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.


  1. Casey Gomes says

    If you need a break, take it. You’ve done more than most people have, and you have nothing to prove to anyone. A labor of love is still labor – and you won’t be able to get anything accomplished if you’ve completely burnt yourself out. I’ll be at the race on 26DECEMBER and looking forward to it too. If it’s my first and last or the first of many, I’m glad I could take part in what you started. You’ve done a good job.

  2. christy says

    Dearest Operation Jack; aka Dad, Husband, friend, awesome human,
    My name is Christy Borza, and your marathon was mine, and Margaret Tolner’s first. It was an experience/journey that I will never take for granted, again.
    By you opening up, sitting there naked and vulnerable, you make this mission even more important to never let it slip away. It is more than a medal, more than”participating”, move than volunteering, because it involves helping children and caregivers/parents live the life they were given to their fullest potential with the cards they were dealt.
    If you would like for me to take this over, with a lot of guidance, I am in. I will help you 100%. Pass me the reigns with hand over hand guidance for a couple of years. However, this will always be your baby. This will be your legacy. This will always be in Operation, Jack!
    Christy Borza
    aka the last one to finish in 2011

  3. Ruth Ann Feehrer says

    Sam~ My heart goes out to you and your family. I’m not even surprised if you’re getting burned out. Don’t second guess the importance of what you’ve accomplished over the years of Operation Jack . It’s been huge! Not only directly, but indirectly also with the inspiration to others to join the cause to fight autism. Though I’m not a runner, it’s become my passion, and I fulfill it in other ways, much smaller, but heart felt all the same. Your health and well being must become priority. You must be top notch to be able to share so much of yourself with others. God has been blessing you and will continue to bless you. Put your trust in Him to lead you in the right path. Whatever you find His will to be, whatever direction the future takes you, your inspiration to many will continue the good work you’ve begun with Operation Jack. That will not die.
    Take care Sam.
    Respect and admiration,
    Ruth Ann Feehrer
    great-grandmother of Cullen (CJ), another sweet autistic boy

  4. Margaret Tollner says

    You are an amazing man! This was my first marathon I completed and only a race of this kind would wait and appreciate the last ones to finish in 2011 (along with Christy Borza). I have nothing but wonderful things to say about this race we run each year. I understand how you must be overwhelmed, but I hope that there is a way you can share your responsibilities with others, including myself to keep this amazing race a tradition.
    See you on the 26th!

  5. Tarek Shawky says

    Thanks for sharing and for being so honest. Know that even in your times of weakness, you are still an inspiration. I consider myself lucky to know you and pray for strength and patience for you and your beautiful family.

  6. Maria Holiday says

    Sam, you are not weak. You are tired. You are depressed. This is a health issue that you did not cause but you must address. Take up the offer to let someone else carry the torch. You will teach your children something valuable; that you think your family is the most important thing. Everything has a season. If you can’t quit, pause. Much love to you! You will be in my prayers tonight.

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