Helping Others In A Different Way

On New Year’s Eve, I got a call from one of my favorite autism charities, Talk About Curing Autism, asking me if I could help out with developing a program to help people train for races as charity runners. I was flattered and honored. I mean, I’m just a guy doing my thing, trying to figure out a way one day at a time to use my hobby (running) to make some good in the world.

For them to ask me that was the coolest thing ever. First, it gives me another way to help, which I’m excited about. I can only do so much on my own, but to able to do my thing while an organization I really stand behind that has a really good reach makes the most of my ability to combine running with fighting autism? WIN! And from a selfish standpoint, it was a really awesome pat-on-the-back that they thought enough of what I’ve done with Operation Jack to ask me to help.

Just realized, in case you’re wondering, this is a volunteer role for me. I’ve never been in a paid charity role and I don’t ever want to be in a paid charity role — fighting autism through running is my hobby, and I want to keep it that way.

Anyways, I have a fair amount of running experience, and I started a Train 4 Autism running group in Orange County, Calif. that’s going really strong now, so I feel pretty comfortable with my ability to get charity running groups going. But being in more of an official role for good-sized organization like this, I didn’t feel like I was necessarily good enough to do this. When I’m doing my own thing, training myself, running my own race, the only person impacted by me is me.

However, if I’m going to coach people through an event, and they have expectations of having fun through the training process and getting to the start line and finish line healthy, that’s much more important that when I’m working towards a good race. I take that seriously, because it’s a responsibility towards another person. As much confidence as I have in my knowledge and experience, to me that just wasn’t enough. Most people would probably tell me that I’m being ridiculous thinking I’m not able to coach people through their first half-marathon or marathon, but like I said, I take my responsibility towards other people seriously.

So, I went to Chicago last month for a two-day course to get my coaching certification through the Road Runners Club of America. It was actually a pretty interesting course. I already knew a lot of the things they taught, but I learned a lot of new things, too. A lot of the course pieced together a lot of things I’ve picked up over the years through experience. I’ve mindlessly adapted to doing things certain ways and now I figured out why I do what I do. I picked up some knowledge that will eliminate some of the guesswork and “just because” stuff and in general, I feel like I understand a lot more about running and training than I used to.

I passed the exam and my coaching certification will become official once I get my first aid certification. That will be soon, probably within the next week. I’ve worked with friends in the past, but it’s always been just a matter of using my knowledge gained from experience and reading. Now, I really feel like I have a good grip on how to coach a runner through a training cycle and I’m excited to be able to help people. I’ve been working with somebody this spring and it’s been a ton of fun to watch her progress.

Like everything else since I started Operation Jack nearly five years ago, I’m going to take this new role one day at a time and see what happens. I have no clue how it will go, but things have worked themselves out and everything has been OK. Fingers crossed that trend continues, since I’m going to be responsible for coaching autism parents from the couch to their first race. It’s going to be a great opportunity to help them find a positive outlet, plus it will also help TACA. After going through that training and filling in some gaps in my knowledge, I really feel like I’m equipped to lead the way now.

That’s all I have for today. Who’s in Philly? Come out at start with us on May 4![subscribe2]

 

Operation Jack Marathon Registration Now Open!

I opened up registration for the Operation Jack Marathon today (who’s gonna be first?) and there are a few changes this year, all for the better in my opinion.

First, in case you’ve never been here, the Operation Jack Marathon isn’t just another marathon. It’s a race that’s put on solely as a fundraiser for the Operation Jack Autism Foundation, which is run completely on a volunteer basis and exists to raise money for autism-related charities and encourage autism parents to find a positive outlet and turn lemons into lemonade. 1 in 68 kids have autism nowadays, and my Jack is 1 of those 68, and my positive outlet is to help others find their positive outlet. And of course to raise money for charities! $250,000+ brought in through Operation Jack and the Operation Jack Marathon since 2010! (Check out an awesome difference Operation Jack made in Uganda — we just found this out last week!)

Start of the 2013 race.
Start of the 2013 race.

Anyways, registration is open for this year. A few things for you to know if you’re an OJM veteran:

– Registration will start at just $45/half, $55/full (original 2010 prices!), but starting in June, fees will increase $5/month. So register early! I’m always most interested in participation, and if you’re a past participant and want to return, I want you to come back at a good price!

– We’ll be donating $25 for each volunteer shift worked to the charity of the volunteer’s choice. OJ exists to raise money to give it away, so I want to spread it around to those who want to help. If you’re part of a group or an organization, this could be an easy fundraiser for you.

– Race 4 Free will have a $100 threshold, down from $150, hopefully making participation easier and more affordable. Also, anybody who hits that goal will receive a free Operation Jack tech shirt. Just ask Danielle Sterling — aiming for $100 is easy, and there’s a chance you might even go a little bit beyond that. Hit $100 though, and your entry into the race is free. No risk to try, no obligation and we’re not going to charge your credit card.

– Age group awards will go three-deep this year. Lots of you saw those custom paintings we’ve had the past two years and liked them. I love those paintings and I know you all do, too, and they work great as a fundraiser for L’Arche Mobile, so I’m calling it a win-win and awarding 72 of them total between the half and the full, plus another 12 for top-3 overall! I’m also going to get some for the top fundraisers.

Front of the award, hand-made by a resident of L'Arche Mobile.
Front of the award, hand-made by a resident of L’Arche Mobile.

 

Bio of the artist on the back.
Bio of the artist on the back.

– The satellite run price is dropping from $35 to $20. Call me the worst fundraiser ever, but I don’t want the satellite runs to be about money — I want them to be about participation and awareness. I do have costs to cover, though, so I have to charge something. I’m expecting to have registration for that open in the next day or so.

I think that’s it for today? Get on the train and register while costs are cheap, register at http://bit.ly/2014OJM! Hope to see you out there, let me know if you have any questions![subscribe2]

Truly Making Life Better For Others

I have to be super quick in throwing up this post, but I just got an email with photos about a well that was built in the Iganga district in eastern Uganda in Jack’s honor from a donation that the Operation Jack Autism Foundation made to Running For The Wells in 2012.

Running for the Wells is a race put on to raise money through World Harvest Mission by Operation Jack friend Jonathan Gunderson, an ultra runner who does amazing things (like running Badwater five times!) to use his running to make the world a better place. He’s a great guy and it was an easy decision to support his efforts. He just sent me photos of the well that went up in Uganda and I can’t even begin to explain how excited it made me. I do my thing, and there’s money coming in and checks going out, but when I see a real, tangible difference that the work people like me and Gundy do, it’s all the reassurance we need that our efforts are worth it.

Here’s a clip Jonathan took a few years ago in the same area where the well went up. This is how they had to get their drinking water. We complain about the taste of tap water. We have nothing on them.

I’m so happy that if nothing else, there’s a village out there that now has clean water as a result of the efforts I’ve made in Jack’s honor, and for those of you who have followed along and participated over the years, here’s one way Operation Jack has made the world a better place.

Jack's name on the dedication plaque. I don't even have words to explain how happy this makes me.
Jack’s name on the dedication plaque. I don’t even have words to explain how happy this makes me.
It makes me so happy to know they'll be filling those buckets with clean water!
It makes me so happy to know they’ll be filling those buckets with clean water!
There's a picture of the plaque from farther away.
There’s a picture of the plaque from farther away.
Villagers who will benefit!
Villagers who will benefit!
I love seeing this smile because I know the happiness and the better health behind it!
I love seeing this smile because I know the happiness and the better health behind it!

 

That’s all! Have a great day and go check out Gundy’s site, runningforthewells.org, and see what he’s got going on![subscribe2]

I'm Paying For Race Entries! For Any Race!

So, I haven’t blogged a whole lot lately. Last week, life got the best of me as my paternal grandparents died within 22 hours of each other, first my grandpa and then my grandma. I wrote a blog about how it was the best love story ever. Check it out if you haven’t already!

Anyways, I have a few things for today, all good in their own way.

Danielle Sterling Gets to Race 4 Free

Danielle Sterling only had to raise $100 to get a free race entry courtesy of Operation Jack. She’s raising money for the Autism Society of Maine and as part of my Race 4 Free program, all she has to do is raise $100 for them and Operation Jack will cover her entry into the Maine Coast Marathon. The way I see it, if she doesn’t go above that $100, but she raises money that wouldn’t have been raised, then effectively she’s helping me pick an autism charity to donate money to.

However, she aimed for $500 just for the heck of it, kind of a pie-in-the-sky goal. A funny thing happened when she did that, though — she surpassed her goal in about a day! Now she’s well over $800 and is eyeing $1,000. Autism Society of Maine wins, she gets to race for free, and the way I see it, about $100 of Operation Jack money resulted in $1,000 being raised for an autism charity that needs the resources. Oh, and I’m sending tech shirts to her donors, too.

Danielle's fundraising page. Took her 10 minutes to set it up and another five minutes to earn a free race entry.
Danielle’s fundraising page. Took her 10 minutes to set it up and another five minutes to earn a free race entry.

It’s a win all the way around, and I have to say, I really enjoy being able to do little things like this.

Let me know if you want me to cover a race entry for you. $100, that’s all you have to raise, and I’ll send you a tech shirt to run in, too!

Best Start To A Eulogy Ever?

At my grandparents’ funeral last week, my uncle and my dad both spoke for about 5-10 minutes each. My grandparents had three sons, no daughters, and like my son Jack, their third son has autism. He’s 54, so I’ve been aware of autism my whole life — well before Jack was born. Originally, my uncle wasn’t going to speak. But in the middle of the service, he changed his mind and ran up to talk after my dad was done.

Everybody was smiling, eager to hear what he would say, how he would remember them. He can be a wildcard, but we all thought it was cool that he decided to go up there and say something. What he would say would was the intrigue of the day. I spoke to him the day before to see how he was doing, because he was very close to his parents. He was upset, but handling things fairly well. He has an amazing memory and I was interested in his perspective when he decided to speak during the funeral. The way he started, though, … wow …

I’m going to be brief. [pause] In 1968, …

We all smiled and kind of silently chuckled because we had no idea what brief meant to him. He actually ended up giving a great, heartfelt speech, which wasn’t too long and wasn’t too short.

My Super-Kind Co-Workers

When I finally got back to work Tuesday after five days out of the office, I wasn’t sure how many of my co-workers knew why I was gone. I work on a small team (about five of us) but there are probably 100+ people at my office and I interact with a fair amount of them. When I got in, one of my teammates handed me a card and I didn’t know if it was from him or what and I said thank you and that I’d open it later. He insisted that I open it right then, so I did, and I was surprised to see that about 30 of my co-workers signed it. I thought it was really nice of them.

But then on top of that, there was an envelope inside, and they all contributed towards a donation that ended up being $300, which they gave to Operation Jack. I’m actually going to donate it to the City of Hope, which is a cancer charity. My grandparents worked hard as volunteers for City of Hope for years and years and it took me about half a second to make that decision when I saw that the donation.

It was super nice of my co-workers to do that, though. I really appreciated it — super nice action on their part that they absolutely didn’t have to do. I figured a few people might come over and welcome me back, but to know that they collectively donated $300 to charity in my grandparents’ honor and memory? I felt really, really happy and grateful and was pretty speechless.

That’s all for today, have a great Wednesday![subscribe2]

The Best Love Story Ever

I have some things I wanted to blog about this week, but they’re going to have to wait — as you’ll see if you read this, life takes precedence.

Anybody who knows me or has followed Operation Jack over the years knows how much my grandparents mean to me. My mom’s parents died back in 1982 and 1983, but my dad’s parents have been around my whole life and I love them in a way that I can’t really describe with just one sentence.

My grandpa is probably the best man I’ve ever known. Truly, genuinely nice and a great person. He’s been an autism dad (my uncle has autism) since 1960 — back before folks like me had places to turn to for information. He was a pioneer, blazing a trail without a map. I learned a lot about autism from him as a kid and when we learned in 2006 that our son Jack is severely autistic, I was very familiar with that. My grandpa also loves people more sincerely than anybody I’ve ever met. At any gathering with his sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he breaks down in tears and talks about how he feels like the luckiest guy in the world for being around his family.

One of my favorite pictures ever, me and my grandpa circa 1978.
One of my favorite pictures ever, me and my grandpa circa 1978.

He’s the stereotypical fun grandpa, always having fun, speaking in his silly Donald Duck voice, acting like he’s 12 (I’m the same way, I know where I get it from). Everybody says the same thing about him — he’s the nicest, gentlest person they’ve ever met, a truly good person.

He turned 90 last August and considering health issues he’s had in the past — a quintuple bypass in 1989, seizures in 1994, cancer in 2001, onset of Alzheimer’s about three or four years ago — every birthday he has is something we’re grateful for.

Unfortunately for me, I live in Pennsylvania and he’s in California, so I don’t get to see him as much as I did when he lived two miles from where I worked a couple of years ago. He went into the hospital a few weeks ago and when you’re 90, hospitals happen. I wasn’t alarmed, but after a little while, the reports I was getting weren’t going in the right direction.

My wife and kids with my grandparents last summer.
My wife and kids with my grandparents last summer.

I went to Chicago last weekend and I was checking up on him frequently because things were getting worse. On Sunday, the day I was scheduled to fly back to Philadelphia, I was trying to get as much information as possible because I was considering flying straight to California from there. After a lot of consulting with my dad, I decided to go home to Philly, hug my wife and kids and cry in my own home. I planned to spend the week at home and head out to California this coming Sunday or Monday and say goodbye to him.

Mid-day Monday, though, I got a call from my dad and he told me to just get on a plane, that my grandpa wasn’t going to be around for long. Coming out for a week would cover saying goodbye and the funeral. My flight was scheduled to land at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, at 11:55 a.m. Tuesday morning, which would have put me at the hospital by about 12:30 p.m. I woke up at 3:30 a.m. in Pennsylvania after getting just 3 1/2 hours of sleep and saw the text from my dad I didn’t want to see.

Very happy about the "Peaceful no pain." part.
Very happy about the “Peaceful no pain.” part.

I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I could, but he was really gone. The day I dreaded ever since I was about 10 and I realized how much I loved him and that people who are two generations older than you tend to die when you’re still young. I didn’t regret not going out straight from Chicago. I know that he wasn’t coherent and probably wouldn’t have known I was there. He would have squeezed my hand, which would have been nice, but that wasn’t the memory I needed. The memories I have — going to baseball games with him, having sleepovers at his house when I was a kid, his silly Donald Duck voice and willingness to do anything to entertain children, the way he so deeply loved his family — I have more than 39 years of those memories and I’m content with the decision I made to come home from Chicago. I’m glad it was peaceful, without pain, and that my dad, stepmom and brother were in there with him.

I headed to the airport at 4 a.m. and my 6:15 a.m. flight was delayed until 1 p.m. after we sat on the plane for an hour. I was dead tired and very sad, but glad that I at least wasn’t stressing about getting to the hospital on time. They re-routed my itinerary and I only had to spend six hours in the terminal.

I was checking with my dad to see how my grandma was doing. My grandparents were as close to each other and in love as it gets. They bickered all the time, but you just couldn’t picture either one of them living without the other. They were married for 69 years, 11 months and 17 days — April 1 would have been their 70th anniversary. My grandma said some things to my dad last weekend and I was heartbroken for her. My wife Tiffany felt the same way. As sad as we were about my grandpa, we were more sad about my grandma.

When I switched planes in Minneapolis, I called my dad to ask how she was doing. She was doing fine considering what she went through — her life partner had just died, but she was with her sister-in-law (my grandpa’s sister) and holding up fairly well. When I landed in California, my brother picked me up and we went straight over to see her. She would always light up when I surprised her with a visit. I was in town in November and she didn’t know I was going to be there, and it made her month when I showed up. I hoped me popping in unannounced on Tuesday would cheer her up and sure enough, she was happy to see me.

Me with my grandparents the last time I was together with both of them, 11/15/2013.
Me with my grandparents the last time I was together with both of them, 11/15/2013.

My grandma is a different person than my grandpa, but I love her dearly, too. She is an autism mom and a true mama bear — she really defends my uncle. My wife developed a special bond with her over the years after our dealings with Jack. She loves her three sons and her grandchildren and great grandchildren and loves to see us. She smiled when I walked in with my brother and I gave her a hug and a kiss. That’s always the first rule with her — you have to walk over and give her a kiss!

She was tired, and she looked drained, but it was nice to see her. She wasn’t super talkative, because she was pretty tired and emotionally spent, but we chatted for a bit and hung out for an hour. I told her how my kids are doing, I laughed about all the snow shoveling I’m doing this winter, I asked her how she was doing. I could see that she was pretty overcome with sadness and exhaustion, but I was pretty surprised with how well she was holding up. She looked to me like she had aged and I was concerned with how she’d feel when the loneliness kicked in. She was clearly tired, though, and told us she wanted to take a nap. Me and my brother helped her into bed and tucked her in at about 6 p.m. I gave her a kiss, told her I loved her, she smiled, and we were on our way.

I went out to dinner with my brother and my folks and got back to my their house a little after 9. Maybe two minutes later, we got a frantic call from my great-aunt that they had to call 9-1-1 because my grandma wouldn’t wake up or something along those lines. We didn’t know exactly what was going on, but we knew something was happening so we raced up. I was communicating with the family — my dad was pretty panicky but I was staying calm and focused (probably because I was so tired!).

I wasn’t saying it at the time, but I was praying on the way up that my grandma had died. I thought she would be so miserable without my grandpa, and she had lived a very full life. I just thought that would be best for her. We parked and there was a fire truck outside the house but no lights on. A fireman asked me if I was a relative and I said, yes, I was her grandson, and he instructed me to go inside the house. A fireman inside had the same question for me and when I confirmed I was immediately family, he said a simple sentence that froze that moment in my mind, and I know I’ll never forget it.

I’m sorry, but your grandmother is deceased.

My grandma spoke to my uncle on the phone at about 8:30 p.m., then they gave her her meds, and she had a heart attack shortly thereafter. I was shocked. I had just seen her a few hours earlier. I was happy inside for her, but still, it was very surreal. I was tired from the travel and the sleep and the emotional strain of my grandpa dying. This was like a strange movie, but it was for real. This really just happened. My dad is keeping it together on the outside, but I could tell he was just stunned. He looked like he had just gotten punched in the gut and I’ve never really seen him like that, but I don’t know if he had ever felt that combination of shock and sadness — in less than 24 hours, he had lost both of his parents. My dad has a big heart, which he got from his dad/my grandpa, and I felt so bad for him. He was pretty flustered, but that’s understandable.

I told my stepmom (I use that term as a technicality, she’s definitely like a mom to me) that I was happy for my grandma. I went and communicated with the family. I was (and still am) in a state of shock.

My grandma liked taking selfies as much as any 88-year-old.
My grandma liked taking selfies as much as any 88-year-old. This was last November.

But I am really happy for them. Death is a part of life for all of us. For both of them, it was peaceful and painless. They were truly one, joined in marriage. Me and Tiff talk all the time about how we hope we end up like them some day, old and deaf and bickering at each other and still as madly in love as we were when we were 19. I lose Guy Points to admit that I like the movie The Notebook, but I really liked the way they die together at the end. I even admitted that once in a job interview, because I hope that’s how it ends for me and Tiff decades down the road.

Well that’s what my grandparents had, and it wasn’t a Hollywood movie. It was 69 years, 11 months, 17 days of marriage, and praise God she only had to withstand 22 hours as a widow. It’s the best love story I’ve ever seen, the way I hope my story ends. As sad as I am to lose two grandparents I loved so much within a 24-hour period, I’m very happy with how it ended up for them.

April 1, 1944. Starting of the strongest bond I've ever seen.
April 1, 1944. Starting of the strongest bond I’ve ever seen.
My grandparents at my wedding. They really loved Tiffany.
My grandparents at my wedding. They really loved Tiffany.

Two quick grandparent anecdotes:

1. We named Jack after my grandpa’s dad, as an honor to my grandpa. When I called up my grandpa to tell him, in typical Grandpa Milt fashion, he broke down in tears and told me couldn’t talk and hung up the phone. He was so happy to know that, so honored to know how we felt about him. His dad died of ALS in 1961, so I never got a chance to meet him. But my son Jack Felsenfeld was not the first Jack Felsenfeld. My grandpa was so happy to hold Jack in the hospital and told me (through tears, of course), how he looked up in the sky and talked to his dad the night before. He always asked about Jack, and was sad when we left California, but he always asked how Pennsylvania was working out and was happy to know that it was going well.

2. My grandma and I bet on the Super Bowl every year for 25 years. That was the only bet on the Super Bowl I ever made. The stakes varied from year to year. One year, when I was in college in Kansas, it was one dozen cookies for every point the winner won by. She shipped me 10 or 15 dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies. The year the Ravens beat the Giants (2001), I had the Ravens. She was at my house at my Super Bowl party and when they poured it on in the second half, and the beer started getting into my system, I started to get a little, hmmm, loud. It was all in fun, though, and we enjoyed having that bet every year.

A lot of people tell me that they’re sorry for my loss. But I got 39 years with my grandparents, who I thought were amazing, and I’m really grateful for that. If you got all the way here, that means you read the entire thing, and that took some time. Thank you for doing so. :)[subscribe2]