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

Pride Photo

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.

The Resurrection of the Brooklyn Triple Crown

BTC Photo

The Brooklyn Triple Crown, a wildly popular race series that ended with the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, made its triumphant return this year. Like the mythological Phoenix, this series came out of the ashes of its former self into something fresh and new. Originally comprised of the Dolan 5k, Cosme 5k, and Hoban 5-Miler under the directorship of Edwin Cosme, this year the race series was resurrected into three brand-new inaugural races with the help of Mark Vogt of Complete Race Solutions. This new series consisted of the Bay Ridge 4-Miler, Coney Island Creek 5k, and the Caesar’s Bay 5-Miler.

The series kicked off with the Bay Ridge 4-Miler in June. Tropical storm Cindy brought with it a heavy downpour of rain throughout the previous night and into race morning. Fortunately, with only 30 minutes before the race started, the skies cleared and the Sun came out just in time for the runners to toe the line. The race consisted of three distinct segments; the 79th Street Playground, the hilly Shore Road pedestrian path, and the flat Shore Promenade. Visual elements along the course included running up and down a staircase, the Narrows Botanical Garden, and the inspiring views of the Narrows along the Shore Promenade. A portion of the proceeds were donated to the Shore Road Conservancy.

Louise Demeo, a runner from Staten Island, broke her 3-mile personal record at the 3-mile mark of the race. This was the first 4-miler she had ever run. Diane Sassone of Bay Ridge had a very emotional response to this race. She said, “I had the pleasure of running two of the three Brooklyn Triple Crown races. There was a great build up being I am a Brooklynite who belongs to a Staten Island running club. It was that “must do” on my short list. The first race was a no-brainer being it was in my Bay Ridge Hood. I made sure my warm-up was an approximately half mile run in the rain to the start. Mark, Jenn and Rob Lenza were all there to welcome the runners. They are a few of the most dedicated people I know. Soon after, the race director arrived with his family in tow. Shortly after that, Bay Ridges’ own Senator Marty Golden arrived and spoke a few words and wished us well. At gun time, the sun suddenly came out and the steam was rising from the ground. I knew it was going to be a difficult one for me being I haven’t trained. But hey, it’s Bay Ridge, I had to be there. At the second volunteer spot, the director’s family was there directing and cheering the runners. What a great experience to be part of a family production! At the third volunteer station, his brother was handing out water. If it wasn’t for his comedic chanting, I may have DNF’d. I saw all these family members on the way back before spotting his daughter Emma with her camera at the finish. I tried to look as happy as I was feeling. (I really didn’t feel good, it was wicked hot). Beside the fact that this race was along my favorite running route, the Promenade, being part of a successful event that included family and friends was priceless. It was a great run for me. Not for time, but for the fact that I did what I love, in a place that I love and it was put on by people who love what they do. I look forward to running this one again next year.

A few weeks later, the Coney Island Creek 5k brought runners six miles south to Kaiser Park, a venue with amazing views of the Creek and the Verrazano Bridge. This small location demanded a 5k route that was full of exhilarating twists and turns much like the nearby Cyclones Roller Coaster. The excitement culminated when runners sprinted their last quarter-mile of the race on a track that was inside the park. The organizer of this race named it after the nearby creek to raise awareness to the greater Brooklyn community that Coney Island does in fact have a natural water habitat in need of conservation. Assembly member Pamela Harris spoke to the runners right before the race and mentioned how this event is a great asset to the Coney Island community. A portion of the proceeds from this race went to the Coney Island Beautification Project.

The series ended with the Caesar’s Bay 5-Miler in August. Race day was unseasonably cool and sunny in the 60s which was a perfect day for running. Assembly member William Colton officiated the start of the race after wishing all of the runners a great race. Many of the runners enjoyed the inspiring views of Caesar’s Bay and the grandeur of the Verrazano Bridge present throughout the course. As they made it to the 2.5-mile turnaround, their excitement grew as they could see the finish line from afar almost two miles away. Being a very flat course, runners were able to concentrate on their pace and speed as some strove to work on placing for trophies while others aimed to break their 5-mile personal records. A part of the proceeds for this race went to the Kiwanis of Brighton Beach and Coney Island.

Jacky Lee felt that the Caesar’s Bay race was the most challenging although she was still able to achieve a personal record with a 9:09 pace. Her children enjoyed running the Coney Island Creek race and helped pick runner’s names from a hat for a pizza raffle after the race.  For Amy Hernandez, the Brooklyn Triple Crown was a family affair. She and her husband Yakir and their two children Gabriel and Emily ran a few of the races in the series. They all enjoyed the events, especially the free pizza at the Caesar’s Bay post-race party.

Michael Ring, a life-long runner, member of the Prospect Park Track Club and survivor of GBS/CIDP, a rare and crippling muscle disease that affects the entire body, had completed all three race events under his own power. After contracting the disease three years ago, he was unable to engage in even the simplest of activities including standing up. Working hard with his physical therapist, he improved enough to complete the 2017 Brooklyn Half Marathon. He plans on completing the NYC Marathon this November. When asked about his time completing the Brooklyn Triple Crown series of races, he stated that by the third race, he felt like Norm from Cheers because everyone knew his name.

Laura Lombardo, a walker by choice who completed two of the race events, was an Achilles guide for Michael Ring. She said, “I was very grateful to Michael Ring and Jacky Lee for inspiring me to join Achilles International to guide those in need. They are a great group of runners to know. Even though I chose to walk and not run these events, participating in them was a thrill for me. During the races, I noticed that there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the runners. Amy Lenza, a Staten Island resident who ran all three events, had this to say about the series, “The highlight was running in Brooklyn in three different great neighborhoods and running with people from the Prospect Park Track Club”.

Race participant Lynn Holly-Love was a newly-minted runner as of last year. She had this to say about the series, “I appreciated having the three races scheduled throughout the summer because I don’t love to run in the heat and I needed the motivation. It was my first summer running season and I only ran my first race last November at the SIAC XC Championship at Freshkills Park. I was challenged and forced to push through and as a result I believe this made me a stronger runner. The courses varied in length and gave me the opportunity to run at longer distances. I also hit a PR for my fastest 5K at the Coney Island Creek race and placed 2nd in my age group. I enjoyed this running series and look forward to participating again next year”. Jennifer Marzella, a Staten Island native and active member of the Staten Island Athletic Club, was in shock after placing within the top three places in her 30-39 age group for each of the three race events. After being plagued by a year-long hamstring injury, she was ecstatic that she clinched the entire series for her age group. For Jennifer, running the Brooklyn races was like a homecoming for her since she remembers living in Bay Ridge while pushing her newborn daughter along the Promenade.

We’d like to thank all of the runners who participated and the following runners who ran at least two of the races in the series:

Amy Lenza, Angelique Demeo, Jazmine Alvarez, Jacky Lee, Lisa Swan, Alvin Prawda, Jennifer Marzella, Louise Demeo, Yakir Arteaga, Eduard Nogol, Lynn Holly Love, Michael Ring, Frank Tropea, Diane Sassone, Yolande Rose, Richard Cahn, Laura Lombardo, Davon Culley, Jonnie Soltan, Marc Cornier, John Cassidy, Ron Rudolph, Salvatore Pagano, Kathleen Lewis

We would also like to thank the following sponsors who helped make this series a success:

Unlimited Smiles, Bay Ridge Federal Credit Union, Klaygirl.com, IHOP of Coney Island, NYRET, The Vitamin Shoppe, Baya Bar, George Hamboussi Jr, Esq, Avenue O Multi-Specialty Clinic, Matoushi, My Three Sons Coffee Shop, Community Counseling, Fort Hamilton Foot Care, Sandro Frasca, DPM, Ben Bay Realty, Deloor Podiatry Group, Kitchen 21, Coney Island Brewery, Pizza D’Amore, Brooklyn Running Company, Chipotle, Gargiulo’s Italian Restaurant, Bagel Baazar, and Grimaldi’s of Coney Island.

Lastly, a big thank you to George Mattera, Matthew Lebow, Aaron Pesin, Jacky Lee, Richard and Kathleen Weaver, family members Emma, Hunter, and Bernie, the Explorers of the 60th Precinct, police officers Edward Raasch and Desiree Marino, Dionne Jordan Brown, Senator Marty Golden, Assembly Members William Colton and Pamela Harris, and Pamela Pettyjohn of the Coney Island Beautification Project (CIBP).

And of course, to Mark, Rob, Fred, and Tom of Complete Race Solutions. Without their expertise and equipment in putting on these events, these races wouldn’t have happened.

The Search for Richard Rose – A September 11 Story

On September 11, 2001, just two days after I had begun a new position as a preschool teacher at my school in Boro Park, Brooklyn, the horrendous terrorist attacks unfurled themselves at several locations throughout the country.  As I taught my students in a school building that was only several miles away and within clear view of the World Trade Center, I looked out of my window to see an unbelievable sight: buildings engulfed in mushroom clouds of black unforgiving smoke.  Little did I know that within the hour, those buildings and the 2,871 people inside them would be no more.  Upon leaving my school that afternoon, I found a piece of paper on the ground that gave me a small sense of hope amid a world of sudden desperation and despair.  That paper inspired me to write the following story that was later published in a Queens College newspaper.

The Search For Richard Rose (top)

the-search-for-richard-rose-bottom.pngUPDATE: Right before I was about to publish this blog 16 years after I wrote the above news article, I googled “Richard Rose” and “Aon” to find out whatever happened to him.  According to my google search, he is alive and well and still working for that company.

A Life Lesson in a Journey to Mount Doom

The events in my life are steeped in reality peppered with bouts of imagination.  Reality is where I’m forced to live; my imagination is where I often choose to live.  It makes life more colorful and interesting in dealing with the mundanity of life.  However, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with my daughter the other day and the reality of our experience was just as exciting as what our imaginations brought us to during that journey.

My daughter got her first real taste of roughing it last Summer while at a sleepaway camp in New Jersey.  Part of her stay required her to spend an entire week hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with other teen campers.  They spent a total of five days on the trail hiking a total of 30 miles.  She told me that they slept underneath tarps and ate food from cans and she enjoyed the whole experience.  I was stoked knowing that my own daughter loved something that I had begun 20 years ago when I slept alone on top of a mountain, married, but without any children at the time.  At 17-years-old, my daughter was now old enough, tough enough and strong enough to do what I had been yearning to do since then.

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Emma in her element.

A few weeks ago, through the efforts of Dorothy Reilly of the Greenbelt Conservancy, we had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Pharr Davis, a female hiker who had broken the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail in only 46 days (most who hike the whole Trail typically need several months to do that).  After meeting her, hiking part of the Appalachian Trail became one of the items on our Summer to-do list.

With only a few days to go before Summer’s-end, my daughter and I set off to begin hiking part of  the Trail at the base of Bear Mountain in New York.  We already had all the necessary items with us to survive for a few days with the addition of a Lifestraw portable water purification device and a large solar charger that would become an emergency energy backup to power our cell phones in the mountains.

Our ascent up Bear Mountain was grueling.  It consisted of a series of hundreds of steep rock stairs that seemed to never end.  With our loaded-up frame packs on our backs (mine was 22 lbs, my daughter’s was 19lbs), this made the ascent the more challenging.  By the time we reached the one-mile mark along our journey, I had chest pains which stopped me in my tracks.  This scared me and for a good minute or so, I contemplated ending our hike then and there to make sure I’d be around in the future to to see both my kids go to college and get married.  After resting enough where the chest pains dissipated, we continued on our hike to the further reaches of the mountain.  Eventually we reached the top of Bear Mountain and saw a tower on the top while enjoying an amazing panoramic view of the valley below.  Far away from us still was West Mountain, the mountain that housed a stone shelter at the summit and our final goal for our journey.

Our trek through the Appalachian Trail brought us in contact with various forms of wildlife: deer, a praying mantis, and a large millipede.  These were reminders to us that while the trail was made for people, everything else was made for nature.

While half of our route was walkable, the other half was harrowing and dangerous and required us both to use very careful footwork navigating down rock scrambles desperately looking for safe footholds throughout.  This was our introduction into the reality of our adventure.  A sense of imagination started brewing in my head as we continued our dangerous, yet exciting journey towards the Shelter.

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“While half of our route was walkable, the other half was harrowing and dangerous…”

Our route crossed the path of the 1779 Trail, a trail with historical significance during the Revolutionary War.  I imagined the Continental Army marching along it as the British were close on their backs.

As our hike brought us down Bear Mountain and up West Mountain, there was a sense of desperation and urgency as the Sun slowly settled towards the horizon and the woods we were hiking through darkened more and more.  The gps watch that I wore to get a sense of our distance covered showed me at four miles.  My daughter and I were getting tired, our shoulders were killing us from carrying the heavy frame packs, and my feet were hurting.  The impending darkness made us committed to continuing until we found the Shelter.

Finally, our fifth mile brought us to one of the first unobstructed panoramic views of our journey since reaching the Bear Mountain summit hours before.  We were now near the top of West Mountain!  Looking across towards Bear Mountain, we saw the tower that we had passed right under earlier that day.  I was so giddy with excitement at that moment, I told my daughter that it is as if we were seeing the Tower of Mordor, a reference to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I imagined us two as characters from the story who had just engaged in an epic journey full of challenging terrain and danger, which is what we really engaged in thus far.

Upon studying my trail map very carefully, I noticed that the West Mountain Shelter was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about a quarter-mile off along the Blue Trail.  I used this moment as a life lesson to my daughter.  I told her that most people make quick decisions in their lives without really putting enough time and thought into their decisions.  These decisions eventually become bad and screw up their lives unnecessarily.  I explained to her that I had just spent my time carefully studying our hiking route and noticed that our route for reaching the shelter was incorrect.  It was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about 1/2-mile along the nearby Blue Trail.  If I didn’t take the time to study this, we would never find it and would be hiking in the dark all night long looking for it.  I hope that this lesson stays with her for the rest of her life.

At this point, we were somewhere between Miles 5 and 6 and were hiking along the edges of West Mountain in search of the Blue Trail.  After passing a series of awe-inspiring panoramic views of other mountains, valleys, lakes, the Hudson River, and the setting Sun, we were both bent on finding the seemingly-evasive West Mountain Shelter.  The map that I held in my hands told me that it was so close that I could smell it.  We then saw through the trees a series of tents with hikers sprawled throughout campsites

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Natural lighting created by the Sun. The mountains, trees and sky created by G-d.

at the top of the mountain.  As we continued along our route a little bit more, we saw the West Mountain Shelter.  Seeing this shelter made it feel like we had reached our epic journey in search of Mount Doom, the final resting place where Frodo was able to finally rid himself of the dangerous Ring.

As the last rays of sunlight disappeared into the darkness of the night, we set up our tents, enjoyed a meal together, and began a much-needed rest after a day packed with adventure.  In all, we had hiked 6.35-miles and scaled two mountains, each more than 1,000 feet in elevation. Our total hike lasted for only 4 hours 15 minutes, but the memories of our adventure together will last a lifetime.

We’re hooked.

 

Notorious S.I.A.C.

Notorious SIAC

March 9, 2014 – It was the 17th anniversary of rapper Biggie Smalls’ untimely death.  El Presidente, a local rapper from Staten Island, wanted to produce an update to Biggie’s classic rap song Hypnotize as an homage to him.  Better known as Notorious B.I.G., Biggie admired the local running community throughout Staten Island and was planning to record a song about it before he was brutally gunned down in a drive-by shooting in LA.  El Presidente, a long-time fan of Biggie’s, recorded Notorious S.I.A.C., the never-before-released running version of Hypnotize along with his fellow rappers from Brooklyn, JP and Klaygirl. This song was going to be a part of the high-concept album, Gonna Run From Yo’ Momma, but was pulled due to it’s controversial lyrics that mentioned such things as the High Rock Challenge among others.  Here’s the raw, unedited version that was recently unearthed from the vaults of the Staten Island Athletic Club:

2016 – A Year In Review

For many people I know, 2016 has been looked upon as a year of sadness.  Many singers and celebrities that I grew up with in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s died this past year.  And with Donald Trump winning the Presidential election, many of my family and friends including myself were devastated.  We now have to worry about the future of our country in the hands of somebody who seems very ill-prepared to be the leader of our country.  On the surface, this year could easily be looked upon as one that many of us would like to forget.  However, in reflecting upon my own personal life, a lot of good and interesting things did in fact happen to me.  Some of these things involved personal growth in new endeavors in my life and some involved friends and family who did great things this year.

In January, I visited my brother Aaron and sisters Sarah and Rachel at my father’s house.  They are actually my half-sisters, but that really doesn’t matter to me.  I remember when they were both just born and how my family and I helped bring them up.  I am proud that they have grown up to become intelligent, responsible, and caring women who both have interesting careers.

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From left: Aaron, Sarah, Me, and Rachel

My brother Aaron got a job working with mentally challenged adults in Brooklyn.  He helps them live as independently as possible and has really excelled at his job within a short period of time.  With one of them who was severally autistic, Aaron was able to help bring him out of his shell by dancing and singing with him.

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Aaron with Ronnie, one the clients he worked with at his job.

My brother was in a live comedy sketch show in February.  He enjoyed the experience working with other actors.  You can see highlights of her performance here.

I am proud of my brother is that he recently came out in public as bisexual, something that took a lot of strength and soul-searching for him to do.

Doing stand-up comedy has been on my bucket list for at least a dozen years.  In April, I finally did it.  With the help of my friend Darin Magras who was my role model, I went out on stage during an open mic at the Looney Bin Comedy Club in Staten Island.  It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I was very relieved to finally get it done, kind of like taking a pee after having it stored in your bladder for 15 years.  You can see all the carnage of my comedy act here.

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I made comedy look easy.  Of course it was all an act.

The following month, my friend Will Sanchez contacted me about being a “very special guest” on his Manhattan public access cable show, Gotta Run With Will.  This show features people who are fixtures throughout the New York City running community.  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 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.  If you’d like to see how my interview may have “cracked” some people up, you can view it here.

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On the set of Gotta Run With Will discussing something that seems to be captivating Will.

Two years ago, my friend Michael Ring contracted this very rare muscle disease called CIDP.  It incapacitated him for a long time.  Last year his range of motion was very limited and he was often confined to a motorized wheelchair.  Since then, has made amazing progress and attempted to walk the entire 13.1-mile length of the 2016 Brooklyn Half Marathon. I was asked to be one of his guides during his attempt.  Because we were walking the entire length, I decided it would be a good idea to film him during the whole event.  Here is a 6-minute documentary that I made using that footage to showcase his fantastic achievement: F*ck CIDP …One Year Later.

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My daughter Emma loves art and was offered by her high school a fantastic opportunity to work as an art intern for a professional artist.  From January to May, I had to leave my job 40 minutes early in order to pick her up from school, then drop her off at Smack Mellon, the place where her internship was held.  Every Wednesday, I went on an Indiana Jones adventure with my car throughout the streets of Brooklyn in order to make sure she arrived at her internship by 4:00pm.  It was difficult for me, but I knew that this opportunity was important for her future career in art.

My daughter’s friend had passed away and she was devastated by his death.  To help her and his family deal with it, she used art therapy to heal.  She drew a portrait of him made to look like his favorite anime character.  She had this artwork displayed at a public art exhibition as part of the culminating event of her internship at Smack Mellon.  After the exhibition was over, she presented it to his family as a gift and they were very pleased and grateful for receiving it.

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To draw her friend dressed as his favorite anime character, Emma used the composite photo to the right to create her drawing on the left.

This year, my friend George had been getting sick due to a failing kidney.  He is a great guy with a great family including two beautiful little girls.  His kidney was rapidly failing and he could not find a donor whose blood type was compatible with his.  After many of his friends and family members including myself were unsuccessful blood matches for him, George finally got lucky with Darren Corona.  Darren selflessly went through the whole medical procedure that essentially saved George’s life.  Darren has served as a role model for me and I’m sure many other people as well.  Soon after the surgery was a success, Darren and George were both featured in a news article which you can read here.

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Darren and George: so happy together.

In November, I elected not to run the NYC Marathon.  I ran the last three marathons as a pacer for the New York Road Runners Club and this time around I wanted to give it a rest.  However, several of my friends including Jacky, Catherine, and Danielle were first-time marathoners and I would like to acknowledge their achievement here.  One of them was Lisa Swan who probably worked harder than any of my friends to get to this point in her life.  Lisa was a self-described couch potato and very overweight at the time.  Just a few years ago she decided to get off of the couch and make a major change in her health and fitness for the better.  She started running road races and shed a ton of pounds while dropping down a few dress sizes.  Her stalwart determination to do what had to be done for her marathon training was unparalleled.  She serves as a role model in determination for many runners in our running club.  You can read all about Lisa’s amazing marathon story here.

My children continue to grow in many ways.  My daughter continues to pursue her artwork and creativity and enjoys listening to rock and heavy metal while my son continues to improve in his piano playing.  He has completed yet another year as a boy scout and loves playing Minecraft on the computer.  His growth has shot up this year by several inches and he is now taller than my daughter.  My daughter is happier at school and is surrounding herself with good friends more.  And yes, my son doesn’t smile too much for photos; it could be because he has uncomfortable braces in his mouth.  They will be coming out in 2017.

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Our shirts matched that day.

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The den leader and his boy scout son.

 

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Posing at one of the most photographed streets in Brooklyn.