Part of 2022 was remembered by the loss of some memorable friends. I went to high school with Paul Markowitz back in the early ’80s. In 2019, Paul surprised me by coming to my book signing at the Fab Cup Cafe in Staten Island. Paul was a great guy and retired cop who was loved by all. Sadly, Paul was in a coma since last year and he finally passed away in October of this year.
Mark Carles was a runner who I knew from my Staten Island running club. For the past few years, Mark suffered from a rare form of cancer that slowly wasted away his body, but not his spirit. Besides being a runner, Mark was a budding filmmaker who had an infectious personality and kept his sense of humor alive until the final days of his life. Mark loved superheroes, especially Spiderman. He was so impressed with the fact that I was a background actor in one of the Spiderman films. Mark finally passed away in February of this year. I had the privilege to interview Mark and his brother David last Fall on the YouTube show Gotta Run With Will. That episode can be viewed here.
In February, I had purchased the world’s first fully recycled running shoe, the Tarkine Goshawk. By the end of 2022, I had racked up 687 miles. According to the company that is based in Australia, these shoes can last for 700 miles. They’re still going strong and I think I can run a lot further on them at this point. You can read my current write-up about them here.
Last year, I portrayed a press photographer on an episode of the hit HBO series The Gilded Age. Now that the show is on the air, I can finally share how I looked like the day I worked on it. It was fun being dressed and having my appearance styled for the year 1885.
In March, I ran with a local running group called the Ridge Runners. Some members of the group are Ukrainian. At this time, Ukraine was being occupied by the Russian army under Vladimir Putin’s direction. To show our support for the Ukrainian people, we dedicated this run to them and wore the colors of the Ukrainian flag. A local Bay Ridge newspaper found this photo and published it.
In April, I went hiking with my friend Jacky Lee along the New Jersey-Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail. It was a great physical challenge to hike this section since we began our hike at sea level on the New Jersey side and had to climb one of the tall mountains once we were on the Pennsylvania side. We hiked a total of 14 miles over a two-day period. It was a tiring, but memorable experience.
I also visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It was an amazing experience learning about the stories and inspirations behind many of Rockwell’s greatest works.
As a parent, it’s great to see how my children achieve different levels of success in their lives. Emma graduated from SUNY Purchase with a double-major in graphic design and painting. Hunter graduated from Stuyvesant High School with high honors.
Feeling depressed due to not being able to be creative like I used to as a result of the pandemic, I was presented with the opportunity from my friend Rodney Umble to participate in weekly improv workshops under the direction of master improv teacher Rob Reese. Every week for several weeks, I, along with Rodney, Laura Petit, Dorit Elena, and several other performers, engaged in Avant Prov workshops. These workshops taught us the fundamentals of improv that were done in artful and sometimes outrageous ways. By the end of the program, our troupe of performers put on four live shows throughout June and July. For each performance, we had well over a dozen audience members enjoying a unique form of experimental improvisation that had them entertained throughout each performance. Being one who often questions my abilities, these experiences raised my confidence levels tenfold and pushed me beyond my comfort zone into a new and freeing world of creativity that was quite exciting for me. One highlight for me was being able to destroy a “priceless” work of art that my daughter had previously created for the show.
In July, I lead a beer run for my Staten Island running club. We finished our run at a local brewery where the runners shared locally-made beer and great food.
I played pitch-and-putt golf with my son for the first time. This was something that my dad used to do with me when I was young. Even though we each didn’t play well, we enjoyed eachother’s time together.
I’ve been friends with my friend Juan Perez for well over 25 years. We met eachother at the laundromat that we both used to wash our clothes at and quickly became friends. For years, we have been talking about going camping together. In August, we finally got to do that. We camped at Worthington State Park in New Jersey right off the Delaware Water Gap. It was great to finally do something together that we had talked about doing for so long.
I met Tommy Wiseau at the screening of his cult film The Room. This film is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. However, what makes it worth watching is that the acting and directing is so bad that it is quite comical and entertaining to watch. Tommy and his best friend Greg Sestero were once unknown actors with dreams of making it big in Hollywood. After going through many failed auditions, they decided to write, direct, and star in their own film. Tommy now travels the world showing his film to cult audiences and has become a multi-millionaire from this one film.
Leland Yu is a real-life superhero who, during the heat of the pandemic in 2020, ran 61 miles and raised $25,000 in a day. He used the money to help Chinese restaurant workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. He created Run for Chinatown, who, according to it’s website, “…is to inspire people and challenge limits through the sport of running. We host weekly runs and special events in an effort to spread awareness and provide economic support to the Asian & Pacific Islander communities in New York City”. In September, with the help of producer Will Sanchez, I had the priviledge to interview Leland on Gotta Run With Will. That interview can be viewed here.
I drove to the Bronx to find Little Amal walking through the streets with an entourage of followers. Little Amal is a gigantic puppet who has traveled the world. According to it’s website, “Little Amal is the 12 foot puppet of a 10 year old Syrian refugee child at the heart of The Walk. Over the last year she has become a global symbol of human rights, especially those of refugees.”
In October, I finally used two foldable kayaks that I had purchased at the beginning of the pandemic. I went out with my friend Steven Patzer and kayaked along Coney Island Creek. It was a nice adventure that was close to home.
During a swap meet I was a part of at the Coney Island Brewery, I hung out with fellow background actor Pierre Candra. Both Pierre and I portrayed dead bodies at least twice throughout our acting careers. Besides being a nice, friendly guy, my friend Mark Vogt and I regard him as the French Cary Grant.
I did a few interesting things in November. I was interviewed by cohosts Mike Gargiulo and Mike Celona for the podcast Best Job Never. I discussed the craziest acting jobs that I did in my life. I talked about my experiences portraying three separate dead bodies, an explosion survivor, a ninja in a coma, and many other crazy roles. You can listen to the Spotify podcast here.
Emma and I were both a part of a performance piece called Death By Plastic. Dressed in all black, we were part of a funeral procession where a transparent coffin was carried throughout Midtown Manhattan. Inside the coffin was an actress whose body was surrounded by plastic trash. A musician played a funeral dirge on his tuba and “mourners” handed out informational cards that explained how dangerous plastic is to all living things. Our group attracted a lot of attention from both tourists and locals alike. This was a very impactful event to show how prevalent and dangerous plastic is to all life on earth.
I was hired with about 100 other people to cheer on all of the runners during the NYC Marathon. This was paid for by the milk industry and was designed to promote milk as a natural energy drink to runners. We were all on our feet for eight hours dressed entirely in white clothing. It was a tiring, but fun event.
Emma is a big fan of modern-day children’s books, especially those that are artistically done with stories and parables that adults could relate to. One of the best authors of that genre of children’s books is Oliver Jeffers. Emma got the chance to meet him at a book signing event at a Brooklyn book store. She had him sign all of her books.
My friends Ryan Knutsen, Michael Schnall, and Jacky Lee inspired me to donate more of my blood. When I showed up for my appoinment in December at the New York Blood Center, I was asked if I wanted to volunteer and use a new technology that they were testing out that day. I agreed to wear a pair of “mixed reality” goggles while the technician drew my blood. These goggles made my eyes focus on a virtual world of butterflies and trees. I could use the pupils of my eyes to “catch” the butterflies that flew throughout the virtual presentation. I was so distracted while I participated in this virtual world that I didn’t even realize that my blood was being drawn. I often faint when my blood is drawn and this time I didn’t.
One of the last background acting jobs that I did for 2022 was working on the show And Just Like That. It was a super-boring experience, but it was fun to bump into Jim Bonanski, an old acting friend of mine who worked with me years ago on Boardwalk Empire.
A sad truth about the state of mainstream America is how ignorant people are of politics. It seems like many base their opinions solely on what they hear from the evening news and local papers. Since a vast majority of news stories appear to portray politicians as crooked, it’s no wonder why so many citizens fall prey to believing that all politicians engage in criminal behavior. The news industry is a for-profit business that thrives by focusing on stories on the negative aspects of society to feed America’s lust for stories of wrongdoing. Due to the unique power and influence that politicians hold while in office, they provide constant fodder for news stories about how they abuse that power. This portrayal of all politicians as people who engage in illicit behavior has permeated into the American psyche. I have personally seen these sentiments repeated countless times while reading people’s comments about their local leaders in social media groups with the repeated phrase, “All politicians are crooks”.
As a community activist who has worked with a number of political leaders, I can honestly say that the above is untrue. I personally know on a first-name basis two state senators, three city council leaders, and four assembly members. I have spoken and interacted with them and have spent time working with them on community projects and events. Of the nine leaders I know, only one has done something that would be considered illegal behavior. The rest are decent individuals who have a good track record of working in the South Brooklyn and Staten Island communities. I can attest to the fact that many of them care about making their communities better places to live through their leadership.
While my personal experiences working with these nine leaders may be a microcosm of greater American society, these experiences alone refute the common generalization that all politicians are crooked.
If you are still unsure of my statement, I challenge anyone reading this to get out there and start volunteering with their local leaders to find out more about them while improving their community. You will soon see with your own eyes and ears what kind of people they really are. I have and I was pleasantly surprised.
Leaders I Know:
State Senators – Marty Golden, Andrew Gounardes
City Council Leaders – Mark Treyger, Justin Brannan, Ari Kagan
Assemblymembers – Mathylde Frontus, Michael Cusick, William Colton, Pam Harris
Candidates I know:
Michael DeVito, Steven Patzer, Amber Adler, Whitney Hu, Erik Frankel, John Luisi, Angela Kravtchenko
My name is Josh and I’m a runaholic. I’ve been addicted to running since I was 14-years-old. Now at age 55, it appears like there’s no sign of letting up with my addiction.
It all started back in 1980 when I witnessed my uncle Marty run the New York City Marathon. I was a Sophmore at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, New York. Seeing him achieve this feat was inspirational and it left an indelible image in my head. Soon after that, I put on brand-new running shoes and went for a run for the very first time. That moment for me was like Neil Armstrong taking his first step onto the lunar surface. This began a lifetime that has brought me way beyond running into worlds that have truly made my life amazing.
I was shy and introverted during my high school days. Soon after I experienced the joy of running, I bumped into Mark Silverman during one of my runs at Marine Park. Silverman was my high school volleyball teacher. He was also the coach of the Boy’s Track Team. He saw me running alone and invited me to try out for the track team. After joining, I eventually became the co-captain of the team leading my team during stretching routines before we started our runs. At this time, I became good friends with Jimmy Gonzalez and Trevor Chichester, my fellow teammates and co-captains. My specialty was running the 1-mile and 2-mile distances. By my senior year in 1984, I was running a cross-country 5k in 18:02 and the mile for outdoor track in 5:25. Out of pure curiosity, I ran my first half-marathon, the Brooklyn Half that year. While I finished it somewhere around 1:50, I had to be admitted to the hospital immediately after crossing the finish line. That was when I discovered blood coming out of the tip of my penis. Fortunately my dad was there to help me during this traumatic experience. I later found out that this bleeding incident was caused by me not wearing running shorts with a protective lining.
The race times I mentioned were only a by-product of the real reasons why I ran. Running throughout my high school years has helped me both socially and psychologically. Through running, I started to have more friends. This lead to me becoming less shy and breaking out of my shell. Women began to notice me more which lead to opportunities to go on dates. In my personal life, my parents were going through a rough divorce. I also suffered from physical and mental abuse from an alcoholic family member and that traumatized me. I turned to running as form of escapism. It helped me. A lot.
In 1987, I was a junior at Hunter College. Fully engrossed in my studies as an Education and English Language Arts major, I needed an escape and felt the urge to run track again. I missed that feeling of training, competing, and of being a part of a team that I had experienced during my high school track years. Under Coach Ed Zarowin and Assistant Coach Derek Alves, I joined the Men’s Cross-Country Track Team. College track was a whole different ballgame than high school track. Training and racing was harder and more gruelling. My teammates and I would train on a 6-mile loop around Central Park every day. The training pace itself killed me every single day and I was always in the back of the pack. On one particular day, I had had enough. I decided to insert myself in front of the pack and was resolute not get left behind this time. Like a bulldozer, the team pushed me ahead both physically and mentally. During the whole 6-mile ordeal, I kept ahead of them. This was the key moment in my life that I learned about goal-setting and mental toughness. It taught me that if I set my mind to something and I don’t give up, I will succeed.
After graduating from college in 1989, I started to work as a teacher. During this time, I was fully focused on my teaching career. I ran recreationally with a few 5k’s, 5-milers, and 10k’s thrown in each year. I fit running in whenever it was convenient for me. And when I ran, it was always alone.
In 1994, I got married. The following year, I planned to do another crazy thing; run the NYC Marathon. Remembering my uncle Marty running it in 1980, it was always in the back of my mind that one day I would run it myself. During my “training”, I was very ignorant and I did not seek running advice from anyone for the simple fact that I had no running friends who could give it to me. My ignorance and lack of proper training made me pay a big price during the actual Marathon. I physically suffered and slogged through the event finishing it in 4:57. The look of total exhaustion in my finish line photo reflected the terrible physical condition that I was in at the time.
In 2000, my daughter was born. I became a father and this was a great moment for me. I spent a lot of time taking care of her. I neglected running for awhile and gained weight. As she grew, I started to go running again by pushing her in a baby jogger. I loved spending time with her while I ran and showed her off to the public. Two years later, I moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island to fulfill my dream of owning my own home.
In 2004, my son was born. I traded in my single jogger for a double-jogger. I continued to push both of my children while I ran through the neighborhood.
By 2007, I was struggling with my weight. I set a simple goal of running a mile a day, or 356 days for the year. By December 31 of that year, I had achieved my goal. However, I had run all of my miles by myself and there was something empty about this achievement.
Something seemingly insignificant happened towards the end of 2007 that would become a defining moment in my life and propelled me into a whole new world of running. A total stranger named Mario Ricca, Jr. had sent me an email about joining his running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club. He found me through a message I had posted on a message board on the running website sirunning.com. In the message, I had asked if there was anyone who could run with me on a regular basis.
In January 2008, I attended my first SIAC meeting and immediately joined the club as a new member. I was nervous at first seeing these runners who all knew eachother, but as time went on, I adjusted and started to make friendships with some of them. At that meeting, I was excited to learn how the club had a series of weekly group runs that I could be a part of. At 205 pounds, I was determined to develop a running regimen that would help whip me into shape and make me healthy again.
Seeing that I was open to becoming a dedicated runner, Mario took me under his wings and showed me the ropes. Whatever he told me to do, I did. I ran all the races that he suggested and attended all of the training runs. During these runs, I developed friendships with a number of runners. Since I was very overweight and out of shape, I was always the last and slowest runner to complete the long runs. Within a matter of months of consistent running, my weight gradually melted away. It first dropped to 195 pounds, then 190, then 185. My weight eventually settled to a svelte 180lbs. As I continued running with the club, I gained even more running friends. These friends came from all walks of life. They were plumbers, cops, teachers, nurses, accountants, firefighters, veterinarians, and even politicians. I started to develop a network of friends who were experts in their respective fields. These connections would later benefit me as I got older.
One of my running friends was Gus Stanzione. Gus was a very dedicated runner who was very knowledgeable about the sport. One day while running with him, I told him about the first marathon that I ran in 1995. I told him how out of shape I was and how much I suffered to finish the race in under five hours. He told me that with proper training and conditioning, I could finish it in under four hours. Being in great shape at the moment, I got excited at this thought and new that I had a chance to reduce my marathon pr by an hour.
It was now 2009 and I was registered for the NYC Marathon. I was fortunate to have my mom and other friends and family watch my kids after work so that I could train. I trained so well that I was able to achieve my goal of breaking four hours by crossing the finish line with a 3:57:58! My training helped me achieve a 13-second negative split for the race. Most runners are not able to achieve this and end up running a lot slower in the second half of their marathon.
In 2010, I moved back to Brooklyn. I used my running skills to get a featured role on the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire. For the premiere episode, I portrayed the leader of a group of FBI agents from 1920 who lead his group of agents during a training run. We were determined to fight bootlegging, so our scene showed the seriousness of our efforts, even while we were training.
In 2014, my friend Michael Ring contracted a rare muscle-wasting disease called CIDP (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy). He had been a runner since joining the Boy’s Track Team at Sheepshead Bay High School (my alma mater) back in the 1980s. Before contracting CIDP, he had run the NYC Marathon 29 times and was looking forward to his 30th. A year later, I decided to film a short documentary about Michael’s traumatic experience with CIDP and his dreams and hopes for the future. F*ck CIPD was then shared with others afflicted with this disease and used Michael’s story to give them hope. Through exhaustive physical therapy, Michael was determined to get out of his wheelchair so he can walk on his own to complete the Brooklyn Half Marathon. In 2016, he did just that. I followed him throughout the race to film the sequel, F*ck CIDP… One Year Later. Finally in November 2017, with support from the Achilles Track Club, Michael completed his 30th NYC Marathon. Click here for an article about his accomplishment.
The New York Road Runners Club approached running clubs throughout New York City seeking runners who could be pacers for their half marathons and the NYC Marathon. Being someone who likes to seize opportunities, I applied for and was selected to be a pacer for the 2013, 2014, and 2015 NYC Marathon in addition to several other half marathons throughout New York City. These were amazing experiences. In doing these pacing gigs, the feeling of helping others achieve their marathon dreams and goals gave me intense satisfaction. The big commitment for these gigs was that I had to train several months in preparation for each marathon.
I started to enjoy pacing so much that receiving a finisher’s medal at the end no longer mattered to me. Immediately after completing the 2014 and 2015 NYC Marathons, I sold both of my finisher medals for $100 each and donated the money to various causes.
As I had mentioned earlier in this blog, through joining the Staten Island Athletic Club, I have met many people from different professions, interests, and hobbies. One of them was Darin Magras, a fellow runner, a plumber by trade, and with an interest in stand-up comedy. Doing stand-up comedy had been on my bucket list for the past 15 years. After seeing him do a bunch of stand-up routines, he became my role model which inspired me to try it out myself. I did it twice in 2015 and the audience actually laughed at my jokes. Or maybe they laughed at me? One thing for sure, if the audience hated my jokes and ran after me, I’d be able to outrun them.
In 2016, Will Sanchez, a runner who hosts his own public-access show in Manhattan called Gotta Run with Will invited me to be a special guest on his show. At first I wondered why Will would want me to be a guest on his show being that I’m not the greatest runner and I wondered what could I possibly say that would interest his viewers. Will saw through my Facebook posts that I do have a life full of interesting things that could translate well on his show. After all, I am a teacher, background actor, filmmaker, comedian, and the publicity director of the Staten Island Athletic Club. But out of all these things, Will was most interested in the fact that I played a naked dead guy on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.
In 2018, I got offered the opportunity to be a professional pacer for the Mile High Running Club. It was a great feeling to get paid for something I truly loved while pacing runners who were training for various half marathons and marathons.
In 2019, I had achieved a goal that was on my bucket list for the past 30 years, which was to write my own book. It took about a year to write and running played an important part in getting it completed. To write it, I treated the book as if it were a marathon that needed to be finished. Every Sunday morning, I ran a long-run, which helped increase blood flow to my brain. After the run, I washed up, then spent several hours writing a few pages at my favorite cafe. Like running, the consistency of writing every single Sunday paid off in the form of a completed book by the end of the year. My suspense thriller inspired by true events, Eight Hours in Freeport, can be purchased here.
2019 was also the year that I would run my first ultra. In May, I had completed the Dirty German 50-mile Trail Race in a little under 12 hours. A month later, I would attempt the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition. Due to massive pain throughout both of my legs, I quit at Mile 37. That was a very humbling experience for me.
In March 2020, a pandemic began to grip the world. Being healthy and apparently unaffected by COVID-19, I realized that I had to do something to help others. I volunteered to be a driver for the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and delivered care packages to over 200 families. I worked with many other runners from the SBMA who were committed to these causes.
In May, I joined gotsneakers.com, an organization that pays money for old running shoes. The shoes are cleaned and sent out to young entrepreneurs in developing nations where they are then sold for a profit. With my connections to a number of running clubs and organizations through the Tri-State area, I collected 756 pairs of shoes by the end of 2020 and donated $400 to the SBMA from those collections. This money will help feed over 13 families.
As racial unrest unfolded throughout our Nation as a result of the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and others, many organizations throughout the country began to make statements that showed where they stand on diversity and inclusivity. My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, was no exception. I worked with the Board to come up with an “Statement of Diversity & Inclusivity” that can now be found on our website here. I was inspired by members of my other running club, the Prospect Park Track Club, who early on, proactively addressed racial issues against runners. They were one of the first running clubs that opened a conversation about the senseless death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who simply went out for a run in his community and then was gunned down for no apparent reason other than due the color of his skin.
In August, I suggested to the SIAC Club President David Panza that our club can go beyond simply making a statement and can put action towards an idea I had that would directly benefit the African-American community. Michael Schnall, another club member, had suggested that we provide a list of local Black-owned businesses for our runners to support. I took his idea and combined it with a running event that our club can put on that would directly benefit these businesses. Soon after, the SIAC Virtual Run Challenge was born. For this challenge, runners needed to run at least 100 miles throughout the month of September. Those completing the mileage would then be entered into a drawing where 20 names would be randomly selected and each would win a $50 gift certificate to be used at a local Black-owned restaurant. By the end of the Challenge, 11 runners qualified and received the gift certificate. As a result, an additional $550 was pumped into these businesses. Backlash from some of the more conservative Club members occurred, but I knew and the SIAC Board knew that we were on the right side of history.
Throughout the pandemic, all road races got cancelled or became virtual events to limit the spread of COVID19. Many runners who were already registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon had to run it on their own. Being a six-time finisher of the NYC Marathon myself, I knew how exciting it was to experience the actual event in all it’s glory. I asked David Panza, the SIAC Club President if we can volunteer our club along with the Richmond Rockets to put on a supported marathon event for local runners. Not only was he on board with the idea, but Lisa Lubarsky, the President of the Rockets was on board as well. Additionally, we got support from Michael Schnall of the Staten Island Running Association as well. The Staten Island Virtual Marathon became a real event and 26 runners crossed the finish line on Sunday, November 1, 2020. Some runners cried upon crossing the finish line. I did too.
Through the years, I have used running as a way to bring people together. One of my goals is always try to connect members of different running clubs together to engage in various running and non-running events. It is through these connections that new friendships are formed.
Inspiration, Social Change, and Saving Lives
Many of my fellow runners have inspired me throughout my life. Some used running for social change, some have achieved seemingly impossible physical feats, while one has literally saved lives through their running. Agnes Varona Oquendo was a life-long runner and registered nurse living in Staten Island. She survived breast cancer through early detection. During the 1990s, early detection was not promoted at all, so many women died from it. She was so grateful to be a breast cancer survivor that she wanted to spread the word. In the Summer of 2001, she ran almost 1,000 miles from New York to Florida to spread the word to everyone who would listen that early detection saves lives. She met many people along the way who shared stories of family members with breast cancer, some who survived, and many who died of it.
In 2018, I was a pacer for the NYC Half Marathon. Many of the runners who I was pacing were members of the Black Men Run group. This group of runners were very enthusiastic and determined to do well during this race and I felt their positive energy as I ran with them all the way to the finish line. According to their website, their mission is “To encourage health and wellness among African American men by promoting a culture of running/jogging to stay fit resulting in “A Healthy Brotherhood”
I met Phil McCarthy in 2019 and Michael Ortiz in 2020. In the world of ultrarunning, these two guys are legends. In 2018, Phil ran across America, a 3,000-mile journey from San Francisco to New York that required him to run around 70 miles per day. It took him 49 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes to complete this feat. He is the creator and race director of the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition, an amazing 100-mile “race” with an epic course that brings runners throughout many of New York City’s parks. Even though I failed at finishing this race in 2019, I have run all four segments of this course on separate training runs. This race truly is a great adventure through the boroughs of New York.
I had met Michael Ortiz at the end of 2020. He had just completed the “Game of Hundos” as he calls it. Simply put, he ran one hundred 100-mile races in 100 weeks. It is still hard to fathom what he has done. His achievement is not only inspirational, but it shows me how far one person can go to achieve their goals. Even though I believe I have achieved a lot of goals in my life, what Michael has done has set the bar even higher for me in helping me to believe that if I can believe it, then I can achieve it.
In 2017, my daughter and I volunteered to help renovate a senior center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I met volunteers from Team RWB (red, white, and blue). The mission of this organization is to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” Members of Team RWB also run the same races that I have paced. With the stigma that veterans returning home from military service sometimes can’t cope with civilian life, this organization changes that image by giving returning veterans value, purpose, and fitness through the sport of running.
I am now 53-years-old and as the new year carries us into 2021, I am still excited about the many opportunities that running will continue to bring into my life. Running has given me more than just good health, it has helped me make connections with many amazing people from all walks of life. The motivational nature of running has helped me achieve several of my life goals. The arc of my running story started with competition. It evolved into wanting to help others and affect social change. Running has essentially made me a better human being. Considering what running has done for me, I think I will continue this addiction well into the future. To be continued.
Both of my children have pursued running for their respective high school track teams. While my daughter no longer runs, my son still continues to run daily, even through the pandemic. Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?
What made my running experience truly great were all the runners that I’ve met throughout my running career. I want to acknowledge everyone who was a part of that experience:
Sheepshead Bay Boy’s Track Team – Jimmy Gonzalez, Trevor Chichester, Chris Garriga, Mitch Husband
Hunter College Men’s Track – Demetrios Demetriades, Derek Alves
Staten Island Athletic Club – Mark Vogt, Steve Thomas, Hamid Ghazaz, Rob Russo, Jerry Megna, Fred Rigolini, Lisa Swan, Mike Garone, Dave Panza, Bob Wisner,
Prospect Park Track Club – Adam Devine, Oren Ofrati,
Ridge Runners – Ryan Knudsen, Felix Chen,
NYRR Pacing Team – Steve Mura, Philippe Day,
Ukranian Running Club – Sergey Fedorets
Ultrarunners – Phil McCarthy, Michael Ortiz, Jacky Lee,
This blog is dedicated to my high school track coach Mark Silverman. He introduced me to the Sheepshead Bay HS Boy’s Track Team which began my love for competitive racing. I wrote the following post on my Facebook wall back in 2013. Unfortunately, due to a lifetime of cigarette smoking, Coach Silverman passed away in 2018.
There are many articles written about strategies on how to run the NYC Marathon. Being a seven-time participant who chose not to run it this year due to extreme laziness and complete disinterest, I thought it would be beneficial to those who are also not running it to get some good advice on the dos and don’ts of non-participation of this life-changing event. Just like for the runners who are running it, there is a specific timeframe to adhere to that will help those who don’t plan on running it.
For those who are serious about training for the NYC Marathon, their self-inflicted torture traditionally begins in July. These wannabe marathoners spend almost every single day of the month running. Their weekly training regimen may include a track workout, speed drills, a tempo run, and a long run, even on the hottest and most humid of days. With a full-time job to go to and many with families to take care of, these runners will be both physically and mentally exhausted due to their relentless training. Since you are not running the marathon this year, you will not be physically or mentally exhausted and your life will go on as usual. When you get home from work, you can just relax, eat dinner, watch TV, and look forward to another day of not running.
In August, the weather gets even hotter and more humid. But hey, you’ve already trained for a month and there’s no stopping you now. Plus you forked over a non-refundable $300 registration fee in June to run this costly race, so you’re pretty much screwed. Those who are not running it did not have to cough up big money to endure a few hours of abuse come November. They will be sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned living rooms looking out the window at the sweaty losers who are marathon training outside in an environment that should only be fit for the devil.
Finally, it’s September. The weather has cooled off, but now if you have kids, they have to go back to school which will require a large outlay of parenting energy. Doesn’t anybody in the family understand that mom and dad have a race to prepare for?! During this time, you may want to consider giving up your kids for adoption. Those who are not running the marathon may wake up on a Saturday morning to go on a nice family trip upstate to go see the Fall colors. Apple-picking is also another great option, but definitely not running.
For those who are not running the NYC Marathon, October is the perfect month to check in on your hopeless friends who are now in their fourth month of marathon training. You have that one friend who had to cancel a major family event so that they could get in their 23-mile-long training run. Their spouse is already threatening divorce and can’t wait until it’s all over so that the family can get back to a normal life again. Since you are not running it, you completely savor the lovely Fall weather. You wake up late on the weekends and enjoy going out with your family for a wonderful Sunday brunch. While brunching with your family, you notice an empty table next to yours. That table would have been for your marathoning friend who is now too tired from their long run this morning and is sleeping in at 1:00 pm on a wasted Sunday afternoon.
It is now the second Sunday in November and it’s time to run the NYC Marathon! Those running it cannot possibly sleep the night before, yet they have to leave their homes at an ungodly hour the morning of to get to the race start. Then they have to wait two hours to actually begin running in their wave. It’s torture to have to wait for so long, and you’re freezing your butt off on a cold November morning. While your marathoning friend sits and waits to run a distance that guarantees serious post-race leg trauma over the next few days, you finally wake up, turn on the TV, and watch the NYC Marathon in the comfort of your own home. You sit back in your recliner and reflect on all the months that you didn’t have to train for this year’s marathon.
By choosing to enjoy life and not running this year’s NYC Marathon, you will have achieved something that will make many marathoners envious. The memories of not running this year’s NYC Marathon will last a lifetime.
In the film Pulp Fiction, there’s a memorable scene where John Travolta’s character discusses the little differences between Europe and America. His character talks about the differences between fast food names and other cultural things. When I recently went on a week-long family vacation in Paris to celebrate my children’s graduation from high school and college, I was constantly reminded of that scene by noting the many little differences between my native city and Paris. These little differences made me want to temporarily forget all of the things that identify me as a New Yorker to explore what it was like to live as a Parisien. Here’s what I learned…
When Parisiens greet each other in the morning, they enthusiastically say, “BON JOUR!!!” as if to state, “I am happy to see you!”. New Yorkers greet each other with a more monotone and less enthusiastic, “good morning”.
Paris provides free public toilettes (bathrooms) dotted throughout the city. Although New York City once tried this years ago, it did not work out. If you have to pee in NYC, you’ll have to either find a Starbucks, hold it in, or find a tree.
The French do not overeat. There are no such things as all-you-can-eat buffets in Paris. Compared to American meals, Parisien meals are small. It’s no wonder why I didn’t see any overweight people in Paris. A number of cafes that serve a petite dejeuner (little meal) also serve an additional American dejeuner (larger meal) just for American tourists.
Street signage in Paris is attached to actual buildings and does not hang on poles. In fact, street signage poles do not exist in Paris.
All subway cars in the Paris Metro have rubber wheels instead of the standard steel wheels that one finds on train cars throughout the New York City subway system. As you could imagine, trains leaving and arriving at the Metro stations were quieter than NYC subway trains.
Wine in Paris is super-cheap. If one shops at a supermarche (supermarket), they will find a wall of wine bottles costing anywhere between $1.00-$5.00 Euro (similar to the American dollar).
There is no tipping at Paris restaurants. The tip is already included in the bill. While there, it was so refreshing for me to get my bill, pay the amount on the bill, and leave without having to calculate what the tip should be.
The first floor of all Paris department stores is numbered “0”. The floors going up are “1, 2, 3, etc” and the floors going underground are “-1, -2, -3, etc”.
Parisiens love their coffee so much that many Metro stations have a Lavazza coffee machine in them.
Paris is a planned city where Napoleon wanted all structures to be built exactly six stories tall. They were all made out of locally-excavated limestone which gave the entire City of Paris a very consistent look. Building uniformity heights are very inconsistent throughout New York.
Also during Napoleon’s rule, Paris was divided into 20 distinct arrondissements (neighborhoods). You can easily see what arrondissement you are in by looking at the top of most street signs.
The street system of Paris was designed in a very disjointed radial format full of irregular street connections. If you are a visiting tourist, you will need a map or gps technology to find your bearings. New York City streets mostly follow a grid system. Many Parisien streets are named after a historical figure. NYC streets are mostly numbered.
I felt a happier vibe in Paris than in New York. I felt this even during the days and hours when many Parisiens were walking off to work.
Although I did not experience this first-hand, my good friend Michel, a native of France, told me that Parisiens are a lot more racist and prejudiced than New Yorkers.
And here are some things that are pretty much the same in both New York and Paris:
Inconsiderate tourists who throw trash on the ground
Major terrorist targets. Like some buildings in New York, the Eiffel Tower is surrounded by a protective anti-terrorist barrier.
For whatever reason, my cousin Jamie never had any children. While his brother Jeff, his cousins Aaron, Rose, and myself all have been enjoying the joys of parenthood seeing our children grow into fine adults, Jamie could never share those same feelings. Now 50 years old and with the regret of not starting a family early in life, Jamie had longed for a child of his own.
A few years ago and 82 miles away from Jamie, a man named Mickey Bennet took a 23andme test that helped him locate some of his distant relatives. Then in 2022, Mickey took an Ancestry DNA test. The results of that test helped Darcy Bennet, Mickey’s wife, find out the identity of his real grandfather. You see, Mickey was an adopted child who never knew who his real father was and wanted to find out. Being a person who loves to investigate things, Darcy thought it was time to know the truth about her husband’s parentage.
This is how she did it in her own words:
“A few years ago Mickey took a 23andme DNA test to learn more about where his family came from. Mickey was adopted at birth and it was a closed adoption because the mother was under 21 when she gave birth so Mickey’s parents didn’t have any information. When he took the 23andme test he learned about his heritage but was also connected to distant relatives (mostly 2nd cousins). Mickey talked to one of his second cousins and they told him that their father had a cousin, Patty Prehall, who lived in Allentown around the time that Mickey was born. At first, we thought that she was his Mom so I did a bunch of research and found some other relatives of Patty Prehall. I got to a dead end at one point and there were no updates until I got Mickey to take the ancestry DNA test. There he was connected to Bill Kulls, who originally showed up as Mickey’s first cousin. I looked up Bill on Facebook and saw that he was older than I expected so I looked up his friends with the last name Kulls. That’s when I found Jamie and I was shocked. So I sent him a message and I found Steve Kulls and sent him a message too. I found out that he was Bill’s half-brother and that Bill had three kids, Jamie included. Since we thought that Bill was Mickey’s cousin we thought Jamie was a 2nd cousin. I wasn’t convinced that Jamie was a cousin so I went back on the ancestry site and clicked on the connection to Bill. It ends up that Bill is Mickey’s grandpa. So that narrowed Mickey’s dad to be either Jamie or Jeff. I did some more research and found out that Jamie graduated high school the same year that Mickey was born, so that lined up with his biological parents being under 21. Then I found out that Patty Prehall is Jamie and Jeff’s mom so I was like “Wow”. Then Jamie replied to me and more things lined up with the timing. He came to visit NY and then we got the paternity test done and he was a match!”
It took 33 years for my cousin Jamie to find out that he was a father. Today is the first Father’s Day in all those years that Jamie can truly celebrate parenthood.
A few months ago, I came across an email that was sent to my running club. It was from a runner and entrepreneur from Australia who had just developed a running shoe made almost entirely out of recycled materials. He wanted to spread the word to runners around the world about a Kickstarter campaign that he was about to start in order to get the ball rolling for his new product. As both a life-long runner and a die-hard environmentalist, I was immediately intrigued. I personally contacted co-founder Sam Burke and told him how excited I was about his new running shoe venture. I wasn’t the only one. Within four hours of starting the campaign, Tarkine running shoes met their fundraising goal by selling over $44,000 in inventory.
According to statistics by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. These shoes end up in landfills, where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, which usually makes up the midsole of most running shoes, can last for as long as 1,000 years in a landfill. With this in mind, I knew that I had to purchase a pair of Tarkines for the environmental aspect. There were a few exciting qualities that I learned about this shoe that I just had to explore. The Tarkine website purports that their running shoes are made almost entirely out of recycled materials and their life expectancy is 700 miles, lasting almost twice as long as a typical pair of running shoes. Once these shoes reach the end of their lives, they can be fully recycled through a program that Tarkine has set up for their customers.
I purchased a pair of blue training shoes, the Tarkine Goshawks. The box they came in stated, “The world’s most eco-friendly high-performance running shoe”. I was curious to see for myself how well they performed by wearing them for my first official run in them.
Mile 5 – February 9, 2022
I slipped on my pair of blue and white Tarkine running trainers to take these virgin shoes out for their first run. I felt an instant feeling of comfort as soon as I slipped them on. The upper part was both firm and stretchy. As with all other running shoes that have a separated tongue, the Tarkines had no separated tongue and the entire upper section was constructed as one continuous material which exerted equal pressure around my entire ankle. Once they were on both my feet, the front contour of these shoes appeared not to be your typical elliptical shape, but looked more like the asymmetrical contour of a human foot. At first, I thought that this shape looked strange, but I later realized that there was a method to the madness of this design feature. I learned that this duck-like foot shape addressed the issue of foot splay, which is what happens to the toes in our feet every time a runner lands on them after each stride. When our feet land, our toes naturally splay out from one another. The developers of these shoes were well aware of this splaying tendency and designed the Tarkines to account for this natural phenomenon.
I did my first run through my mom’s Staten Island neighborhood and around Clove Lakes Park. I ran up and down hills and through the streets. The shoes hugged my feet tightly but had some give to them. There were no pressure points or any other part of the shoes that made my feet feel uncomfortable. The rubber beneath was bouncy just enough to give me the sensation of being propelled forward as if I were wearing a pair of bouncy springs.
I completed my five-mile run and both of my feet felt great. There were no blisters like I usually get after wearing a new pair of running shoes. There wasn’t even any soreness for the shoes fit my feet like a glove due to their ability to give. With all of these positive experiences, I am looking forward to seeing if these shoes will continue to perform well as I put in many more miles on them over the next few months.
Mile 500 – September 27, 2022
Eight months and 500 miles after first putting on my new Tarkines, the blue color still appears vivid and fresh on the outside. I did wash them once since first using them. There are no visible signs of wear and tear on the upper parts. Any blue areas that appear bleached are simply dried-up salt accumulations due to sweat dripping onto my shoes.
The soles are still mostly intact except for some slight wearing due to the supination of my feet and at the very tips of my toes. You can still see 90-95% of the pattern design running throughout the sole.
In the photo below, one can see some wearing of the shoes right behind my feet. This may be due to this area of my feet often being calloused and hard.
The shoes still feel completely natural and comfortable when I wear them, even while running.
If 2021 were a pile of garbage, I plowed right through it, bravely living my life as if the pandemic never happened.
I usually start the new year off each January 1 with a soul-cleansing plunge into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island Beach. 2021 didn’t begin that way since the event was canceled due to COVID. What did happen was an interview I had hosted for the Manhattan public access show Gotta Run With Will. My episode was postponed from the previous November also due to the pandemic. Conditions were safe enough on January 2 where we were able to successfully produce this episode with the help of gifted producer Will Sanchez and his crew. I interviewed my good friends Mark Vogt and Bob Denker who are fellow life-long runners and background actors. You can view the episode here.
As society continued to open up in February due to increased vaccinations, I was able to engage in some fun activities. I portrayed a boom mike operator for the Showtime series Succession, went skiing in Massachusetts with my son at Catamount Mountain, and went snowshoeing in the Staten Island Greenbelt. A call to the community from Senator Andrew Gounardes asked for homemade Valentines Day cards that would be distributed to older adults at local senior citizen centers. Through my Buy Nothing group, I had asked families and teachers to ask their children to make cards for this program.
In March, a single mother of five living in my community desperately needed a new refrigerator. I found a couple willing to donate a fridge that they didn’t need. With the help of my friend and fellow community activist Ajamu Osborne, we wheeled the fridge 1.2 miles to the mother’s apartment house.
My brother and I participated in an anti-Asian hate rally in Coney Island along with Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Ari Kagan, and others.
Mukasa Edward is a teacher, runner, and track coach living in a small village in Uganda. I have known him for a few years. His friend’s baby got an infection from a tainted vaccine and was in danger of losing her life. Mukasa needed my help. At first I didn’t know how I could help, but in time, I was able to begin a fundraising campaign that helped to save the baby’s life. You can read about it here.
Through the efforts of community activists Steven Patzer and Reyna Gobel, we engaged in the second annual Chinese Restaurant Food Crawl. Among dozens of other great community events, Steven and Reyna initiated the inaugural event at the outset of the pandemic last year to help support locally-owned Chinese restaurants in the area.
I had the opportunity to meet Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa as he walked along the Coney Island Boardwalk trying to get support for his mayoral campaign.
My brother and I spent some quality time with my dad. After our visit to his house in West Orange, New Jersey, we took our daughters for a hike on a nearby mountain.
As a background actor, I had the opportunity to portray a dead body for the third time for the show The Blacklist. My role was as a preserved cadaver that was pulled out of a drawer in a medical lab. The medical examiner then inspected me as they filmed the footage.
My daughter is a graphic design and painting major in college. As a dedicated artist, she has been exploring all forms of self-expression from the humorous to the abstract to the downright disturbing. Among many other projects, she created a “Canned Baby” label, a paper-mache mask named Snuffy, and a stuffed-animal-inspired full face mask she calls the Velveteen Vermin.
I had the opportunity to portray a FedEx delivery worker in a Nissim Black music video. Black is an African-American rapper who happens to also be a Hasidic Jew. Check out my attempt at hip hop dancing towards the end of the video by clicking here.
Since the outset of the pandemic a year ago, I worked with other volunteers by helping those most affected throughout South Brooklyn. One of the many things I did was to deliver care packages to over 200 families and hot food and PPE equipment to senior citizens. Local leaders took notice including 46th Assembly District Leader Dionne Brown-Jordan and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus. They each invited me to events that honored those who stepped in to help during a very difficult and dangerous time. While I never expected to receive any recognition for what I had done, it was an honor to be recognized among other brave recipients.
I lucked out in August when I got hired to be the stand-in and body double for actor David Costabile for a Pepsi commercial. I was the same height and age as David, and I kind of looked like him. It was fun seeing how a commercial was made first-hand as well as meet the actor that I was standing in for. You can view the entertaining ad by clicking here.
One of my greatest memories of 2021 was when I went on a whale watch with an old high school friend and our favorite high school teacher. Larry Parente and I had taken two years of marine biology together with Joel Teret when we went to Sheepshead Bay High School. Our mutual love for Mr. Teret was so great that we brought our families on a whale watch with him back in August. And boy, did we see whales that day!
I was invited to two separate weddings in September. One was the union of Geo Morales and my good friend Eddie Sud. The wedding took place inside an old church on top of a mountain with breath-taking views. It was the first gay wedding I had ever attended and the venue was beautiful.
The second wedding was for my sister Rachel and her new husband Austin. It was such a happy and festive event that included tacos as an appetizer. I got to see so many old family members who I haven’t seen in a long time. The newlyweds looked great together and I wish them many years of happiness.
After hosting the January 2 episode of Gotta Run With Will, I immediately wanted to set up an interview with Mark and David Carles, brothers I know through the Staten Island Athletic Club. A few years ago, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was told by his doctor he had only a few months to live. His brother David did not accept this as an answer and went through many doctors to find the one doctor who knew how to save his brother’s life. The interview kept on getting postponed either by the increasing COVID rates that closed the recording studio down or Mark becoming too sick to be interviewed. Finally, in October, we were finally able to get the brothers interviewed. You can see the interview here.
I got the opportunity to run the NYC Marathon for the seventh time. I wasn’t planning on running it this year, but I knew if I signed up for it, it would make me run more and lose weight. I lost 15 pounds, so I succeeded in that area. I ran the first 13 miles of the Marathon too fast and paid the price when I struggled to run the last 13. While this was my second slowest marathon, I was glad that I was able to work through the constant leg pain in the last 10 miles to be able to cross the finish line alive.
Here are some other people and events I attended that helped to make my 2021 memorable.
As 2021 comes to an end, I am grateful for my Mom. Just a few weeks ago, she got hit by a car that ran a red light. Fortunately, she escaped with only a dislocated shoulder and a broken leg which is now almost fully healed. I am also grateful for having good health in spite of having COVID during this last week of the year.
After receiving my first dose of the COVID vaccine almost exactly a year ago, I began 2021 believing that I was a superhero. Now I know better.
The following article was printed in the Staten Island Advance on April 28, 2021. In order for readers to avoid a paywall when trying to access it online for those who don’t subscribe, I provided screenshots below. A link to the original article is provided at the end.
I would like to add that runners from other local running clubs such as the Prospect Park Track Club and the Ridge Runners also played a part in donating to the Baby Brenda Fund. Members of the Facebook group Bensonhurst Parents also helped provide donations.
Here is the link to the original article as digitally published by the Staten Island Advance (www.silive.com):
When 2020 began, little did anyone know that a pandemic was less than three months away from hitting the United States and throwing all of our lives into a tailspin. In the weeks preceding the pandemic, our lives were more or less normal. I found happiness in the little things in life. During this time, my attention was focused on my family and my hobbies.
In January, my daughter and I visited Carol Pessin, the wife of Jere Pessin who is a distant relative of mine. She owns an art business called Art Cards, which are hand-painted cards that are sold in many Whole Foods Market locations.
My brother Aaron celebrated his 50th birthday at the World-famous Junior’s Cheesecake Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn.
In February, my friend Jacky Lee won the Extra Mile award at a holiday party for members of the Staten Island Athletic Club. This was a well-deserved award given how much time and effort she gave volunteering to help pace many other runners in various half marathons and marathons. She also assisted physically-challenged runners from the Achilles Track Club throughout the New York City Marathon.
Jacky would continue her commitment thinking about others by running around the perimeter of Staten Island for 53 miles. This was in honor of my 53rd birthday in June. What a birthday gift!
As I got more politically active in my community with the help of my friend and City Council 47 candidate Steven Patzer, I met up with the mother of Eric Diaz, a young man who was shot in the face by an ICE agent in Brooklyn. At an event that Steven put together, we engaged in a letter-writing campaign that asked local leaders to speak up when many chose to remain silent about this incident.
I worked on a TV gig portraying an aircraft crash victim. It took about an hour to put fake skin on my face and make up my hands to make me look like I suffered horrible burns from a plane crash. When filming was over, it took another hour to remove the fake skin and makeup.
As COVID19 entered our world in March, my attention began to be divided between the needs of my family and the needs of my community. This virus tested me as a human being. At first, due to the uncertainty of the virus and the increasing numbers of deaths across the Nation, I was very fearful that I’d die from it. As time went by and as I saw friends heroically helping the most needy populations in my community, I overcame my fears and bravely went out to join them in their efforts.
I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus as she set out every Saturday afternoon to help residents of Coney Island who were most affected by COVID19. We delivered face masks, protective gloves, and hot food using contactless delivery procedures. Mathylde’s group of fearless heroes included Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Jacky Lee, Jose Gonzalez, Kouichi Shirayanagi, Damien Charles, and Ajamu Osborne.
April was one of the deadliest months for COVID19. While the TV news reported grim statistics on a daily basis, I went out every week to help those in need. I started to volunteer for the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and Bay Ridge Cares, two non-profit organizations that helped those in need. I made so many deliveries for these two organizations that by the end of the year, I had driven 490 miles throughout Brooklyn. I delivered care packages to 218 families, 199 hot meals to the elderly, 22 toys to children, 326 face masks, and 3,000 PPE face shields to hospital staff at Maimonides Hospital.
I was concerned about the collapsing economy and thought of ways we could help keep local businesses afloat. One business I tried to help was the Flagship Brewery. After getting beer delivered from Flagship, I asked the owners of the company if I could hold a weekly contest to promote their beer. I made up a trivia question each week and posted it on my Facebook account. Those who answered it correctly would be put into a drawing. The winner received a 6-pack of beer delivered to their door. The owners of Flagship loved this idea and supported it. I continued the contest for several weeks.
Working with my fellow teachers at the preschool I work at, I collected about 60 photos of our students posing with their rainbow drawings. With the help of local graphic designer Alex Marmolejos of AM Print NY, we created a dozen “Thank You!” posters with all the children’s photos on them. I hand-delivered them to hospitals, police precincts, and other institutions. Many were grateful to receive them. You can read more about this story in the article here.
In May, I started a used running shoe drive through gotsneakers.com. This organization gives money in exchange for old running shoes. I began collecting running shoes from running clubs and organizations throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island. By the end of 2020, I had collected 756 pairs of shoes and donated $400 to the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. This amount was enough to feed 13 families for a week.
I continued to spread myself to whereever I was needed. I helped James Raffone, whose son Jamesy is afflicted with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a rare disease with no known cure. Children with that disease become wheelchair-bound by the time they are teenagers and often don’t make it into their 20s. I volunteered a few hours of my time to help James with a clothing drive that benefitted the Jar of Hope, an organization whose sole goal is to find a cure for DMD.
In June, Coney Island had its own march for racial equality. I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Damien Charles, and others as we marched along the Coney Island Boardwalk.
By the end of June, I had already spent four months teaching my preschool class remotely. For graduation day, I decided to visit the homes of each of my students with my two teacher assistants, Maria Caceres and Malgorzata Michalewicz. We handed them their diplomas and a small gift, then took pictures with each of them. It was a bittersweet day full of happy tears, especially from their parents.
My cousin Jeffrey Kulls got married to a lovely woman named Frances. I attended their ceremony, but I had to be careful due to COVID restrictions. Unfortunately, immediately after exchanging their vows, Jeff had to be sent to the emergency room at the nearby hospital (he was okay after that). I spent the next hour or so getting to know Frances more. She has a very good rapport with people and is also funny.
In July, I wanted to get away from everything. Camping and the outdoors is always a great escape for me and my family. We went to a family campground in Pennsylvania. We rented a small cabin in the woods there. It was what we needed at the moment.
Now that it was August, there were only three more months left until Election Day. My cousin David Greene was preparing to hold a weekly series of remote phonebanking events to help elect Joe Biden for President. Every Thursday, I worked from my desktop computer calling voters living in different states to encourage them to vote for Biden. I worked with about a dozen other callers and each week we’d call voters from a different state. We called voters in Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. It was an eye-opening experience for me to hear about the many thoughts, feelings, and fears from people across America.
One day, I needed to make a spare house key and decided to support the local hardware store around the corner from where I live. When I gave the owner Mr. Leung my key, he was very excited to help me. I noticed a “For Rent” sign in the window and commented on it. He said that his business is dying due to COVID19. Feeling that I had to do something to help him, I took a picture of his hardware store, then I posted it on my Facebook account asking for everyone reading my message to please support his store. Within a week, my post was viewed by over 4,500 people and shared 6,200 times. On a local level, it went viral. I don’t know how many new customers actually visited Mr. Leung’s store due to my post, but when I passed by his store days after that, Mr. Leung seemed very happy and grateful to me.
After applying to be a Census enumerator in June, I finally got hired and started working in September. Working this job was very exciting and challenging. The challenge was in trying to count homes of people who were never home or who refused to answer their doors. Most people were friendly while others were hostile and belligerent.
During the deadliest part of the COVID pandemic in April, my brother Aaron was the only employee at his job who accepted a temporary job taking care of special needs adults who were in the hospital recovering from COVID. He himself contracted COVID and had to self-quarantine for two weeks. In honor of his bravery to take on this job, he was invited to a special ceremony given by the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He was handed a citation for his bravery along with about 80 other brave Brooklynites who went above and beyond the call of duty during this time.
I found a photo of two friends, Andrew Windsor, a Republican and Steven Patzer, a Democrat. They were working together to help clean up the beach at Coney Island Creek. This photo was meaningful to me for it showed members of two political parties working together for a common goal. I added text to the photo and turned it into a motivational meme.
In October, I was asked by Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus to find some teenagers who were willing to distribute and hang campaign flyers for pay to help with her reelection campaign. My niece Emma Gail Pesin and my former preschool student Selvin Ramirez were both up for the job. They distributed promo cards to homes and apartments and hung posters throughout her district. As it turns out, Selvin was interested in politics and wants to become a community leader one day. Working this job was a perfect fit for him.
In the Bensonhurst Parents Facebook group, one parent complained about how dirty Seth Low Park was getting. She posted photos of garbage strewn throughout the park. Other parents chimed in and made similar complaints. When I read their comments, I realized that nothing was going to get done through complaining. I then suggested that we all chip in and help clean up the park ourselves. Parents started to notice my comment and agreed with me. Within a few weeks, I organized a park cleanup. The Parks Department provided the tools and about a dozen families provided the manpower. We got the whole park cleaned up within two hours. Families were grateful to be included in this cleanup. It was a great experience for all. If I ever become a real leader one day, organizing this park cleanup will be a defining moment for me.
I have run the NYC Marathon several times, so I know what it’s like to run a marathon in the greatest city in the world. During the pandemic, all running events were cancelled and became “virtual” races. Runners can still run these races, but only on their own. For those who were registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon, I thought that this was a real bummer. I came up with an idea and David Panza, the President of the Staten Island Athletic Club, immediately approved it. My idea was for SIAC and Lisa Lubarsky, President of the Richmond Rockets (another Staten Island running club) to work at separate aid stations, create a marathon-distance course, then invite runners to run it. We called it the 2020 Staten Island Virtual Marathon, which then became a reality. 26 runners crossed the finish line on Sunday, November 1 with big smiles on their faces. Some even cried tears of joy. It was a great feeling to able to produce a running event that put smiles on so many faces in the midst of a pandemic that tried to destroy our spirits.
2020 began uneventfully, then transformed into a worldwide horror show, and ended with a gesture of hope. In December, I received my first dose of an experimental COVID19 vaccine.
My year wouldn’t have been complete without being inspired by new friendships that I’ve made throughout 2020. Each of the people below have helped make this year memorable for me. They are leaders in each of their respective fields.
Jose Gonzalez has been a member of the Guardian Angels since 1994. I met him while we both helped members of the Coney Island community who were most affected by COVID. Jose, while tough on the outside, was very personable, down-to-earth, and friendly. He shared with me all kinds of stories of how gritty and crime-ridden New York was back in the day and the many crazy situations he went through while patrolling the streets of New York as a Guardian Angel. He’s a great guy to chill with. I can sit for hours and hear his stories.
Steven Patzer was born to be a leader. I met him over a year ago at a Southern Brooklyn Democrats meeting. When it comes to community involvement, this guy is a human dynamo. And he possesses the triple threat of being intelligent, resourceful, and uniting. For the past two years, he has put on over 40 events benefiting our community. Along with his dedicated assistant, Reyna Gobel, he has worked tirelessly addressing the many issues that are unique to our community. I’ve been volunteering with him throughout the pandemic by delivering PPE and food to residents throughout the South Brooklyn communities. Steven is currently running to lead the City Council District 47 seat and has a very real chance of winning it.
Michael Ortiz is an ultrarunner who I’ve heard about, but never met until the end of 2020 while running with him and ultrarunner Phil McCarthy as they attempted a 50-mile run around the perimeter of Brooklyn. Michael had recently completed his “Game of Hundos” by running one hundred 100-mile races over 100 weekends. During the pandemic when all races were cancelled, he ran a loop around his living room that equalled 100 miles. He repeated this many times for he was resolute in not letting the pandemic destroy his goals. Now, when I think of goal-setting, I think of Michael. Michael’s inspiration came from his brother David who died in a tragic accident. Before his death, he told Michael to “live his life”. His brother was training for the NYC Marathon at the time. This was the seed of inspiration that helped Michael achieve his astonishing ultrarunning goals.
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus represents the communities of Bay Ridge and Coney Island. While I knew of her before the pandemic, COVID19 created a situation where I ended up supporting her office as we helped those most affected by the virus living in the Coney Island community. While I have met other political leaders before, working closely with Mathylde gave me a direct glimpse into seeing a leader’s relationship with their community. I have found Mathylde to be an individual of high principles with great ideas and the willingness to set aside her own ego to improve her community. Mathylde has shown me that there are great leaders out there and that not all of them have self-serving agendas. It saddens me to know that some media outlets have tried to portray her in a negative light through blatant lies about her work.
Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I came across an organization called South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. Whitney Hu was the SBMA’s fearless leader. She worked day and night to secure volunteers, donations, care packages, and more for underrepresented families throughout South Brooklyn who were most affected by the pandemic. I was one of 40 drivers who came to their warehouse in Sunset Park every Saturday to pick and deliver care packages to these families. Whitney was always there making sure that the logistics for everything were being addressed. From ordering food to diapers to children’s books to free Metrocards, Whitney made sure that every need for these families was met week-after-week. In early December, she announced that she was dropping out of her race to win the City Council District 38 seat so that she can continue to focus all of her energy on helping these families. By the end of 2020, the SBMA had delivered 30,000 care packages to families throughout South Brooklyn under Whitney’s leadership.
I first “met” Tad Cromwell while at a zoom meeting with the Southern Brooklyn Democrats club. Tad is a certified fitness instructor who was a special guest speaker at the meeting. His speech about how we can improve our lives through fitness was very inspiring and it motivated me to join his fitness classes. Tad used to be an out-of-shape unmotivated couch potato. One day, he decided that enough was enough and began his journey towards better health through exercise and nutrition. He now lives a life of fitness and healthy eating. Throughout the pandemic, he has taught virtual fitness classes to hundreds of people. His business, Better Days Ahead Fitness isn’t just a name, it’s Tad’s message to everyone that while things may not be going the way you want them to right now, there will always be better days ahead. His mantra, “Use the body you have to get the body you want” gives hope to everyone no matter what shape they may be currently in at the moment.