The 50-Mile Mountain

May 12, 2019 – The Next Day

As I drove home from Philadelphia on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I could not help but be reminded of the weekend I just had as my car radio blasted The Eye of the Tiger.  While the song played, the memories of the feat that I had accomplished the night before had resurfaced and made me forget momentarily about my unbelieveably tired and achy body.

Just like any Rocky movie where the Italian Stallion goes through a kick-ass training regimen that eventually leads to the Big Fight, the song reminded me of the many months that I had to endure during my training to attempt my first ultramarathon. Training that required me and my ultra-running comrades from the Prospect Park Track Club to run in single-digit temperatures in the middle of Winter, snow,  ice, pouring rain, and with constant tiredness that frequently affected our personal lives.  For me, the added challenge was training alone 98% of the time.  I had to develop the mental fortitude and focus to help get me through it all.

Last December, Coach Matt put together an Ultrarunners Training Group.  Training started on New Year’s Day and continued until the day before the big event.  While Mickey was Rocky Balboa’s coach, Matt was ours.  Rocky trained for the Big Fight.  Our Big Fight was the Dirty German 50-Mile Trail Race.

May 11, 2019 – Race Day

My memories of race day shot straight to the moment I lined up at the start.  There was a lot of electricity and excitement in the air coming from the other runners.  I, however, wasn’t feeling it.  A lot of self-doubt clouded my mind.  I wondered how the hell could I accomplish something like this.  Since I had never attempted an ultra-marathon before, especially one of this length, I didn’t believe that I could actually pull it off.  However, Adam, our club’s biggest cheerleader, told me right before the race in no uncertain terms that I would get the job done.  When I had no faith in myself, Adam’s words settled into my subconscious and morphed into a mantra that would help carry me through the race.

Since a 50-mile trail race was way off the radar for even a 36-year seasoned runner like myself, I decided to treat this event as a challenge the same way a mountain climber would attempt to climb a mountain.  In my mind, there were three parts to this “race”, the uphill, the summit, and the downhill.  If I can mentally focus on this race one section at a time, I would be able to complete it.  This 50-mile course had the perfect format to apply my mountain-climbing analogy to.  It was comprised of three 16.67-mile loops.  With this setup, I could break the race into thirds to make goal-setting more achievable and completion a possibility.

Somewhere along the first loop, I came across a seasoned ultrarunner from Germany named Peter.  We quickly befriended each other.  I liked his slow-moving pace and his claim-to-fame that he often comes in last in many of his ultra races.  I was so terrified of not finishing that his presence reassured me.  As we got to know each other, we created simple rules to help us get through the course.  When we approached an uphill, we would both walk it.  When we picked up the pace too quickly, we would intentionally slow each other down.  During our time together, we discussed everything from my curiosity about a German’s point view of President Trump, the sordid history of the United States, our children’s accomplishments, and beer.  Peter helped carry me through a good 18-20 miles of the race.  While he helped me, I reflected on the time I ironically helped another German runner achieve pr glory during the 2014 NYC Marathon when I was a NYRR pacer.  You can read about that here.

Peter and I both completed the first loop together.  Several miles later, his consistent pace was too much for me and I eventually pulled back from him.  I was alone again, but still stayed the course.  By Mile 25, my road shoes were full of all kinds of small pebbles, mud, and water.  At that point, I seriously looked forward to completing my second loop where I could make a pit stop at my team’s tent to change into a fresh pair of trail shoes and socks that were in my drop-bag.  Eventually, I was able to do that as I completed my second loop, which was now at the 33-mile mark with 16+ miles to go.

As I continued the race and as the miles wore on, my spirit and body quickly degraded.  My pace slowed down.  I became listless and a feeling of hopelessness began to settle in.  Add to that the painful feeling of plantar fasciitis began to flare up in both my feet, I was falling apart both physically and mentally.  Then at the 38-mile mark, something amazing happened:  I experienced a Terminator Moment.  In the original Terminator film, the Terminator is killed towards the end of the movie.  Just when everyone thinks he is dead, a backup battery turns on inside of him to reignite him into action yet again to continue his rampage.  That was me at mile 38.  I had this renewed vigor with the resolution that I WILL now finish this race and nothing was going to stop me.

As I continued past the 40-mile mark, I played a new mental game with myself to carry me through the final 10 miles: the single digit countdown.  Nine miles became eight miles, then seven miles, etc.  With every mile that was clicked off my belt, my excitement level doubled.  With every terrain challenge I conquered such as the hills, river and mud crossings, I would wave au revoir to each of them knowing that that was the final time that I would have to deal with them.

With less than a mile left, I began hearing the loud music that was playing throughout the event at the race start area.  Literally and figuratively, this was music to my ears.  I was stuck behind another runner in a single track section.  She sensed my sudden burst of energy and moved over to let me pass her.  I was now in Terminator Mode after all.  Once she let me pass her, it was like a drain that had become unclogged.  I blew through what was left of the course hellbent on reaching that finish line once and for all.

As I exited the tree-covered trails and entered the final 100-yard stretch of  an open field towards the finish line, I felt more like a conquerer than just a survivor.  Only seconds away from the finish line, I was greeted by wild roaring cheers from all my trail-running friends from the Prospect Park Track Club.  I felt a great feeling of triumph at that moment.  This was in great contrast to the self-doubt that I had felt moments before the race started.  Crossing the finish line and receiving a well-earned finisher’s medal around my neck confirmed the reality of what I had just done.

After completing the race with a time of 12:04:00 (14:28 per mile pace), I had found out later that 25% of all participants did not finish the race distance.  It was nice to be one of the finishers.  It also validated all of the many months that I had trained for this event.

May 18 – Seven Days Later

As I needed a week to fully recover from this race to become my abnormal self again, I now have time reflect on what I had done.  I went through a roller-coaster of emotions throughout this event from self-doubt to absolute despair to total euphoria.  While the extreme tiredness and physical imbalance I experienced within the week after this race will disappear, the wonderful memories of it will always remain.

I am forever grateful for the support I received from all the members of the Prospect Park Track Club who were at the event.  They believed in me and  were my cheerleaders.  I would like to congratulate every single one of them who ran their own 25k, 50k, and 50-mile races that day and who persevered in spite of their own unique hardships and challenges.

In 1982, I became a runner.

In 1995, I became a marathoner.

In 2019, I became an ultrarunner!

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Me within minutes of crossing the finish line.  30 minutes after this photo was taken, it became totally dark outside.  I put my headlamp on after completing the second loop just in case.

Abra-Cadaver

As a background actor, I’ve been trying to get work on the CBS show Blue Bloods for many years now.  The show stars Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg as members of a family of cops living a cop’s life in New York City.  After submitting for roles on that show for the past several years to no avail, I finally got my big break portraying a cadaver in a medical examiner’s room.  But this was not an ordinary dead guy casting call: they wanted experience.  Oh boy, did I have experience playing dead!  Several years ago, I played the featured dead body on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.  You can read all about it here.  When the casting agent from Central Casting called me, he told me that a lot of other actors they hired in the past didn’t know how to play dead people well.  I explained to him how effectively I played a dead guy before and he was impressed with my mad death skilz.  I was hired!

Dead Body Experience

The required wardrobe I needed to bring for this role was a bathrobe and a pair of warm-up pants.  This was in preparation for playing a cadaver who was pretty much lying naked on top of a medical examiner’s table.  Another actress and I were both to play dead and we were brought outside the studio to an awaiting makeup truck.  The truck was a large 18-wheeler, but designed inside with a fully-functional makeup room.  It took about an hour for the makeup people to apply the “Cadaver Grey” and “Dead Flesh” colors (you won’t find those in a box of Crayolas) to the upper half of my body as well as to my legs and feet.  I wasn’t going to be completely naked in the scene; this was network TV after all.  My nether-region would be covered with a sheet because dead people on these shows are never completely naked.  Underneath, I was actually wearing my warm-up pants.  The transformation from living to dead was unsettling even to me, especially once I closed my eyes to take a dead guy selfie before I was escorted off to set.

Once on set, I hopped up on the stainless steel medical examiner’s table and was told by a crew member to lie down while they adjusted various items that would support my comfort during the scene.  They expected me to be lying half-naked on that table for the next few hours, so my comfort was their top priority.

After lying down for awhile, a very pretty-looking actress who was to portray the chief medical examiner approached me.  We shook eachother’s hands to introduce ourselves and then engaged in some small talk.  Another beautiful woman came by and stood next to her.  That woman was a real medical examiner.  Her job was to show the actress how to make the role look real.  One of the actions was for the actress was to lift up my limp arm, study it, then drop it back down.  During rehearsal, she man-handled it like it was a piece of dead meat.  The real M.E. showed her how to study it more thoughtfully and with more care.  Lying there with two hot women playing with my right arm is a memory that I will always keep.

Once all the actors were in their first positions, rehearsal of the scene began.  Actor Steve Shirripa of Sopranos fame portrays a police officer coming into the medical examiner’s room with his partner.  They’re discussing a woman’s death.  As they are approaching the M.E. to talk to her about it, she’s in the middle of examining a cadaver and that would be me.  In the scene, my body is awkwardly turned on it’s side while the M.E. is  examining my back.  After she says a few lines to the other actors who approach her, she topples my lifeless body back onto the table with a thud.  Being the consummate actor that I am, I just let gravity take it’s course and let it fall onto the table.  She then picks up my right arm, carefully examines it, gets irritated due to the topic of the conversation, then drops it down onto the table.

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Actors Steve Shirripa and Bridget Moynahan.

During the entire scene which lasted for about three to four minutes, I had several challenges to contend with.  One was not moving, breathing, or even letting my chest move up and down.  As you can imagine, playing a dead person is not an easy thing to do.  As the camera began rolling during each take, I inhaled a bunch of breaths and then held my breath during the entirety of the scene.  Once the camera moved away from me did I catch my breath again.  Another challenge was to let the actress treat my body like a limp piece of dead meat.  I had to let my body flop down with a thud after she examined my back, then let my right arm flop down as well.  Running hard for seven miles a few hours before this gig helped to put me in a physically tired state which made my deadness look more believable.

In between takes, the site of me looking dead to the cast and crew was the butt of many jokes.  One of the crew members shouted out, “Is he really dead?!”.   Even Steve Shirripa made a comment about me.  From his angle, he saw the M.E. with her hands behind my back, but couldn’t see exactly what she was doing with those hands.  He said, “It really looks like she’s giving him a proctology exam”.  I cracked up which made everyone else crack up seeing the dead guy in stitches.

I worked this gig for about four hours.  When the scene was over, the crew began to break everything down to call it a day.  A toe tag was removed from my big toe.  I kept it as a souvenir.  According to the tag, my name was Tony Hernandez.

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The money I made from this cadaver role will help to pay for my daughter’s college tuition.  I hope that she knows how much her daddy has to kill himself for her education.

2018 – A Year In Review

The worst thing that happened to me in 2018 was that I was fired from two part-time jobs.  One was as a running coach for the New York Road Runners Club, the other was as a deliveryperson for the app-based delivery service called Postmates.  After working only two days for the NYRR, I’m still not sure why I was fired.  An explanation for why Postmates fired me can be explained here.  These were the only two negatives in what ended up being a very productive year for me.  And what especially made the year stand out for me was  that I spent more time helping others besides myself.

In February, I met with William Colton, the local Assemblyperson who represents my neighborhood.  We were discussing ways we can improve our neighborhood.  At the end of our meeting, he handed me nomination forms for the “Women of Distinction Award”.  He asked me if I knew any women who deserved recognition for their efforts to improve their community, I should nominate them using the forms.  This award “honors women whose outstanding contributions help make our community stronger”.  I nominated two friends I know who have worked tirelessly to support disabled runners.  As a result of my nomination, Nicoletta Narangis and Jacky Lee were both recognized at a formal ceremony.  Both received framed certificates and each gave speeches at the ceremony.  Afterwards, I had lunch with everyone including Mr. Colton and the mother of slain police officer WenJian Liu .

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Nicoletta giving her speech upon receipt of her award.

 

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Jacky posing with her award.

My son Hunter was previously was a member of a scout troop that was ethnically diverse.  This year, he joined a new scout troop that was entirely Asian.  This did not bother him in the least and he made many new friends there.  He completed his first year with them in June.

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Emma had turned 18-years-old in May.  Since she officially became a woman, I wanted to film a music video that celebrated this fact while showing the conflicting feelings that I  had as her father.  We filmed scenes to the video in about a dozen different locations throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan.  You can view the video here

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Scene from the music video, The Edge of Eighteen.

Both of my children graduated in June.  Emma graduated from high school and Hunter graduated from junior high school.  In September, Hunter started high school while Emma started college.  I am excited that they are both becoming more independent people.

A friend of my cousin David had told him that he needed to hire a bunch of seat-fillers for a live music show that his son was going to produce in Queens.  Knowing that I was once a seat-filler years ago at an Andre Rieu concert, my cousin referred him to me thinking that I could help him in some way.  I told him that I can probably get a bunch of my actor friends to fill seats for his show if he paid them.  He liked the idea.  I then proceeded to find a bunch of friends who were a combination of actors, runners, and co-workers.  I found about 18 people in all.  They were each paid $40 to fill seats at a 2-hour show.  One of the singers in the show was really good and was in fact an American Idol finalist.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that my efforts in getting this venture together were a smashing success.

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My friends and I posing together after seeing the show.

In August, I filmed a horror short called The Lovely Woods.  I submitted it into the 2018 Single-Take Film Challenge.  Out of 30+ submissions, my short was chosen as a semi-finalist.

 

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The crew of friends who helped me make this film short a reality.

38641244_10156557316774785_5096448935493369856_nI originally had the ending credits of the film  displayed with no music.  Previously, my daughter introduced me to the music of Harley Poe.  One of his songs really excited me and I knew that the song would pair well with the ending credits.  But I needed Harley Poe’s permission to use the song.  I emailed him and within a matter of days, he responded and gave me permission to use it.   It was very rare to get this kind of permission, especially for someone like me who is an unknown filmmaker.  You can view the film short complete with Harley Poe’s song here.  I’d like to thank the following for helping me make this film happen: Anthony, Giovanni, Yolande, Emma, Andriana, Jacky, Michael, and Anthony Martinez.

 

In August, my family and I went on a 1,200-mile journey through Canada.  We visited the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, Toronto, the Thousand Islands, Montreal, Lake George, and Albany.  I’d like to thank my running friend Sarah Gariepy.  She is a fellow pacer for the NYRR who lives in Montreal.  She had brought me and my family on a nice tour when we visited that city.

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Hunter and Emma on the Canadian side with the Horseshoe Falls behind them.

Will Sanchez is a running friend of mine who retired early due to making good decisions about his career.  He’s a life-long runner who embraces everything about the local running community in New York City.  He is a very soft-spoken and thoughtful guy who has created a running-themed TV series for public access television called Gotta Run With Will.  Two years ago I was interviewed for one of his shows.  Since then, I have been actively involved in finding new “talent” for Will to interview.  If I think the person has a great story, I will refer him/her to Will for a future show.  This year, I am proud to have recommended two runners.  One was John Pierre.  Many years ago, John was assaulted by a gang of thugs.  He was beaten so badly that he was left for dead.  Suffering from the damaging and painful effects of traumatic brain injury, John overcame his pain by resorting to running as his therapy.  Many marathons and half marathons later, John has become a kind of super-hero who is now known as The Ultimate Running Machine.  Realizing that he survived his ordeal, he wants to show people the power of overcoming hardships through his continued participation in race events.  He now runs every race donning a custom-made cape to add to his super-hero persona.  You can view his interview here.

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Another runner I recommended was Wayne Pacconi.  I met Wayne while a pacer at New York Road Runners Club race events.  As I got to know Wayne’s interesting life through social media, I noticed that he had a very lighthearted approach to running.  Many of Wills episodes are about more serious topics.  Wayne was a breath of fresh air and his episode was rather entertaining.  Wayne is a race director who puts on various trail race events in New Jersey.  And he owns chickens too!  You can view his episode here.

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In October, I had the opportunity to support two friends who were running for office in their respective communities.  Andrew Gounardes ran against Marty Golden for the 22nd Senatorial District of Brooklyn.  Golden was the incumbent who served his district for over 16 years.  Gounardes was a relative newcomer who had to campaign hard to win the district.  The two candidates battled it out.  In the end, Gounardes won the seat by about 1,000 votes.  During his campaign, I ran with an “Andrew Gounardes for New York State Senate” campaign poster attached to my pacer stick.  I managed to run a total of 20 miles this way over a three-day period and exposed his message to potentially thousands of people during my runs.  I am very excited to see how Andrew will do his job.  He has a lot of great ideas on how to improve his district and has the energy to see them through.

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On the Staten Island side, I actively supported my friend Michael DeVito for Congress.  Michael also campaigned hard, but in the end, Max Rose was the Democrat who won with more votes.  Michael is a very upstanding human being who radiates heaping doses of positivity whereever he goes.  I had the pleasure of having pizza with him and his wife Natalie while they were campaigning in Staten Island.  Through my desire to help Michael, I got to know both of them better.  I also brought (aka dragged) my son Hunter with me so he can learn more about the political process.

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In the acting world, I got hired to be a badminton advisor for a series based on the life of Emily Dickinson.  This was one of the most surprising “acting” gigs I was ever hired for.  You can read why here.

Also, in one of the several acting gigs I worked on in 2018, I portrayed a small-town sheriff for the show Instinct.

 

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Me patiently waiting for my required donut break.

 

My sister Sarah had gotten married in September to a great guy named Piotr.  I was in tears when she walked the aisle because I took care of her since she was a baby.  Now she’s a married woman.  I wish them the best of luck.

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My dad walking his daughter down the aisle.

Life works in funny ways.  Right after I got fired from my coaching gig with the New York Road Runners Club after working for them for only two days, I soon got hired to be a professional pacer for the Mile High Running Club.  My job was to pace and lead a group of runners that were training for the NYC Marathon.  This gig lasted for several weeks up until the actual Marathon.  I did a well enough job that they will be hiring me again this January to pace runners for the 2019 NYC Half Marathon in March.

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In December, I orchestrated a trail run in the Staten Island Greenbelt.  My efforts involved 22 runners from three different running clubs.  Most of the runners came from Brooklyn and had never run in the trails before.  Everyone enjoyed the 5.5-mile run.  I even connected a group of injured runners and had them walk with a very pregnant runner through the woods.

 

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Finally, I spent many long Sundays at a cafe througout 2018 writing a book.  I finished it as a 75-page novella and I am now in the proofreading stages.  Writing something significant was on my bucket list for the past 30 years and I finally achieved it.

Failure is Sometimes an Option

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In the movie Apollo 13, flight director Gene Kranz warned that, “Failure is not an option” when NASA scientists back on Earth were trying to figure out how to bring the astronauts back home safely.  In many areas of society, the truth is that failure is an acceptable part of the pathway towards success.   The relationship between failure and success varies greatly depending on what one is engaged in.

Two months ago, I worked part-time as an independent contractor for Postmates.com, a delivery service that uses a cell phone app to send couriers to make local deliveries around their neighborhood.  After a few days of making deliveries in my spare time, I began to enjoy working the business.  I made good money and I liked that I was in control of when I wanted to work.  Two weeks afterward, I was shocked to find out that my delivery account was terminated.  In essence, I got “fired”.  I found out with each delivery I made, every customer received an email asking them to rate the quality of my service.  My overall rating after two weeks was a 4.2 out of 5.0; this was below the 4.7 threshold for me to continue working for them.

I was very upset and wondered what I had done wrong for most of my customers appeared to be very happy with my service.  I then realized that the Postmates corporation had a very high standard for those who worked for them.  Due to their high standard, in my eyes, I had “failed” as an independent contractor for them.  This made me think about the different ways that failure is viewed by society and how standards for failure vary greatly depending on what you’re involved with.

For Postmates, failure happened to those who scored below a 4.7 out of 5.0.  If I translated that to a percentage, a 4.7 would be 94%, 4.6 would be 92%.  In the Postmates world, a 92% or below is considered a failure.  In almost every school across the United States, a passing grade is a 65%.  For students, they can fail one-third of the time, yet still pass their overall grades.

A professional baseball player can fail 70% of the time when getting struck out at the plate and can still be considered having a successful season with a .300 average.

If an automobile salesman sells one car out of every 20 people he shows it to, he would have failed 95% of the time.  The 5% that he actually sells a car to would make him/her a success in the auto sales industry.  That salesman is well aware that if he wants to sell five cars, he will have to show them to 100 customers.

One of the greatest examples of a “failure” is with inventor Thomas Edison.  He experimented with over 10,000 light bulb designs that all failed before he finally designed the one that worked.  If you want to put that in percentage terms, Edison failed 99.99% of the time.  In his situation, he kept on failing until he succeeded.  His persistence and ability to accept failure at a high rate made him one of the most successful inventors of the 20th Century.

I am looking forward to failing as much as possible because I know that the more failures I go through, the more successes I will achieve.  Knowing what I know now, failure is a rather attractive option.

 

 

Fake it ’til you make it!

A few weeks ago, I submitted for an acting gig to portray a “Badminton Instructor”.  This was after a friend of mine convinced me to play badminton with her one day at the local YMCA.  I got good enough at it to convince myself that I could indeed pull off this role if the casting agent booked me for it.  As luck would have it, they called me about two weeks later and I got booked.  In my mind, I am thinking that I will be portraying a teacher who shows students how to play badminton in the scene.

The badminton scene was for an upcoming series that is set in the 1850s.  The day before the shoot, I received an email about what to bring to set.  For a period piece, actors are almost always fitted with a period costume at a separate wardrobe fitting days before the shoot.  I found it odd that I was not asked to go for a fitting, but to simply show up on set as is.  On the morning of the shoot, I was asked to report directly to the AD (Assistant Director) where I would receive further instructions from her.

I meet the AD Connie and she greets me with, “Good morning Josh, so you’re the badminton advisor for the actors?”.  I immediately say to myself, “What the f&ck?!”, then my acting skills kick in and I say, “Yes, of course I am”.  At that moment, I realized that the acting gig I had originally submitted for was not to portray a badminton instructor IN the scene; it was to teach the two principal actors how to really play badminton FOR the scene!    At this moment, I convinced myself to say and do whatever I had to in order to pull this gig off.  I do know how to play badminton after all.

The AD and another assistant then dropped an extremely old badminton set on the lawn and asked me to help them put it together.  The badminton set looked like it was from the 1800s which was appropriate for today’s shoot.  Through trial and error, I was able to get it set up for them.

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The two young actors who looked like they were in their mid- to late-20s show up fully dressed in period clothes.  The AD introduced them to me as their badminton instructor and we all shook hands.  They handed them the rackets and shuttlecock and they set themelves up on the court.  They are both looking at me now for guidance and of course I had to say something.  They’re paying me to do my job after all.

I tell them to always try to hit the shuttlecock up in the air for it will be much easier to hit it.  The actors agree and begin a volley.  At first they don’t get the hang of it, then after awhile, they start hitting consistently long volleys.  The director in me takes over and I ask them to start reading their lines as they practice their volleys.  It all comes together so well that the AD relieves me and signs me out after being there for 2 1/2 hours.  Not bad for a $200 gig!

Badminton advisor: add that to the list of many jobs I’ve had in my life.

The rainbow amidst the storm: How one LGBT member overcame hate by practicing love

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Members of the Young Democrats of Richmond County and the Pride Center of Staten Island participate in a “Rainbow Run” to support members of the LGBT community who are prohibited each year from marching in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade. (March 4, 2018)

Being New Yorkers, one would think that we live in an open-minded society, but they would be wrong.  Even though our City as a whole is generally liberal-minded, diverse, and accepting, there are still those throughout the City with conservative beliefs who choose to practice prejudice and hate over acceptance and love.  Exactly a year ago, I wrote an article and sent it to the local paper, the Staten Island Advance.  Even though it was never published, I felt it necessary to share my story as it relates to one of my gay friends living in Staten Island and his experience running the 2017 Forest Avenue Mile, an annual race that is very popular throughout the Staten Island running community.  Reading his story will help others understand what the gay experience is like in a society that still has a long way to go in accepting others who may be different from you.

Below is the article in it’s entirety.


C’mon Staten Islanders, you’re better than that!
By Josh Pesin

I love Staten Island. I love the people, the communities, and the strong sense of patriotism, volunteerism and charity that permeates throughout all corners of the borough. When the tsunami of 2004 devastated Sri Lanka, Staten Islanders were the single largest donors to help that country. Staten Island is home to many public service workers who leave behind their loved ones every single day to serve and protect the City. Staten Islanders have engaged in grassroots causes from cancer awareness walks to pet adoption events and everything in between. Over the years, the borough has become more culturally diverse. All the new Polish, Albanian, Dominican, Russian, and other cultural businesses that have been popping up throughout the borough can attest to that.

You would think that I have only good things to say about the Island and I wish that were true. Something happened a few weeks ago in a very public way that reared Staten Island’s ugly head and reminded me that the Island is far from idyllic.

My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, hosted a one-mile race called The Forest Avenue Mile. This annual event takes place along the same route as the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event that begins immediately after the ending of the race. With the help of our club president and members who share a common love for running, we make all new members feel welcome including those from the LGBT community whose population has been gradually growing in our club. I am friends with them and I’ve found them to be great people. Upon hearing that the LGBT community was not allowed to march in the Parade yet again, one of our club members, Chris, wore a rainbow-striped race shirt as a form of solidarity during the race. As the race began and the runners went off, Chris ran by throngs of families who were lined up along the Parade route. What happened to Chris during the race can best be summed up by what he posted on a social media site later that day:

“Today I pushed myself to a new height. Today I strived to be better than I was yesterday; better than I was last month; better than I was last year. I was blessed by a crowd of supporters including family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Running with my pride on full display for a borough and community that is negligent and hateful towards myself and my community, refusing to allow the LGBT community to march in the parade. Today I heard cheers for me. I saw people beaming with pride about my singlet. I gave people hope, along with my fellow runners with the Young Democrats of Richmond County. Today I heard more jeers than cheers. I heard people screaming pussy. I faintly blocked out the crowd hollering faggot. I didn’t allow the disgusted looks and leering stares deject me from my goals. Today I was me. Today I was freer than I have ever been. More open and vulnerable than I ever considered possible. Today I had more love for myself than I have ever felt before. Swelling with pride, with confidence, with self acceptance. Today I was fearless. To everyone who has followed my journey and continues to support me as I pursue and achieve my goals. As much inspiration as I gain from myself, all your love and support inspires me to be a greater runner and person. Today I was me. Today I was free. And tomorrow I will wake up a better version of myself.”

Chris later told me that people of all ages; children, teens and adults, were chanting gay-related obscenities at him along the route.  Out of the 140 runners who ran the race that day, Chris came in third place. Chris’ race performance and his resolve to overcome prejudice and hate to achieve success reaffirmed my belief that Staten Island can still be a great place to live if only more people embraced diversity like him.

2017 – A Year In Review

2017 was a memorable year for me for the simple fact that I turned 50-years-old in June.  Turning 50 affected me in a negative way and made me question and wonder about all that I have done in my life up to this point.  Summing up this year like I have done in previous years has helped me reflect on the things I have done and has been a kind of therapy for me.  Writing this blog has helped me realize that I truly do have a meaningful life if I spend the time to reflect on it through my writing.
I began January making a kind of comeback to running.  I registered for the bi-weekly Miles Mania speed series held at the Ocean Breeze Indoor Track in Staten Island.  At that time, I had a pronounced belly, but I gave it my all each time I ran a race event.  By March, I had accumulated enough points in the series to come in 2nd place out of 12 men in my age group.  I won a trophy for this not because I was the best runner, but because I showed up for the most races.  And running the races in this series brought me back in time to when I was on the boy’s track team at Sheepshead Bay High School.
March 4
My running club friends posing with our hard-earned trophies for the series.
In February, I did my first background acting gig of the year portraying a Russian KGB agent for the TV series, The Americans.  We filmed at a set made to look like the interior of the Russian KGB Headquarters back in 1980.  The set was located in Brooklyn, a far cry from it’s intended time and place.  I had to smoke in the scene, but production always gives the actors herbal cigarettes since they’re less toxic and irritating than the real thing.
February
During our Mid-Winter Break in February, I brought my kids snow-boarding in the Poconos.  It was the first time all of us had snowboarded.  I was in pain for the rest of the day from constantly falling, but I still had a good time with my kids.
February 3
In March, I ran as a 1:55 pacer for the NYC Half Marathon.  It was very difficult for me to maintain this pace since I was overweight and out of shape.  But I somehow managed to pull it off by crossing the finish line within 30 seconds of my pace goal.  By the look on my face in the photo below, you could see that the struggle was real.  My co-pacer Sarah on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying herself.  I was in a recovery for days as a result of this.
March 3
Also during March, I worked on an episode of Law & Order: SVU playing the strangest character: a big blue bunny.  I was actually portraying one of those cheap knock-off costumed characters walking around in Times Square.  Elmo and other popular characters cannot be used on shows like this since they are licensed characters and shows need to use only generic unlicensed characters like Mr. Big Blue Bunny.  In the scene, me and another costumed character were on a cigarette break sitting down with our heads off.  Our “action” was to smoke an herbal cigarette during the filming of the scene.  The director asked me to keep on taking puffs of my cigarette to show how stressed I was working as a big blue bunny.  I think I smoked the most in my life that evening.  If I ever get lung cancer, you’ll know why
March
My friend Jacky and I were teammates for the High Rock Challenge, a wildly popular adventure race held in the Staten Island Greenbelt every April.  This race had a series of mystery challenges that punctuated a 10k race course with challenging trails.  Our team was called Muddy Buddies.  We had fun taking on the challenges throughout the course and of course we got muddy.
After the race, my friend Darren Corona gave my friends and I challenge: eating a piece of the stinkiest food in the world: surstrÖmming.  This Swedish delicacy is fermented herring that according to one Japanese study, has one of the most putrid food smells in the world.  As soon as Darren opened up the can, a bunch of flies began flying over his head and almost every one of our friends ran far away from him.  Three brave souls ate a piece of this stuff: Darren, Mark Vogt, and I.  It was an experience bordering on insanity that I will never forget.
April 5
Celebrating our achievements with post-race beers
My friend Linus, a fellow runner and neighbor of mine, is a very creative person.  One of his hobbies is to g-write or run routes that draw out various shapes and words using his gps watch.  He dedicated one of his runs to spelling out my name in the neighborhood we both live in.  It takes special attention to detail to do something like this and that’s Linus’ forte.
April 3
Each May while I run as a pacer for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, my uncle Richard stands at Mile 7 and takes photos of all the runners he knows with his iPad.  The photo below is one of the last photos he took of me before he passed away in November.
May
In June, I “ran” the Palisades Climb, a grueling half-marathon along the very treasurous New Jersey Palisades.  I made the mistake of not carrying my own water since there was hardly any water stops except one.  The race director warned us of this in the race information we had to read.  The second half of this race was spent bouldering up and down huge rocks.  All of my teammates who participated with me had to be very careful not to lose their footing.  By the time I crossed the finish line, I had to be treated for dehydration by EMS.  This was a tough race for me, but I had something to prove to myself since I was turning 50-years-old the very next day.
June 2
The same month, I met marathon runner and Ironman triathlete John Young at an Achille’s International party in Manhattan.  His story was very motivational for me.  He took up running to lose weight and to serve as a role model for his son who was being picked on in school. Having dwarfism, he had to train and work harder than those of average height. We both shared stories of how we are role models for our sons.  He reminded me to put my own problems in perspective for just when we think we have the biggest life challenges, there is always someone else who has it harder than me.
June
By the end of July, my daughter auditioned for the role of Callie for an online drama series called Vantage Points.  We were both excited for her to get this role.  Her episode was filmed in a spooky house off of a Florida swamp.  We were there for a week for the filming and I even got a bit part playing a father of one of the other girls.  The series is still being marketed around and one of the interested buyers is Amazon Prime.  Stay tuned!
July
By the end of August, I planned an overnight hike along the Appalachian Trail with my kids.  However my son didn’t want to go and I ended up going with Emma.  We hiked for several miles along the New York section of the Appalachian Trail and had an exciting journey while disconnecting from civilization during those two days.  It was a much-needed repose for the both of us.
August 2
In September, my brother Aaron and I volunteered our time to help raise funds at a CIPD/GBS fundraiser race on the South Beach Boardwalk in Staten Island.  CIPD/GBS are rare debilitating diseases affecting one’s muscles that can sometimes be deadly.  It can affect people of all ages.  There were many survivors of this disease and their families who participated at the race that day.  My friend Michael Ring who is a CIPD/GBS survivor assisted us while we entertained the runners wearing Elmo and Cookie Monster costumes.  This was a very enjoyable way to spend time with my brother while we interacted with the small children at the event who wanted to play with our two lovable monster alter-egos.
September 2
In October, my friend Kathy invited me to volunteer my time to paint a senior center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn through an organization called Bay Ridge Cares.  Knowing that my daughter needed community service credit and the fact that she loves painting, we painted the center together along with about a dozen other volunteers.
October 3
The following day, I was a pacer for the Staten Island Half Marathon.  It was a miserable, rainy day and my running shoes got waterlogged at the very beginning of the race.  My feet were becoming very uncomfortable from all the water in the shoes.  At the last mile, I decided to remove my shoes and socks and run barefoot to the finish line.  I still managed to fulfill my pacing duties by finishing just seconds within my pace goal.
October 2
Martin Scorsese was filming The Irishman, a made-for-Netflix production about the man who may have killed Jimmy Hoffa.  I was fitted to portray a 1970s Michigan cop.  The mustache and sideburns in the photo below is the real-deal; many of the other actors playing cops were given fake mustaches and sideburns to wear.  The only thing the makeup person had to do was dye my sideburns brown since there were too many hints of natural grey in them.
October
Since last year when I “dressed” as Hillary Clinton’s emails for Halloween (my son “dressed” as Trump’s tax returns), I wanted to continue making costumes based on recent news.  Below I decided to dress as a Russian Hacker complete with a Russian Hacking for Dummies book and a binder listing the passwords to the World’s Leaders.  And my hacker ID read, “Picov Andropov”.
November
One of my greatest accomplishments of 2017 was single-handedly producing the Brooklyn Triple Crown race series.  It started as only an idea on a piece of scrap paper at the beginning of the year that kind of evolved by accident.  At first, I was very fearful that I could pull this thing off by myself and raise enough funds through sponsorship to make this series financially viable.  By August, with the help of Mark Vogt and others from Complete Race Solutions, I had prospected enough race sponsors to generate $5,600.  Along with the 100+ runners who registered for the three-race series, an additional $3,500 in race fees was raised through my ongoing promotion of the series.  In all, my efforts helped generate over $9,000 in total sales.  A portion of this went to local charities.  While I did make some money from this since it was a business endeavor, my efforts in obtaining many freebies for the runners made this series a truly memorable experience for them.  For the last race, I was able to obtain free Starbucks coffee and pizza for all from a local pizzeria who sponsored our race by “paying” us in pizza.
In November, I was invited by the Partnership for the Parks to an event celebrating those who helped improve Kaiser Park, a park right next to Coney Island Creek.  While I was creating the Brooklyn Triple Crown race series, I decided to name one of the races the Coney Island Creek 5k.  I thought to myself, Coney Island is famously known for its amusement park and beaches.  I wanted to call the race something that is little-known about Coney Island which is the creek that is in need of TLC and public support.  Me naming the race after the creek brought awareness that it existed to many runners who never knew of it.  Due to this, I was asked to speak at the podium to all the supporters of Coney Island Creek.  It was both a surprise and an honor for me.  I was always an environmentalist since childhood and this was the perfect opportunity to let others know that.
November 4
My friend Diane is a photographer who turns her photos into functional coasters.  To sell coasters at an event in Rockaway, Queens, she asked me if I could dress as Santa and have him walk along the beach with Rockaway Bridge in the background.  The Santa you see on the coaster below is me.
November 5
My brother Aaron and my sisters Rachel and Sara spent Thanksgiving at my dad’s house.  We had a great time reconnecting as family since we hardly have any opportunities anymore to do this and we all have busy lives.
My son Hunter is an accomplished pianist who now writes and performs his own original music.  However, due to the fact that he chooses to be very private, he does not want me to post photos or videos of him performing.  He has been playing the piano for half his life now.
November 3
By far the worst thing to happen in 2017 was the untimely death of my uncle Richard.  It happened at the very end of November.  He was loved by all since he loved and embraced everyone he met, even strangers.  He would take the most difficult unsavory person he met and befriend them, humor them, and make them feel special.  He encouraged me with my running and always took pictures of all the runners during the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  I can still picture all the many great times I spent talking and joking with him and how much he meant to my entire family.  His death has left a hole in all of our hearts.
November 2
I’ve always liked to bring people together for I believe that half the world is waiting for the other half to become friends.  With this in mind, I arranged a multi-club trail run involving three running clubs: the Prospect Park Track Club, the Ukranian Running Club, and the Staten Island Athletic Club.  We had run together right after a fresh snowfall which made the woods of the Staten Island Greenbelt a magical winter wonderland.
December 5
Writing this blog entry was therapeutic for me for in my mind, I feel that after turning 50, I have done nothing with my life.  However, summarizing 2017 as I have just done here in my writing tells me that I am quite wrong with that way of thinking.