2020 – A Year In Review

When 2020 began, little did anyone know that a pandemic was less than three months away from hitting the United States and throwing all of our lives into a tailspin. In the weeks preceding the pandemic, our lives were more or less normal. I found happiness in the little things in life. During this time, my attention was focused on my family and my hobbies.

In January, my daughter and I visited Carol Pessin, the wife of Jere Pessin who is a distant relative of mine. She owns an art business called Art Cards, which are hand-painted cards that are sold in many Whole Foods Market locations.

My brother Aaron celebrated his 50th birthday at the World-famous Junior’s Cheesecake Restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn.

In February, my friend Jacky Lee won the Extra Mile award at a holiday party for members of the Staten Island Athletic Club. This was a well-deserved award given how much time and effort she gave volunteering to help pace many other runners in various half marathons and marathons. She also assisted physically-challenged runners from the Achilles Track Club throughout the New York City Marathon.

Jacky would continue her commitment thinking about others by running around the perimeter of Staten Island for 53 miles. This was in honor of my 53rd birthday in June. What a birthday gift!

As I got more politically active in my community with the help of my friend and City Council 47 candidate Steven Patzer, I met up with the mother of Eric Diaz, a young man who was shot in the face by an ICE agent in Brooklyn. At an event that Steven put together, we engaged in a letter-writing campaign that asked local leaders to speak up when many chose to remain silent about this incident.

I worked on a TV gig portraying an aircraft crash victim. It took about an hour to put fake skin on my face and make up my hands to make me look like I suffered horrible burns from a plane crash. When filming was over, it took another hour to remove the fake skin and makeup.

As COVID19 entered our world in March, my attention began to be divided between the needs of my family and the needs of my community. This virus tested me as a human being. At first, due to the uncertainty of the virus and the increasing numbers of deaths across the Nation, I was very fearful that I’d die from it. As time went by and as I saw friends heroically helping the most needy populations in my community, I overcame my fears and bravely went out to join them in their efforts.

I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus as she set out every Saturday afternoon to help residents of Coney Island who were most affected by COVID19. We delivered face masks, protective gloves, and hot food using contactless delivery procedures. Mathylde’s group of fearless heroes included Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Jacky Lee, Jose Gonzalez, Kouichi Shirayanagi, Damien Charles, and Ajamu Osborne.

April was one of the deadliest months for COVID19. While the TV news reported grim statistics on a daily basis, I went out every week to help those in need. I started to volunteer for the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid and Bay Ridge Cares, two non-profit organizations that helped those in need. I made so many deliveries for these two organizations that by the end of the year, I had driven 490 miles throughout Brooklyn. I delivered care packages to 218 families, 199 hot meals to the elderly, 22 toys to children, 326 face masks, and 3,000 PPE face shields to hospital staff at Maimonides Hospital.

I was concerned about the collapsing economy and thought of ways we could help keep local businesses afloat. One business I tried to help was the Flagship Brewery. After getting beer delivered from Flagship, I asked the owners of the company if I could hold a weekly contest to promote their beer. I made up a trivia question each week and posted it on my Facebook account. Those who answered it correctly would be put into a drawing. The winner received a 6-pack of beer delivered to their door. The owners of Flagship loved this idea and supported it. I continued the contest for several weeks.

Working with my fellow teachers at the preschool I work at, I collected about 60 photos of our students posing with their rainbow drawings. With the help of local graphic designer Alex Marmolejos of AM Print NY, we created a dozen “Thank You!” posters with all the children’s photos on them. I hand-delivered them to hospitals, police precincts, and other institutions. Many were grateful to receive them. You can read more about this story in the article here.

In May, I started a used running shoe drive through gotsneakers.com. This organization gives money in exchange for old running shoes. I began collecting running shoes from running clubs and organizations throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island. By the end of 2020, I had collected 756 pairs of shoes and donated $400 to the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. This amount was enough to feed 13 families for a week.

I continued to spread myself to whereever I was needed. I helped James Raffone, whose son Jamesy is afflicted with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, a rare disease with no known cure. Children with that disease become wheelchair-bound by the time they are teenagers and often don’t make it into their 20s. I volunteered a few hours of my time to help James with a clothing drive that benefitted the Jar of Hope, an organization whose sole goal is to find a cure for DMD.

In June, Coney Island had its own march for racial equality. I joined Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, Steven Patzer, Reyna Gobel, Damien Charles, and others as we marched along the Coney Island Boardwalk.

By the end of June, I had already spent four months teaching my preschool class remotely. For graduation day, I decided to visit the homes of each of my students with my two teacher assistants, Maria Caceres and Malgorzata Michalewicz. We handed them their diplomas and a small gift, then took pictures with each of them. It was a bittersweet day full of happy tears, especially from their parents.

My cousin Jeffrey Kulls got married to a lovely woman named Frances. I attended their ceremony, but I had to be careful due to COVID restrictions. Unfortunately, immediately after exchanging their vows, Jeff had to be sent to the emergency room at the nearby hospital (he was okay after that). I spent the next hour or so getting to know Frances more. She has a very good rapport with people and is also funny.

In July, I wanted to get away from everything. Camping and the outdoors is always a great escape for me and my family. We went to a family campground in Pennsylvania. We rented a small cabin in the woods there. It was what we needed at the moment.

Now that it was August, there were only three more months left until Election Day. My cousin David Greene was preparing to hold a weekly series of remote phonebanking events to help elect Joe Biden for President. Every Thursday, I worked from my desktop computer calling voters living in different states to encourage them to vote for Biden. I worked with about a dozen other callers and each week we’d call voters from a different state. We called voters in Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. It was an eye-opening experience for me to hear about the many thoughts, feelings, and fears from people across America.

One day, I needed to make a spare house key and decided to support the local hardware store around the corner from where I live. When I gave the owner Mr. Leung my key, he was very excited to help me. I noticed a “For Rent” sign in the window and commented on it. He said that his business is dying due to COVID19. Feeling that I had to do something to help him, I took a picture of his hardware store, then I posted it on my Facebook account asking for everyone reading my message to please support his store. Within a week, my post was viewed by over 4,500 people and shared 6,200 times. On a local level, it went viral. I don’t know how many new customers actually visited Mr. Leung’s store due to my post, but when I passed by his store days after that, Mr. Leung seemed very happy and grateful to me.

After applying to be a Census enumerator in June, I finally got hired and started working in September. Working this job was very exciting and challenging. The challenge was in trying to count homes of people who were never home or who refused to answer their doors. Most people were friendly while others were hostile and belligerent.

During the deadliest part of the COVID pandemic in April, my brother Aaron was the only employee at his job who accepted a temporary job taking care of special needs adults who were in the hospital recovering from COVID. He himself contracted COVID and had to self-quarantine for two weeks. In honor of his bravery to take on this job, he was invited to a special ceremony given by the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. He was handed a citation for his bravery along with about 80 other brave Brooklynites who went above and beyond the call of duty during this time.

I found a photo of two friends, Andrew Windsor, a Republican and Steven Patzer, a Democrat. They were working together to help clean up the beach at Coney Island Creek. This photo was meaningful to me for it showed members of two political parties working together for a common goal. I added text to the photo and turned it into a motivational meme.

In October, I was asked by Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus to find some teenagers who were willing to distribute and hang campaign flyers for pay to help with her reelection campaign. My niece Emma Gail Pesin and my former preschool student Selvin Ramirez were both up for the job. They distributed promo cards to homes and apartments and hung posters throughout her district. As it turns out, Selvin was interested in politics and wants to become a community leader one day. Working this job was a perfect fit for him.

In the Bensonhurst Parents Facebook group, one parent complained about how dirty Seth Low Park was getting. She posted photos of garbage strewn throughout the park. Other parents chimed in and made similar complaints. When I read their comments, I realized that nothing was going to get done through complaining. I then suggested that we all chip in and help clean up the park ourselves. Parents started to notice my comment and agreed with me. Within a few weeks, I organized a park cleanup. The Parks Department provided the tools and about a dozen families provided the manpower. We got the whole park cleaned up within two hours. Families were grateful to be included in this cleanup. It was a great experience for all. If I ever become a real leader one day, organizing this park cleanup will be a defining moment for me.

I have run the NYC Marathon several times, so I know what it’s like to run a marathon in the greatest city in the world. During the pandemic, all running events were cancelled and became “virtual” races. Runners can still run these races, but only on their own. For those who were registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon, I thought that this was a real bummer. I came up with an idea and David Panza, the President of the Staten Island Athletic Club, immediately approved it. My idea was for SIAC and Lisa Lubarsky, President of the Richmond Rockets (another Staten Island running club) to work at separate aid stations, create a marathon-distance course, then invite runners to run it. We called it the 2020 Staten Island Virtual Marathon, which then became a reality. 26 runners crossed the finish line on Sunday, November 1 with big smiles on their faces. Some even cried tears of joy. It was a great feeling to able to produce a running event that put smiles on so many faces in the midst of a pandemic that tried to destroy our spirits.

2020 began uneventfully, then transformed into a worldwide horror show, and ended with a gesture of hope. In December, I received my first dose of an experimental COVID19 vaccine.

New Friendships

My year wouldn’t have been complete without being inspired by new friendships that I’ve made throughout 2020. Each of the people below have helped make this year memorable for me. They are leaders in each of their respective fields.

Jose Gonzalez has been a member of the Guardian Angels since 1994. I met him while we both helped members of the Coney Island community who were most affected by COVID. Jose, while tough on the outside, was very personable, down-to-earth, and friendly. He shared with me all kinds of stories of how gritty and crime-ridden New York was back in the day and the many crazy situations he went through while patrolling the streets of New York as a Guardian Angel. He’s a great guy to chill with. I can sit for hours and hear his stories.

Steven Patzer was born to be a leader. I met him over a year ago at a Southern Brooklyn Democrats meeting. When it comes to community involvement, this guy is a human dynamo. And he possesses the triple threat of being intelligent, resourceful, and uniting. For the past two years, he has put on over 40 events benefiting our community. Along with his dedicated assistant, Reyna Gobel, he has worked tirelessly addressing the many issues that are unique to our community. I’ve been volunteering with him throughout the pandemic by delivering PPE and food to residents throughout the South Brooklyn communities. Steven is currently running to lead the City Council District 47 seat and has a very real chance of winning it.

Michael Ortiz is an ultrarunner who I’ve heard about, but never met until the end of 2020 while running with him and ultrarunner Phil McCarthy as they attempted a 50-mile run around the perimeter of Brooklyn. Michael had recently completed his “Game of Hundos” by running one hundred 100-mile races over 100 weekends. During the pandemic when all races were cancelled, he ran a loop around his living room that equalled 100 miles. He repeated this many times for he was resolute in not letting the pandemic destroy his goals. Now, when I think of goal-setting, I think of Michael. Michael’s inspiration came from his brother David who died in a tragic accident. Before his death, he told Michael to “live his life”. His brother was training for the NYC Marathon at the time. This was the seed of inspiration that helped Michael achieve his astonishing ultrarunning goals.

Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus represents the communities of Bay Ridge and Coney Island. While I knew of her before the pandemic, COVID19 created a situation where I ended up supporting her office as we helped those most affected by the virus living in the Coney Island community. While I have met other political leaders before, working closely with Mathylde gave me a direct glimpse into seeing a leader’s relationship with their community. I have found Mathylde to be an individual of high principles with great ideas and the willingness to set aside her own ego to improve her community. Mathylde has shown me that there are great leaders out there and that not all of them have self-serving agendas. It saddens me to know that some media outlets have tried to portray her in a negative light through blatant lies about her work.

Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I came across an organization called South Brooklyn Mutual Aid. Whitney Hu was the SBMA’s fearless leader. She worked day and night to secure volunteers, donations, care packages, and more for underrepresented families throughout South Brooklyn who were most affected by the pandemic. I was one of 40 drivers who came to their warehouse in Sunset Park every Saturday to pick and deliver care packages to these families. Whitney was always there making sure that the logistics for everything were being addressed. From ordering food to diapers to children’s books to free Metrocards, Whitney made sure that every need for these families was met week-after-week. In early December, she announced that she was dropping out of her race to win the City Council District 38 seat so that she can continue to focus all of her energy on helping these families. By the end of 2020, the SBMA had delivered 30,000 care packages to families throughout South Brooklyn under Whitney’s leadership.

I first “met” Tad Cromwell while at a zoom meeting with the Southern Brooklyn Democrats club. Tad is a certified fitness instructor who was a special guest speaker at the meeting. His speech about how we can improve our lives through fitness was very inspiring and it motivated me to join his fitness classes. Tad used to be an out-of-shape unmotivated couch potato. One day, he decided that enough was enough and began his journey towards better health through exercise and nutrition. He now lives a life of fitness and healthy eating. Throughout the pandemic, he has taught virtual fitness classes to hundreds of people. His business, Better Days Ahead Fitness isn’t just a name, it’s Tad’s message to everyone that while things may not be going the way you want them to right now, there will always be better days ahead. His mantra, “Use the body you have to get the body you want” gives hope to everyone no matter what shape they may be currently in at the moment.

It takes a Brooklyn village

Brooklyn is one of the largest communities in America with a population of over 2.6 million. With a high density of people living fast lives full of hustle and bustle, one would think that nobody here has the time or motivation to help their fellow human being. Recently, I experienced an event in my community that made me think otherwise.

While reading messages posted through my community message board on Nextdoor.com, I came across a lady in my neighborhood named Tami. She asked if anyone knew of a free turkey giveaway event that also provided ingredients for a complete Thanksgiving meal. I immediately thought about my friend Steven Patzer, a community activist who was conducting an upcoming free turkey giveaway. I shared his flyer with her and she appreciated it. I continued reading the rest of her request which stated the following:

“…I am a disabled mom of 5 and my food stamps got cut off for November because of covid and not being able to recertify. I’m having difficulty this month. All these months I’ve been holding my own. But now I must put pride aside and ask for help. I’m unable to pick anything up as I’m homebound. My address is xxxxx. If you also have food for a dog, I would truly appreciate it…”

Once I read this, I became compelled to do more than simply share the turkey flyer with her. I added that I would buy all of her Thanksgiving fixings if she sent me her shopping list via email. Within hours, other neighbors read my offer and wanted to help out too. I got offers from two women who were willing to pay for Tami’s grocery bill, one of them willing to pay as much as $150. Another neighbor responded to her dog food request by delivering a large case of dog food directly to her home. The next day, I went shopping for Tami with Laurie, another lady in my neighborhood who wanted to help. That morning when I opened my front door, I found a case of juice boxes delivered from Jenny, another woman living in my neighborhood. Soon, others throughout the community offered assistance to Tami and personally delivered care packages to her address. Some even offered to buy her a bunkbed, something she needed for her cramped apartment. After I purchased her Thanksgiving groceries, Stephanie and Charyn, two local ladies who I didn’t know until now, split my grocery bill.

As I type this, Tami is enjoying a complete homecooked Thanksgiving meal with her five children while Mr. Snowflakes enjoys his dog food. It took a Brooklyn village to help make that happen.

Tami’s latest message to the Brooklyn community that helped her during a time of need

Parenting and the art of banana eating

When my son Hunter was little, he was a very picky eater. It was frustrating to get him to eat anything that was not a hot dog chopped up into small pieces. I had to use a combination of patience, creativity, and perseverance to get him to try new foods. As he got older and began going to grade school, I started packing lunches for him to eat at school. Among the different kinds of snack foods I packed, I occasionally included a banana. He would often not eat the banana and when he arrived home later in the day, the banana was smashed to a sticky pulp inside his lunchbox due to all the heavy books he had to carry in his backpack.

Since nobody eats the skin of the banana, I got creative and began to draw pictures on it. I was hoping he would find these pictures funny which would interest him in actually eating it. Below is my first attempt.

This seemed to get him excited about eating his banana. Since Hunter was a reader, I added text to my next banana creation.

Eventually, I stopped drawing pictures and included only text. I wrote messages that would appeal to his interests. He loved playing the online game Minecraft, so one day, he got a Minecraft banana from his Dad.

Hunter has a wicked sense of humor, so I began writing funny banana messages to him.

I started connecting my humorous banana messages into current events to make my bananas more politically relevant. Hunter and his fellow classmates were following the 2016 Presidential campaign at the time. That is when Donald Trump began his campaign for President. My banana messages reflected that.

My son is now 16 years old. He is now a great eater and he no longer needs his Dad to write him funny banana messages. He eats them all on his own as well as apples, grapes, oranges, peaches, quinoa, rice, steak, Indian cuisine, and just about every other food you can imagine.

My job is now done in this area of parenting. I know that he will continue to become more independent in everything he does and he will need me less. For old time sake, I recently wrote him this banana message to let him know how proud I am of him and what he has accomplished in the area of eating. And as a dedicated and loving parent, why not show him my love through a banana message one last time?

August 2020

While searching for my lost wristwatch, I may have found God

A friend of mine recently lost her wallet. She was pretty distraught over it and seemed to give up all hope over ever finding it again. Her cash, ID, credit cards, and insurance cards were all in it. I was about to loan her some cash when I paused, then asked her if she remembered all the places she was at before she lost it. She contacted the supermarket that she visited and sure enough, they had it. My friend can thank me due to a strong sense of faith that has developed throughout my life in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined.

It all started back when I was a teenager. During the summer of ’84 when I was just 17-years-old, I spent time at Manhattan Beach on a daily basis. One day, I left the beach and arrived back home two miles away. Checking my wrist, I realized that I had left my digital wristwatch at the beach. This watch was expensive and had an actual calculator on it which was the big technology at the time. I had taken it off when I went for a swim and forgot to put it back on my wrist when I left. Instead of giving up all hope that someone had found it and kept it for themselves, a strong dose of faith shot through my veins and told me to go look for it since there was a remote chance that the watch could still be sitting on the beach. I jumped on my bike and about 15-20 minutes later, I ran to the original location on the sand where my blanket was. Sitting there unnoticed by all the beachgoers was my watch!

In 1994, I got married. This time I was wearing a wedding ring. I was working a temp job at the New York Stock Exchange. One day before I left work to visit my friend in Uptown Manhattan, I removed my ring and placed it on the counter of the men’s bathroom to wash my hands after using the toilet. I rushed out and took the subway. As I sat in the subway car, I felt my hand and realized that my wedding ring was no longer on my finger. Again, the faith I had when I found my wristwatch 10 years earlier was still alive and well. I got off the train at the next station, ran to the other side, jumped on the downtown train, then arrived back at the New York Stock Exchange. Since I was only a temp worker, I had no company ID with me. The security guard gave me a hassle when I asked him to let me in. Instinctively, I held up my ring finger and showed him a ringless finger and shouted to him, “I left my wedding ring upstairs in the bathroom. My wife will divorce me if I lose it!”. Understanding my plight, the guard let me back in. Arriving at the same bathroom, that ring was still sitting there patiently waiting for me. You could thank my unfaltering faith for that!

During the Summer of 2019, I took the NYC Ferry to Lower Manhattan with some of my running friends. We got off and ran Uptown towards Central Park. I took the Ferry back on the Upper West Side back down to Lower Manhattan. Eventually, I made it back home hours later. While home, I realized that my Garmin 220 runner’s watch was not on my wrist. I remember taking it off at the Ferry and then I got distracted. Costing me over $200, I was not ready to declare this watch lost. Faith again made me brainstorm for where it could possibly be. In my mind, it could have been anywhere in New York City. I mentally backtracked the entire 10-mile route wondering where I could have dropped it. The only entity that could help me was the NYC Ferry Service since I did use the Ferry that day. I went to their website and clicked on the “Lost & Found” link. I filled out the online form, then patiently waited for a response. I knew my chances were extremely slim that they would have the watch. Hey, this is Manhattan after all where everyone looks out for themselves! A few hours later, I got a response stating that a tourist found my watch and gave it to a NYC Ferry worker. My faith came to the rescue yet again!

After 36 years of losing valuable things, then finding them again, my faith is now stronger than ever. Besides the events mentioned in this writing, there have been many other times throughout my life where faith has brought me to great achievements while getting me through difficult times. These experiences have brought me to one conclusion; that there IS a God. I have become more faithful not just in finding things, but in finding myself through a Higher Power. And it all started with a lost wristwatch.

A Tale of Two Running Clubs

I belong to two running clubs. One is conservative and one is liberal.

Being a person whose political beliefs are somewhere between moderate and liberal, you would think that I would favor one club over the other. The truth is that I love both clubs equally regardless of their political leanings. You see, running overcomes everything. It’s the common denominator that brings people together.

Running is a very innate human activity. Cavepeople have been doing this running thing since the dawn of man when they had to either run to catch their meals or run away from becoming a meal. Even though our intellects have evolved over time, there are still some primitive inclinations in all of us. Selfishness, bigotry, ignorance, and violence are all a part of the dark underbelly of the human condition. Running erases these tendencies. It also unites all of us regardless of our dissimilar moral, social, and political ideologies.

Whether you are a conservative, a liberal, or something in between, runners share the same values that never change. Camaraderie, goal-setting, fitness, motivational support, and teamwork are traits that runners of all ilks commonly exhibit.

In today’s divisive political climate, I am happy to be a part of an activity where politics doesn’t matter and being the best we can be as human beings does.

Matthew Rees of Swansea Harrier (2nd L) helping an ailing David Wyeth of Chorlton Runners (2nd R) down The Mall to finish the Virgin Money London Marathon. Rees stated that, “Helping him was more important than the race time”.

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.

Any Means Necessary

When my daughter entered college a year ago and had a partial scholarship that covered only 7% of her college costs, I was worried about how my family would pay for it in addition to her helping out financially. Being the hustler that I am, I took on all kinds of part-time gigs that came my way. I was willing to do anything and everything to make money for my daughter’s college as long as it was legal (ethical was a different story). In the words of Malcolm X, I was willing to make money “By any means necessary” to pay off her college. I even told my friends that I was willing to strip for my daughter. And every time I said that, they told me to please rephrase that comment. What started as a drive to make extra money turned out to be an exciting adventure where every opportunity was a journey into the unknown. The following are some gigs that I worked on this past year to help achieve that goal.

Dead Body

Apparent cause of death:
Being overworked from trying to pay off my daughter’s college expenses.

I was lucky to get hired to portray a cadaver in a medical examiner’s room in an episode of the crime drama Blue Bloods. Well, they did want experience and I was able to tell them that I once portrayed a dead body on an episode of Law & Order: SVU, which is true. I got paid to play dead and have my body studied by a sexy medical examiner in the scene. Contrary to what you may think, this job was not torture. You could read more about my ordeal here.

Giant Dancing Coffee Cup

Icy Joe may be cross-eyed and misguided, but he’s still lovable.

My friend Edwin Valero, an actor, dedicated dad, all-around great guy, and fellow hustler who always knows how to find work, referred me to the job of “Icy Joe”, a full-body costumed character designed to promote Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. Two 2.5-hour shifts were offered that day. I decided to take both shifts and spent five hours in Midtown Manhattan dancing and high-fiving various customers who stopped by to try new Dunkin’ Donuts products.

Waiting for the red light to change while leading my pace group during a Summer Streets event.

Professional Pacer

I was hired to be a professional pacer by John Henwood for the Mile High Running Club. After 37 years of running, I finally have the opportunity to make money at it. Besides, I love helping others achieve their running goals with this new position.


The author with one of his fans and long-time friend Jaime.

I published a book called Eight Hours in Freeport. Any proceeds I have made through Amazon, book signings or from here, I have deposited into my daughter’s college account.

Web Editor

From a post on Facebook by celebrity photographer Barry Morgenstein, I was able to get a part-time gig as a web editor for his website www.barrymorgenstein.com. The previous web editor was charging him way too much for the work involved and I was able to offer an hourly rate that was 67% less than what he was being charged. In order to get this gig, I mentioned my experience as the web editor for the Staten Island Athletic Club’s website (statenislandac.org).

Male Stripper

I was never a male stripper, but I would have taken up the offer if the opportunity had arisen. Yes, I love my daughter THAT much. And it’s not what you think. Get your mind out of the gutter!

Beautiful Pain

Inspired by my friend Jeanine who was going through trauma in her life at the time, I had written a poem several months ago and titled it “Beautiful Pain”. I eventually posted it to Facebook. Soon after posting it, my friend Stephen Niese, a male model, actor, and photographer, shared a captivating photo with me that he had taken of a butterfly resting on Coney Island Beach. I put our creations together and the poster below is the result.

What the poem means to me is that we cannot fully appreciate something without knowing the full story of it’s existence.

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!

DG Race Pic

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.