2019 – A Year In Review

One of the my biggest accomplishments for 2019 was an item that was patiently sitting on my bucket list for the past 30 years: publishing a book. It took me all these years of having life experiences and a strong desire to get it done to finally make it happen. I had finished writing the book at the end of 2018, then spent a few weeks in 2019 proofreading it. I finally published it on Amazon.com this past April. My high school friend Laurie Trovato was the first person who bought the book. Sales have continued since then. Besides purchasing it on Amazon, a signed and personalized copy can be purchased here for the same price.

Me with two of my youngest fans. I’m hoping they wait until adulthood to read my book since it mentions prostitution, torture, and murder.

In March, I nominated my friend Dionne Jordan Brown for the 2019 Woman of Distinction award. I met her at a race event in Coney Island three years ago. At the time, she was the assistant to a New York State Assemblyperson representing the Coney Island community. Dionne initiated the Coney Island Trekkers, a weekly walking group with the goal of helping members of her community lead healthier, more active lifestyles. Noticing her amazing positive attitude and proactive nature, I quickly befriended Dionne. This year, I nominated her for the Woman of Distinction award. An official ceremony was held by NYS Assemblymember William Colton where Dionne was given the award. In December, Dionne was selected to be President of the Southern Brooklyn Democrats Club.

From left: Nancy Tong, Dionne Jordan Brown, William Colton, and Ari Kagan.

Two months later, in recognizing my leadership skills, Dionne nominated me for the Man of Distinction award. This new award honors a male in the South Brooklyn community “Who in recognition of his excellent services provided to and within his community is selected as Distinguished Man of the Year”.

In April, I volunteered to help presidential candidate Tom Steyer support his Need to Impeach campaign. I had hand-written dozens of postcards and mailed them out to political leaders throughout the United States. President Trump ended up getting impeached by December.

These were all hand-written by me and mailed out to senators and congresspeople throughout the United States.

For the past several years, I’ve been keeping in touch with Joel Teret, my favorite high school teacher. He did a lot more than show me how to have a love for marine biology. You can read about all that he meant to me here. In May, I had the opportunity to spend the day with him at the New York State Marine Educators Conference. We got to attend various workshops, eat together, hang out, and talk about our lives. Meeting him was a big highlight this year. I haven’t seen him for 35 years since I graduated from Sheepshead Bay High School back in 1984.

Joel and I posing for a selfie during a meal break at the NYMSE Conference.

I’ve been running for 37 years. Throughout the years, I’ve run several marathons, but never an ultra-marathon. In May, I ran my first ultra, the Dirty German 50-Mile Trail Race. It took me over 12 hours to complete and it was difficult, but I persevered to cross the finish line. My story can be found here.

With Jacky Lee and other members of the Prospect Park Track Club moments before beginning my 50-mile journey.

The following month, I attempted to run the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition. By the time I reached the 37th mile, the pain throughout both of my legs was unbearable and I had to bow out. This was a very humbling experience for me. Even though I quit this race, I’m proud of the fact that I attempted such a huge challenge that most of my regular running friends would never even think of attempting. I would like to thank Jacky Lee, Ryan Knutsen, and Suchanh Chung for supporting me in this effort.

Saturday, June 22 – Here I am posing with friend and ultra-marathoner Wayne Pacconi. The race started at Times Square at 5:00am. I was very excited at the time, but little did I know that I would be quitting this event at Mile 37 in Astoria, Queens. Photo by Jacky Lee.

During 2019, I volunteered my time working with members of the Department of Sanitation in spreading the word about composting. During this experience, I learned that our food scraps account for over 20% of our trash and if not composted and left to rot, they will contribute greatly to Global Warming. Through the “Make Compost, Not Trash” program, food scraps are turned into rich compost and fuel that provides energy to homes throughout New York City. The DOS invested time and money in the Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights communities to help spread the word. Volunteers like myself assisted them with this endeavor.

At a “Make Compost, Not Trash” event in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn this past July.

Bill Welsh is a living legend from Staten Island, New York. He is a famous running coach who has trained hundreds of runners. One of them even reached the Olympics. Now that he’s 90-years-old, I wanted Bill to be interviewed by Will Sanchez, the host and creator of the show, Gotta Run With Will. Will denied my request and instead presented me with a challenge: to interview Bill myself. I took his challenge and in preparation for his interview, I had written 14 questions on index cards. Halfway through the interview, I ran out of questions. Fortunately, I was able to improvise the rest of the interview based on spending time with Bill during our two-hour car ride to the studio. Even though he needs the help of a walker to get around, at 90-years-old, Bill is still very witty and on the ball. I hope to be that way when I reach 90. Below is the YouTube video of our interview.

My interview with Bill Welsh from September 2019
At the Manhattan Neighborhood Network with Will Sanchez and Bill Welsh.

My daughter has been a college student since 2018. Since then, I’ve been helping to pay a large part of her college costs by working all kinds of interesting side gigs. One of them was portraying a dead body on the hit TV show Blue Bloods. You can read about my adventures doing all of these gigs here.

Emma with one of the many paintings she had to do for her college courses.

My son Hunter joined the cross-country track team representing his high school. He is doing well academically and seems to like running. I am happy that he is literally following in his father’s footsteps.

Just minutes away from crossing the finish line at a cross-country race at Van Cortlandt Park. Photo courtesy of Jason Paderon.

I don’t get much time to spend time with my family, but when I do, it’s usually during Thanksgiving. Below is a photo of my brother Aaron and sisters Sarah and Rachel. Sarah got married in September 2018 and Rachel works for LinkedIn.

At my Dad’s house for Thanksgiving with my siblings Aaron, Sarah, and Rachel.

My year wouldn’t be complete without being inspired by new friendships I’ve made throughout 2019. Each of the people below have made this year memorable for me.

John Curley is a private investigator, author, and an advocate for child protection. From spending time with him during author book signings, he has shown me that he cares deeply about the welfare of children. John has seen a lot of bad things in his life due to the nature of his profession. His great sense of humor in light of all the bad he has experienced amazes me.

John Young is a math teacher, marathon runner, and Ironman triathlete. John has achieved a lot more than most in life and his inspiring message to “be the hammer” has motivated me and others to take on difficult physical challenges. Being born with dwarfism, he has to work harder than others in completing marathons and Ironman races. John is a shining example of someone who has true grit willing to give 110%.

Phyllis Barone Ameduri is the great-great-granddaughter of Mary Anne Bascombe, a prominent member of Staten Island society during the late 19th Century. In writing her book about her, Phyllis did intensive research on this woman’s life. Her book, Never Ruled By Man, is an amazing account on the life of one of the earliest feminists. I had the privilege of reading and reviewing Phyllis’ book.

Agnes Varona Oquendo is a retired nurse, runner, and a 18-year breast cancer survivor. In 2018, she published “Running Against Cancer”, a memoir of the time she spent running across America to spread the message, ‘Early detection saves lives’. Since then, she has published two more books, “My Shorts”, and “Dark Whispers of a Serial Killer”. Since 2018, Agnes has inspired and helped me during the writing and publishing of my book.

Daniel Pollock and I had met at a diner in Coney Island this past April after running with mutual friends from the Ridge Runners running club. We became good friends since then. I admire him since he’s someone who keeps to his word and also values friendship, attributes that are hard to find in today’s world.

Diane Gattullo is the author of “This Life Of Ours: Fairy Tales of Mob Bartenders”, a story based on her many years as a bartender throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Diane arranged two large author events in 2019 that involved me and over a dozen other local authors. I sincerely thank her for her efforts.

Phil McCarthy is a renowned ultra-runner and race director for the Great New York 100-Mile Exposition. In 2019, I had the privilege of running with him on several occasions while preparing for this race myself. Holding a world-record in ultra-running, in 2018, Phil ran across America in 49 days, 7 hours, and 55 minutes. This is one of the fastest times ever across the United States on foot. Phil is an inspiring figure to many in the world of ultra-running. Being a novice ultra-runner, I was lucky to have spent time with Phil during our group runs together.

Jack Pessin is my distant cousin. I first met Jack back in 1995 at a cousin’s club event in New Jersey. Using the power of the internet, we were able to find eachother again 24 years later. My daughter and I had dinner with him and his family this year at their home. Jack is a successful acupuncturist, massage therapist, and herbalist. I have learned from our family tree that we both share the same great-grandfathers. I also learned that the similarities between our beliefs, thoughts, and mannerisms is uncanny; further proof that we are related.

I met Stephen Gilheeney at a New Year’s Eve party at his apartment at the very end of 2019. Upon meeting him, Stephen took an immediate liking to my son and treated him as if he were his own. Stephen is a pediatric oncologist by trade. From seeing how he treated my son, it is apparent that he cares deeply for all children.

One thought on “2019 – A Year In Review

  1. Read your accomplishments, very impressive. In 2019 you did more than most people do in ten years. Love you.


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