Almost two years ago, I met a man through the Michael J Fox Foundation mentor program named John Ryan. I was immediately drawn to him because of his outgoing personality. I don’t know if John has ever met a stranger. Needless to say we became friends, and now call each other “my brother from another mother.” John was running his first half marathon right after we first met which was a challenge for him. Somewhere along the way John began talking about running in the NYC marathon. I told him if he crazy enough to do it I would be there to support him.
Well, he was crazy enough and last weekend I found myself in NYC along with Cecily and Kate (Emily was not able to join us because of work). My promise to John not only was being fulfilled, but Kate had pitched an offer to the Foundation to take pictures of the event, which included bringing Jason Plotkin, an Emmy award winning photo journalist, and his wife Melissa. So instead of just being there to see John, we were included in the Fox Foundation weekend race plans.
This weekend rates number three in my life’s best moments, only after marrying my wife, Cecily, and the birth of our twins. Sorry hole-in-one you weren’t even close. It wasn’t because we were in close proximity to Michael J Fox, his family, and members of the cast from his new television show, but it is because we were part of a large community of people with a common cause — the cure for Parkinson’s disease. Within this group there is an intense bonding process that goes well beyond normal friendships. There is no single hero, but hundreds of friends supporting the runners and thousands more who weren’t there physically, but were in spirit. Sure, the runners were running for themselves, but many of them had the name of the person they were running for in their pocket or on their shirts. What they may not have realized prior to the race was that they were running for all of us in the Parkinson’s community.
At our cheering section, we spent the day cheering for those we knew and those we didn’t know. We laughed, yelled and even shed a tear or two (buckets). There were moments of understanding that we can do more, and there were moments of pride in our friends who were running, but the realization of the power of the relationships we had and were building was overwhelming. This experience that I had was happening on every block of the race. Not for Parkinson’s but for many different reasons. On one side trip (to find a restroom), I even heard a spectator yell “go runners.”
There were two moments in the day that stand out in my mind, as really special. The first was when John Ryan, Tim Ryan, Sue Bilotta, Gwen Schroeder, and AJ Capuzzi (a neighbor of John’s who was not a runner, but offered to join him) reached our cheering section. The police had done a great job of keeping spectators off the street, until then. Grown men cried and hugged (not me of course- any pictures to the contrary are photo shopped), beautiful sweaty women warriors were embraced and high-fived, husbands were congratulated by their family (eventually). All of it was captured on tape until the camera woman (Kate) was drawn into the celebration. Here’s the video, but as a warning, bring a Kleenex.
The second moment was when Mike Kelly, a new friend of mine, reached us. He had started later and it was getting cold (actually colder) and dark. He was freezing cold and tired, but he was determined. Before he reached the surging crowd, Michael J Fox met him with a hug and joined him to finish the race. As they took off up the street both Mikes broke into a run. Yep, a second bucket of tears. When I saw Mike Kelly after the race, at the post race party, his hands were so cold that I gave him my hand warmers (which were harder than if I had to give up my wife). This moment was not about the fact that Michael J Fox joined him, it was about his determination to finish and that people were there to support him, whether they were famous or not.
I know this feel good feeling will diminish over time, but not by much. It will lift me up when I am down. It will remind me if I think I can, then I can (think/able). I hope it will do the same for you. I can always go to the website and watch for a couple of minutes and be right back there.
Oh I forgot to mention John and Mike have Parkinson’s.
Last but not least, the big reveal- I will NOT be running in next year’s race- these guys and girls are crazy!
TWO SHOES ON AGAIN