
Enter Josh Duhamel
Following Danny’s death, actor Josh Duhamel, who is friends with Chris Mapes and his wife, Kelly, was talking about golfing in the upcoming AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“So Josh said, ‘I’d like to do something in Danny’s memory. Is he involved in a charity or anything?’ I said, ‘well, not really.’ So Josh said, ‘let’s set something up then,'” Chris recalled.
A few months later, a charity honoring Danny was born. Its name is “Dare 2 Stand Out” in honor of that day in Chicago when Danny faced his fear and became the living embodiment that nothing should be out of reach.
Duhamel won $10,000 for the charity, and Chris is hoping to have more events along the way to help create and fund opportunities for young people to enjoy and love sports the way Danny did. For more information, visit the charity's website at https://chrismapes0.wixsite.com/d2so-1.
Chris said he thinks Danny would be humbled that a charity was being set up to carry on his life’s work.
And the irony isn’t lost on any of Danny’s big brothers that the little boy who once tagged along behind them on the football field, baseball diamond and basketball court all those years ago is now leading the way for so many.
“He really did pave his own path for a lot of things and followed his passions and dreams. A lot of people don’t do that,” Chris said. “Following your heart is so important. If you can live your life a little bit differently and maybe even make life a little bit better for somebody else, that's the kind of legacy I think Danny would like to be known for.”