I’m Just Operation Jack, Not Superman

This is probably the last thing I should write while I’m trying to recruit people to the 6th Annual Operation Jack Marathon, Half Marathon, 5K and Virtual Runs, especially since I haven’t written a blog post in more than a year. But man, I’m cracking. Bad.

First Picture
Me and Jack after I finished the first Operation Jack Marathon.

Operation Jack, since it’s an always-evolving thing, and I never know who’s coming or going or aware of the past, is my way of doing what I can to fight autism. I’m just a guy, a father of three, and Jack, my middle child, is a severely autistic 12-year-old. This morning, he had severe, self-injurious meltdowns. He’s barely verbal. In fact, just two nights ago, 12 years and three months (minus a day) after he was born, he called me “Daddy” for the first time ever. Heck of a milestone, but to say it’s been painfully tough raising him would be an understatement.

Back in the spring of 2009, when I was a seemingly-young 34 and he was a 5 ½-year-old and I was trying to find a purpose for the severe early-childhood difficulties he was going through, I came up with some crazy idea of running 60 full marathons in a year (2010) to raise money for an autism charity. That would be my way of contributing to the cause and doing my part. I felt like it was my obligation to try to do something to try to make the world better. Running was my gift I could use. Hopefully it would raise money and help kids. Jack’s suffering would thereby help other kids and he’d make a difference in this world. Life would get back to normal (whatever that is) in 2011.

That’s not how it worked, though. I did run 60 (actually 61) marathons in 2010. But we ended up creating something called the Operation Jack Marathon out of necessity at the end of the year. With six weeks of planning and recruiting, we registered 151 runners and had about 200 more participate virtually in 46 states across the country. People asked me to put it on again the next year and I figured, why not? I could continue to raise money for charity. That first year brought in about $88,000 total (due primarily to the 61-marathon stunt and the donations that came from people throughout the year). The race brought in maybe $40K the second year and I did a few other things, raising money to fight cancer and putting on a small race to benefit the families of mortally-wounded troops.

Life took over in 2012 and we relocated to Colorado, thanks in no small part to autism. I still worked to do what I could to raise money and put on events, adding a new race in Kansas City to go along with the primary race in Los Angeles. 2012 was the worst year of my life, completely because of autism, but Operation Jack gave me a positive outlet. In 2013 we relocated to Pennsylvania, 100 percent because of autism, and life continues to be a grind. But I keep doing what I can with Operation Jack. I added a race in Las Vegas, somebody in Pennsylvania found me and I help her put on an annual event and build a few teams to raise money for charities out here. I’ve built an annual team at a race in Maine to raise money for charities there.

I guess I need to clarify, just in case, that the Operation Jack Autism Foundation is a 501(c)3 public tax-exempt charity recognized by the IRS and all that kind of stuff, with no staff, no office, and the purpose is to raise money for autism-related charities and to help parents and those affected by autism to find a positive outlet. None of the money raised benefits me or my family directly or indirectly at all. It’s just a sacrifice we make to try to help others.

I’ll be very blunt, though. Despite what looks like a success on paper (I’d estimate more than $200K has been donated to charities over the years), I have no clue what I’m doing and I feel pretty incapable. I try, though. I want this to do well.

Oh, and the reason I mentioned that Operation Jack is a foundation is that I was just thinking about it in this perspective on my way to work this morning, but Operation Jack is also my super hero alter-ego. I’m Sam Felsenfeld by day. I’m Clark Kent, a web developer working for a very large company sitting in a cubicle writing code all day. That’s what puts the food on the table. I eat that food with my other two kids if I get home in time, then maybe play a game or something, and then when the kids go to bed, I become Operation Jack. I want to help. I want to do good. But I am so terrible at this.

My organization skills are terrible. I’m overwhelmed and I dread answering to what seems like a million people I’m letting down. I have some pretty complicated problems of my own I’m desperately trying to deal with. Depression, lack of motivation, fears of everybody being angry with me … you name it, it’s probably bothering me. My wife is worried about me, probably rightly so. I’m working on getting help, but I’m breaking down and falling apart. I don’t like who I am. I haven’t for years. I just want to crawl into a hole and disappear and I don’t really know why. I may be dwelling on it too much and making myself think this way. I don’t know.

Anyways, the reason I’m writing this, and again, I know it’s terrible to do so while I’m trying to reach people to support this event and this cause, but every year around this time, I start thinking, “I have to stop doing this. This has to be the end.” And those thoughts are really, really strong this year. I’m totally falling apart mentally. Although I just can’t imagine giving up my alter-ego, because once I do, it’s gone for good, and it’s become such a huge part of me.

But I just feel like being as real as I can. I like people to know who and what they’re supporting. I feel like it’s wrong to do anything else. No matter what, you absolutely are raising money for small autism-related charities in need by participating. But you’re also backing the efforts of an autism dad who’s trying to help, and I feel like you should know who that dad is.

I’m getting on a plane in Philly with my oldest son Benjamin on Christmas night and we’ll be in Los Angeles for the 6th Annual Operation Jack Marathon the next morning. I have no idea if it’s going to be the last one. I tell myself I don’t want it to be, because I enjoy being able to help, I like the positives that come from it all. But I don’t know if I can pick myself up and continue to do this. I upset myself a lot over this. I let others down with this. I just don’t know if I can go on. And I can’t just stand here with a phony happy face.

I’ve been starting to tell people this might be it, which I guess makes this no different than any other December. Except that inside, I feel a lot worse than I ever have before. So, I guess, just in case I don’t do my annual mind-change the day after the race, I want to sincerely thank everybody who has participated and supported what I’ve tried to do over the years. Words can’t really explain it, so I won’t even begin to try. But thank you.

My 20-year high school reunion: Glad I went

Over the weekend, I went to my high school reunion. 20 years since the El Toro High School class of 1992 parted ways. Man, two decades seems like a long time. I remember at my 10-year reunion I saw a 20-year reunion at the same hotel and thought those guys looked old. When I was in high school, they had a family day for my mom’s 20-year reunion and I thought her and her classmates were all a bunch of old grownups.

Well, now I guess I’m that old grownup. I had a great time, though. I was just another fish in the sea in high school, and I’m still just another fish in the sea now. I was pretty quiet and shy and didn’t do anything — good or bad. Didn’t make grades, only played sports for one semester (was a terrible football player freshman year and was academically ineligible the rest of the way), didn’t date much, didn’t drink or do drugs. When I say I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything.

Well, I guess I went to football games looking like a dork.

I also didn’t make any enemies. I got along with everybody and knew just about everybody, but I didn’t know many people all that well. Still, these were the people I grew up with, so I figured why not go back for the reunion? I figured the risk of not enjoying it was worse than seeing after the fact that everybody had a great time and I missed it. So I went. And man am I glad I did. [Read more…]

Three Years Down, How Many To Go?

July 1, 2009. Three years ago Sunday. A day I’ll never forget. A day that changed my life forever.

It was a day I uploaded a small website. Operationjack.org. I announced my plans to the world that day (well, to whoever was listening) that I was going to try to run 60 marathons in 2010 to raise money for Train 4 Autism in honor of my little guy Jack. Train 4 Autism sent out an email blast, I got rolling on Twitter and started getting feedback. There was no turning back!

An idea that had started months and months prior as a brainstorming session with some of my friends and advanced to a conversation with my wife had suddenly become public. I had no clue what I was going to do. I still don’t. I was just rolling forward with faith that everything would work out. And that’s what I’m still doing. [Read more…]

It was 20 years ago today …

I’m going to look at the next sentence I type and feel really, really old.

I graduated high school 20 years ago today. Man, that makes me feel old. I went to my 10-year reunion, well, a decade ago, and there was a 20-year reunion going on at the same time and same place and I thought, “Man, those fools are old.” Now, I’m that fool. Wow does time go quick.

20 years. June 18, 1992. El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California. I graduated. Barely.

I had a 2.5 grade-point average in my junior year (if you add both semesters together). I had a 1.83 in the fall and a 0.67 in the spring. Four Fs (English, math, science, history), a D-minus (Spanish) and a B-minus (autoshop) during that second semester. How do you only get a B-minus in autoshop? Heck, how do you get an F in English and a D-minus in Spanish if English is the language you know how to speak? [Read more…]

Ask What You Can Do

Note from Sam: The day after Osama Bin Laden was killed, I contacted Operation Jack friend John Atilano, who is deployed to Afghanistan, and asked him what the mood was like over there. He said it was basically business as usual, but if the war ended and everybody came home, then they’d be up celebrating all night. So I followed up with a quick DM conversation on Twitter with him.

Sam: U have any interest in writing a guest blog?
John: Sure. Do you have a topic in mind?
Sam: I think it would be awesome if u could talk about what ur doing over there and really anything that comes to your mind. There’s …
Sam: an amazing sense of national pride right now with the news and I think people would love to hear from you, no matter what u have to say.
Sam: Gonna blog about Flat Stanley on Wed and if u know when u can send something, I’ll tell folks u have a guest blog coming. They’ll love it.
All I was hoping for was something like, “It’s hot and dusty and we drive tanks and watch out for bad guys and help good guys.” This is what I got from John:

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This is the third time I’ve been featured on Operation Jack. The first was on Veteran’s Day and the second time was last week. I’ve never met Sam in person but I truly admire everything he has accomplished. He is a testament to dedication, hard work, and the reality that one man can truly make a difference. I love reading his blog. My heart breaks when Jack has a bad day. I “watched” Sam go sub-3 at Boston via twitter and rapidly refreshing the BAA tracker; I cheered out loud when he did it! Although I am blessed with three healthy children I understand his fight against autism. Daddies slay dragons. Jack’s dragon is Autism. You can’t slay a dragon without a sword and a shield.

After the announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s (OBL) demise, Sam asked if I’d like to write a guest post given the jubilant national pride that has swept across our nation in the past few days. I accepted this honor with pride and a little hesitation. OperationJack.org is not a political blog. It is kind of a running blog. Mostly it is about helping others. It’s Sam doing everything he can to help his son, Jack, and the other families who deal with autism on a daily basis. It is about helping to fight cancer. It’s a glimpse into one family’s struggle to provide normalcy for their family. As a guest, I wanted to ensure I remained true to this theme. I thought to myself, “How am I going to write about OBL in such a way that it relates to Operation Jack?” After much deliberation, I think I have figured out a clever way of relating the death of OBL, Operation Jack, running, military families, and helping others together. It’s not pithy but I do believe it is cogent. Stay with me for the next few paragraphs and I promise I will tie it all together! [Read more…]