2014 – A Year In Review

2014 was a very busy year for me, so busy in fact that it seemed like it lasted for only a day.  Knowing how short our lives are, I strove to do as much as I could this year.  Here are some of the highlights.

On January 1, I participated in my fourth polar bear plunge at Coney island with about two dozen members of the Staten Island Athletic Club.  Most exciting for me was doing it with my daughter Emma for the first time.  She had a great time.

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An experimental rapper named Uncommon Nasa from Staten Island was looking for some actors to be in his music video in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  Emma and I jumped at the chance.  In the scene below, two cops are escorting her deadbeat dad out in handcuffs while her mom consoles their crying daughter.  The video is called Twenty-Two.  To view it, click here.

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Life can be funny at times.  My daughter was called to be an extra on the hit comedy show called Louie.  They requested that she wear pantyhose in the scene.  Here I am for the first and hopefully the last time in my life purchasing a pair of panty hose for her.

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And as it turned out, the wardrobe people decided that she did not need to wear pantyhose.  Here she is after being dressed up to play a junior high school student in a flashback scene from 1980.  In the scene, the main character Louie plays one of her classmates.

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During the winter, there were a few major snowstorms. At that time, I went out to the Staten Island Greenbelt to run with SIAC Extreme Captain Darren Corona and the rest of the trail runners.  As I was running through the snowy woods, I was inspired to film a music video about a father who loses his daughter there.  My running buddy and fellow actor Mark Vogt filmed it while my daughter and I starred in it.  I am proud of what we all did and am glad to have spent such a special moment working on this project with my daughter.  You can view the music video here.

1794796_10152259105364785_649976677_nIn March, I played a cop in the TV series Babylon Fields.  It featured zombies and unfortunately the show never got picked up by any networks, so it was dead on arrival.  I had fun with my role as you can see below.
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In April, my kids and I engaged in a beach grass planting event down near Conference House Park in Staten Island.  This was a great event that combined environmentalism and volunteerism.  There I met John Kilcullen, a dedicated Parks Department employee in charge of maintaining and promoting events at Conference House Park.  During Hurricane Sandy, Staten Island lost a lot of its beachfront due to erosion.  The beach grass we planted helps anchor the grass in place which will create large sand dunes that will protect the nearby community from future storms.

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Later in the month, my partner-in-crime Mark Vogt teamed up with me for the sixth time for the High Rock Challenge, a wildly popular adventure race that takes place in the Staten Island Greenbelt.  Every year, Mark and I have fun giving our team a new name. We sometimes even wear outfits that reflect that team name.  Here we are as the Notorious S.I.A.C. dressed as white gangsta’ rappers.  And yes, we actually performed a rap song that Mark had written in front of many horrified adventure racers who had already finished their race.

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Three years ago, I had requested that trees be planted around our condo building.  They finally arrived!  Eventually they will grow big and make my neighborhood more beautiful.

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In June, we entered an anti-litter campaign promoted by the Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.  My idea was crazy: to have a bunch of angry litter get revenge on a litterbug who kept on throwing them on the ground.  My brother Aaron is very artistic and he was able to effectively draw very angry and evil faces on all the trash props I gave him.  On the morning of the shoot, I was going to quit before we started, for I didn’t believe that I could pull this off.  It took some convincing from my friend Mark to change my mind, which he did.  My good friend Rob Lenza nailed his character and was very entertaining portraying the Litter Bug.  Seasoned actor Joseph Martin made a cameo appearance at the end of the PSA playing Johnny Nash, the trash-talking guy.  He also nailed his role.  When the contest was over, we ended up coming in third place.  A lot of our friends and family said that it was the funniest video of the bunch.  And most importantly, we had a blast putting it together.  See the video, “Anti-Litter PSA: Don’t Let Trash Get Out of Control” by clicking here.

By the end of June, I organized a beer run for my running club.  We started and finished a four-mile run at the Flagship Brewery in Staten Island.  Then the festivities began.  We had a beer and pizza party at the brewery and much fun was had by all.  There was even an article about our event in the Staten Island Advance.

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In July, I had gotten an acting gig in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.  It was the final episode of the final season.  Boardwalk Empire was on for five seasons and I was very lucky to have gotten a featured background gig for each and every season since it began five years ago.  Here I am playing a janitor at a fancy hotel.

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Another TV series, Gotham, about the life of a young Bruce Wayne before he later becomes Batman started filming this year. Before the first episode, I was a featured crime scene investigator in a TV promo for the series.  If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see guy holding a plastic bag behind the yellow tape.  That’s me holding an evidence bag.  A “dead” body is lying directly in front of me in the middle of the street.  Behind me is the character Ed Nygma.  He’s a fellow cop who will later become The Riddler, one of Batman’s arch-enemies.

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While I was at a teacher workshop in August, there were about a dozen classrooms that all the teachers had to enter to begin the workshop.  I randomly chose the last classroom at the end of the hall.  Sitting next to me was another teacher named Karen.  It turns out that she is my distantly-related cousin.  It was such an great coincidence and we were both excited to meet each other again after last meeting each other at a family reunion 19 years ago.

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In September, Emma began her freshman year at Midwood High School.  She decided to join the Girl’s Cross-Country Track Team.  With no real running experience under her belt, she ran her first cross-country track meet at Prospect Park.  She ran a 1.5-mile race and received her very first medal.  This is a great start to a potentially amazing running career for her.

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For years, I’ve always supported the idea of having a pedestrian path built on the Verrazano Bridge.  All other bridges throughout New York have a way for bikers, walkers and runners to get across to the other boroughs.  I find it very unfair that to get to Staten Island from Brooklyn or vice versa, you are forced to use a car.  Putting action to this cause, I signed an online petition and have encouraged many of my friends and family to sign it.  This year, I wanted to go one step further and got in touch with the man who was the Chairman of the Harbor Ring Committee.  His name was Paul Gertner.  In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Verrazano Bridge in November, Paul, Meredith Sladek, several other supporters and I worked together to hold a rally on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano.  I was in charge of getting Staten Island runners and a few politicians to attend the rally.  On October 21, the rally was held at the Alice Austen House.  With the Verrazano Bridge serving as the perfect backdrop, several local politicians spoke about the need to make this pedestrian path a reality.  The politicians, including Michael Cusick, Vincent Gentile and Martin Golden gave very moving speeches on the importance of this project and its benefit to all.  Staten Island Athletic Club President Mark Vogt spoke recalling memories of the Bridge throughout his youth and how it has connected important moments in his life and how it continues to do so today with the friends he has made in Brooklyn.  I even said a few words after he was done.

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My friend Kristin Golat, a dedicated runner and teacher, chose the MR8 charity to help her gain entry into the NYC Marathon.  This cause is in honor of Martin Richard, the little boy who was tragically killed at the Boston Marathon bombings the previous year.  Kristin had raised over $4,000 in his honor.  I am proud to have helped out with the cause.  I sold my 2013 NYC Marathon finisher’s medal through eBay for $100 and immediately donated it to help Kristin out.

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One of my newest friends from my running club had a fantastic running year, so great that she motivated myself and others in my club to achieve their goals.  After both her parents had passed away less than a year ago, she had every reason not to do anything this year.  Instead she chose to run as her outlet for coping.  She ran many miles and participated in many races and often received medals for her performance.  She ran the NYC Marathon and only two weeks later, ran the Philadelphia marathon beating her NYC Marathon time by over 30 minutes within that two-week period!  Yes, Chre Soto’s contagious motivation had a positive effect on me this year.  Thank you Chre!  Below is a photo of us after we both ran a 23-mile NYC Marathon long training run together.

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Also in October, I was a two-hour pacer for the Staten Island Half Marathon.  There I met Jo Blackmore, a dedicated runner who co-paced with me.  She had a fantastic sense of humor and helped to make our time pacing it together a rather entertaining event.

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One of the most dramatic events for me this year was being a 4:30 pacer for the NYC Marathon in November.  This was my second time pacing this event.  One of the runners I paced came from Germany.  Her name was Sohan and her goal was to break 4:30.  She stayed with me throughout the race like a shadow.  When I reached the 22-mile mark, I experienced excruciatingly-painful cramps in my leg and I had to stop running.  Regardless, I was still able to push myself to cross the finish line with a time of 4:40:13.  Read about the amazing story of what happened after I crossed the finish line in the following blog entry by clicking here.

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On October 25, my coworkers and I were told by management that due to a one million dollar deficit combined with underpayment by the Staten Education Department, our school will be forced to close in 90 days in January.  We turned our sadness and anger into action and did everything we could to help save our school.  Finally, on December 23, just two days before Christmas, we found out that our school will be saved and will continue to stay open into the foreseeable future.  We were ecstatic and felt that this was just the kind of Christmas present we were looking for.  To read the full story about how we saved our school, click here.

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My son Hunter has been continually improving in his piano skills after receiving lessons for the past three years.  Here he is posing with his friend Gianna after performing a piano solo at a nursing home during the Christmas holidays.

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A Christmas Miracle

I work at an amazing school.  Many of the 240 special education preschoolers my fellow teachers, assistant teachers, and therapists work with start the school year with marked physical, social and cognitive delays.  By June, most show tremendous improvement in all these areas.  In a sense, we are miracle workers requiring vast patience, vision and faith in our children’s success throughout the school year.  Our social worker teaches families proper parenting techniques and our school nurse engages them in nutrition workshops.  The children need us and their parents depend on us.  Our school, The Guild for Exceptional Children, has been making miracles come true for thousands of children and their families for the past 35 years.  We have become their lifeline and a fixture of the neighborhood.  And we all treat each other like family; our school is a home away from home.

On October 24, 2014, the staff at our school were given notice by management that due to underpayment to our school by the State Education Department for the past six years that created a deficit of over a million dollars, our school will be forced to close it’s doors for good in 90 days.  Upon hearing this, we were all shocked and in total disbelief.  First, our jaws dropped, then as reality set in, tears began to flow down our cheeks as we thought about the children we teach, their families and losing our jobs.  To add to our despair, we knew that the economy was not good and that schools throughout New York were being closed due to budgetary cutbacks.  Our school was now going to be one of those sad statistics, so we thought.

The next day, after overcoming our initial grief, we all gathered up our strength and began to work on a game plan to help save our school, for we all agreed that we weren’t going to go down without a fight.  This was our children, our school, and our livelihood at stake.  We began to discuss what we had to do first.  We knew we had to contact the media to share our story with the rest of New York.  Adrian, our music therapist, made a list of all the local politicians, newspapers, TV news media outlets we had to contact.  James contacted the politicians since he has connections with them while I contacted the news media.  Eddie, our front desk receptionist and voice of our school, gave a motivational speech to our staff to raise our spirits and to tell us all not give up without a fight.  We knew we needed to mail out letters to politicians to get the ball rolling, so all staff donated money to pay for the postage.  Jose, our speech therapist, used his experience with technology to create an online petition to help save our school from closure.

The following day, Stephanie, our school social worker, had an emergency meeting with all the parents to discuss the school closure.  After telling them the bad news, the parents turned into an angry mob and blamed her for the closure, which was unfortunate since it was not her fault at all.  I give her credit for having to deal with this situation.  However, we all knew that the parents were our secret weapon in fighting for our school.  Over the next few weeks, Stephanie had more meetings with them to discuss various game plans we were going to hatch to help save our school.

Norma, a teacher who is also a parent of a child in our school, contacted a Spanish-speaking news network.  They were the first reporters to tell our story.  Over the next few weeks, more reporters came to our school to report what was happening, then local Bay Ridge newspapers got in on the action.  The news was spreading!

During this process, Alice, our school director had her hands tied knowing there was only so much she could do to help.  She encouraged us to continue to fight the fight.  As no sign of progress or good news came to the employees at our school over the next several weeks, she would often encourage us all to have hope and faith for a good outcome to all of this.

Letters to local politicians were mass-mailed from our school.  Parents were given letter template handouts to use and were encouraged to add their own personal story to these letters before they mailed them out.  I realized that many of them may not want to retype these letters in their computers, so I recreated one of these templates on the internet using Google Drive.  Every day, I worked one-on-one with any available parents to help them add their own personal success story involving their child and our school.  Five copies were mailed out from each parent I worked with, one to Assemblymen Marty Golden, Vincent Gentile, Felix Ortiz, Mayor Bill Diblasio and Governor Cuomo.  One of my parents even took it upon herself to contact Bill Gates of the Gates Foundation and asked him for financial help to help save our school.

The reason why our school was going to close was this:  It was found out that our school for some unknown reason was being underpaid by the State Education Department (SED) for several years.  Other schools were being paid $32,000 per student whereas our school was being paid only $27,000 per student.  This underpayment was slowly-but-surely adding to an increasing deficit in our school’s budget amounting to over a million dollars.  Carolyn, a well-seasoned teacher in my school, got hold of a list of all the accountants who work for the SED whose jobs it is to pay the schools and to set pay rates.  I, along with Eddie, wrote a well-crafted letter telling them that their discrepancy is forcing my school to close and to give reason for this discrepancy.  I went as far as saying that maybe they made a clerical error along the line and to please look into it.  I sent this letter as an email to all the accountants.  The very next day, one responded telling me that they will look into it.  Carolyn worked with her students to create a very emotional letter with their artwork and photos asking them to “Please don’t close my school!”.  She mailed these letters to the very same accountants that I had emailed previously.

Stephanie then had a special meeting with the parents to discuss holding a rally with the parents at one of the SED offices in downtown Brooklyn.  James, our school art therapist handed out art supplies to all teachers and encouraged them to create rally posters that the parents would carry as they marched.  Many of the posters displayed the words, “Save Our School!” which was probably the most effective rally cry we could use.  Stephanie applied for a rally permit and several news outlets were contacted to report on the rally.  With Adrian and Carolyn helping to lead the rally that day, the rally went on without a hitch.  Many parents came and the parents marched and chanted, “Save Our Schools!” while carrying the rally signs made by the students.  This became a very powerful news feature that night on the evening news.

Meanwhile, our Executive Director Paul Cassone continued to contact the local politicians asking for help and he finally got in contact with the SED.

Last week, we all got the news we were waiting for: our school will be saved and will remain open until at least the end of the school year.  On Tuesday, December 23, two days before Christmas, we received the following news:

“…the Division of Budget in the State Education Department has approved the budget proposal presented by the Department of Education for our Preschool.  THIS MEANS THAT OUR SCHOOL WILL HAVE THE FUNDING NEEDED TO CONTINUE FOR MANY YEARS TO COME!  This has happened due to all of your efforts!  This will indeed be a joyful Christmas for all of us and for our children and parents.”

It is said that amazing things that happen around Christmas time are called Christmas miracles.  For my coworkers, students, parents and our families, this news really became a Christmas miracle.  And this would never have happened if we didn’t work together as a team all dedicated to save our school.

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Here’s half of the 90 coworkers that help make our school a truly special school.

A Glorious Failure

The last time I wrote a blog about my marathon experience was when I ran the 2009 NYC Marathon.  That marathon was the most perfect marathon I had ever run.  My goal of breaking four hours was smashed with a 3:56:58 finishing time and a 13-second negative split thrown in for good measure.  After that memorable experience, I really had no further motivation for ever writing about another marathon again.

The story I’m about to tell is about a marathon I failed at.   However, what happened after I crossed the finish line was what made this marathon my most memorable.  It was the morning of November 2, 2014 and I was one of three dozen runners chosen by the New York Road Runners Club to be an official 4:30 pacer.  It was only a matter of minutes before the cannon would go off to start our wave of runners.  I patiently waited in the corral with my pacer stick in hand and introduced myself to the other runners.  I engaged in some small talk, joked with them and promised to do everything in my power to bring them across the finish line in under four hours and thirty minutes or else, I joked, I’d “Get fired”.  As I was talking, I noticed an attractive German female runner with a demure smile staring straight at me.  Out of the three pacers available for the 4:30 pace, it seemed like she was rather content with staying with me.  It was a cold and windy day, one of the coldest on record, and I was shivering in the cold wearing nothing but shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.  Noticing my poorly-chosen attire for this kind of weather and my chattering teeth, the female runner approached me and began to rub all the cold parts of my body with her hands to warm them up.  “I think I’m gonna like this race”, I thought to myself moments before our wave barreled out from the starting line.

The race started and we began running across the Verrazano Bridge, my German friend was right beside me on one side and Dave, my co-pacer, was on the other side.  With each mile we approached, I would check the pacer strip that was wrapped around my wrist to my stopwatch, then shout out to my running disciples what our mile split was in relation to our pace goal.  When we were one minute ahead, I would shout, “One minute in the bank!”.  For the next 22 miles, I would repeat this procedure so all my runners would know how close to our pace goal we actually were.  Since there were a lot of runners all around us, at times I would have to shift my body around the slower runners that we passed.  No matter which way I shifted, that German runner was always close by my side with her pretty little smile, almost as if she were my shadow.  At around Mile 5 in Sunset Park, I finally asked her what her name was and she told me it was Sohan.  She said it came from Sanskrit and meant “beautiful”.  I thought that this was the perfect name for her.  We were running at a conversational pace and she told me early on in the race how she came all this way from Germany to New York City with the goal of breaking 4:30 and her current personal record for the marathon distance was 4:34.  I began to trust her by handing her my pacing stick during the race when I had to pull off momentarily to go to the bathroom or to hug my daughter Emma who was handing out water with her track team at Mile 4.  After 12 miles of small talk and joking around, we were already running through Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  I told her that my goal was no longer just to break 4:30, but to help HER break 4:30 as long as she helped me break 4:30 as well.  We were then committed to each other from that point on and this whole endeavor started to become personal.

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Me, Sohan and the rest of my running disciples running along the Marathon route somewhere in Brooklyn.

At Mile 18, we were running along First Avenue in Manhattan.  Both my legs tightened up like rocks, but I stayed focused and tried to ignore the burning sensation that started to flare up in both my legs.  Dave, the other 4:30 pacer who I started out with finally crossed my path at this point.  I told him I was having trouble and he offered to hold my pacing stick for the remainder of the race.  My stubbornness and resolution to do my job kept me from giving it up to him.  I was a pace leader after all and I had to represent the pace goal printed on the flag I carried throughout the entire length of the marathon.  Runners were counting on me.  Up until now, I was still able to save up a minute or so “in the bank” that would be needed later on in the marathon as the miles wore on.

Four miles later, we approached Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.  As Sohan and I and the other runners made a sharp right turn at the beginning of the park, then a sharp left, we continued up the block and passed the Mile 22 mark.  All of a sudden, an excruciatingly sharp pain pierced my right calf muscle and instantly froze my body into a statue.  It was a cramp!  A loud painful screech emanated from my mouth and Sohan instantly turned around wondering what had happened.  She reached out her hand to me with hopes of helping me get back on track, but I was in so much pain.  I stayed transfixed on that spot and shouted back to her, “Go!  Go finish this thing without me!  And finish strong!!!”.  She then shouted back to me, “I WILL wait for you at the finish line Josh!  Don’t worry!”  I remained there motionless for what seemed like an eternity as hundreds of runners passed me by.  Out of frustration of not being able to move due to the extreme pain, I made a fist with my right hand and began punching my calf muscle hoping to dissipate the acute buildup of lactic acid that caused the cramps.  After punching it several times, the pain subsided and I began to run again, only I wasn’t the same.  The cramps flared up over and over again and at random for the remainder of the race.  The next four miles to the finish line became a horror movie for me and the cramps altered my entire existence to the point where I became a zombie.  However, I ran through this newly-formed pain sensation for the next four miles deluding myself thinking that I can still represent myself as a 4:30 pacer.  Only I became a pathetic excuse for a pacer and ran aimlessly, coldly and painfully up 5th Avenue.  My running club friends Mark, Corey and Stephanie saw me at 92nd Street and 5th Avenue (the 23-Mile mark) and they later told me that I had this cold listless stare as if I were looking right through them.  For the rest of the race, I lowered my pacer stick to show everyone that I had to abort my mission as a pacer knowing that I would unsuccessfully finish this epic journey well above my 4:30 pace goal.

I eventually made it to Mile 25 with only a mile to go to the finish line.  Hundreds of spectators were cheering me on along the Central Park South straightaway as my leg cramped up, my body froze, then punched my calf muscle a few times, and prodded myself into another physical torment to make myself run again.

I crossed the finish line not with a sense of accomplishment, but with a sense of failure.  The 2014 NYC Marathon started out as textbook race for me, but ended with disappointment.  However, after I crossed that finish line, many runners who had run with me early on in the race thanked me over and over again for helping them reach newfound personal goals.  I thought of Sohan, my German “running girlfriend” as I playfully called her at the beginning of the race and wondered what had happened to her after she had left me at Mile 22.  After the finisher’s medal was placed around my neck, my next goal was to look for her.  When we were running through Greenpoint, Brooklyn together, we both agreed to finish together at the finish line and since we split up before the race was done, I desperately looked for her among the thousands of runners that were now slogging by me during the post-race “death march”.  I was cold and tired and eventually  gave up in my search.  My final finish time was 4:40:05.  Not bad considering that I had tortured myself into finishing this race by any means necessary.  Early the next morning, the Staten Island Advance, a local Staten Island newspaper, published a small article on my pacing experience, which could be found here.

The next evening after leaving from my running club meeting, I received the following email from the New York Road Runner’s Club:

Sohan Email #1

Reading this, I could not believe that she had found me!  This confirmed all along that she did in fact look for me after crossing the finish line.  I immediately emailed her back letting her know that I had received her message.  The next morning, she responded with the following email:

Sohan Email #2

She finished in 4:29:28?!!!  This second email redeemed my whole marathon experience with what I originally perceived as my failure to achieve my pace goal.  Up until Mile 22, I had succeeded in bringing her on a path to the correct pace goal.  After I blew my tire at that point, she had continued with that pace towards the finish line and achieved a new personal record while breaking 4:30.  I was ecstatic!

It was already a Tuesday by now and only two days after we had both ran the Race of a Lifetime.  I was still absolutely exhausted from the event, but I had to remind myself of my carpe diem philosophy, which is to live every day as if it were my last.  Considering this, I asked her if she’d like to meet me that night and have a celebratory beer together.  She enthusiastically obliged.  We met at a bar in Brooklyn and had a grand old time talking about our marathon experience and joking about our post-race aches and pains that made us both walk in a comically pathetic way.

That night, she asked me if I can be her tour guide to see places in New York City that are less well-known than the usual tourist spots.  I told her I’d bring her to Staten Island to show her places many tourists never get to see.  One of the places I brought her and her friend Thomas to was the Staten Island Greenbelt.  They were both amazed to see such a beautiful natural environment so close to an urban setting.

I have now run the NYC Marathon five times.  While they all were great running adventures, the 2014 NYC Marathon will always be my most memorable.  50,000 people ran the marathon that day.  And one of them became my friend.

Sohan and I posing at the entrance to the Greenbelt Nature Center in Staten Island several days after completing the NYC Marathon. We hiked the 1-mile family trail, but we did not walk pathetically that day.

Why Runners Love The New York Mets

Several months ago, a New York Times reporter wanted to see where true baseball fan alliances were in the world of professional baseball.  So he turned to Facebook, a place that held a huge database of millions of America’s personal interests such as their favorite movies, music groups and for this reporter, their favorite professional baseball teams.  The article, called the United States of Baseball, focused on a color-coded map of the United States showing what America’s favorite baseball teams were according to zip code.  Regarding New York baseball teams, all of New York, Northern New Jersey and Northern Pennsylvania were  straight-out Yankees fans.  Surprisingly, there was not a single zip code that favored the New York Mets, not even in the neighborhood immediately surrounding Citifield, home stadium of the NY Mets.  For a Mets fan like me, these were very sad findings.

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After reading the article, I began to naturally tune into the favorite baseball teams of the runners in my running club.  I wanted them to confirm for themselves whether they were Yankees or Mets devotees.  It was the beginning of baseball season after all, so the focus of our discussions during our long Sunday runs quickly turned to baseball.  There was one surprise though; most of the runners I spoke to seemed to favor the Mets.  I found this very odd because that United States of Baseball map in the NY Times article said something to the contrary.  I became very curious and soon launched my own investigation with the following theory: When given a choice between favoring the Yankees or the Mets, people who run will choose the Mets.  My theory was based on the differing histories of both teams that is essentially based on the concepts of winning and losing.  Whereas the Yankees have an illustrious history of being the winningest team in baseball, the Mets don’t.  Now if you consider the average runner as he is compared to all the other runners on a bell curve which includes the slowest and fastest runners in a race, he is most likely a middle-of-the-pack runner if not slower.  He or she is very unlikely to win anything at the end of a race except maybe a chance to break their own personal record.  This experience of continually “losing” races and trying to overcome a physical challenge naturally builds an underdog mentality in many runners.  The NY Mets have often been associated as the underdog team, so many runners can relate to them more than the Yankees.

Since many runners are middle-of-the-pack runners or slower, every new year represents a chance for them to do better and to break pr’s; in their point-of-view, to win.  This high level of personal optimism as runners gets transferred to a renewed optimism each year in a team that they can relate to with all their failed seasons that makes them feel that they are due for a long-awaited win.

Now that I had my Runners Love The Mets theory and my reasoning behind it, I needed to prove or disprove it.  I decided to create an online survey asking runners the following question, “If you are  runner, which team is your favorite New York professional baseball team?  They had to choose between the Mets or the Yankees.  To ensure that my survey pool would only be runners, I sent the link to the Facebook pages of several running clubs that I was familiar with, including the Staten Island Athletic Club, the Richmond Rockets, the Shore Road Striders, the Prospect Park Track Club and the New York Road Runners Club.  Of those who chose to participate, almost 41% chose the Mets while 59% chose the Yankees.  Even among runners, the Yankees still won.  However, the margin was only a 19% difference.

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Considering these results, I decided that I needed a control group of non-runners to see if there really was a difference.  I created another survey for non-runners entitled, “Which team is your favorite New York professional baseball team?”.  For that survey, I specifically sent the survey link via email of friends that I knew for certain were not runners.  The results of the non-runners survey were dramatically different than that of the runners survey: 12% favored the Mets whereas almost 88% favored the Yankees.  This time, there was a 75% margin.

Yankees vs Mets (non-runners)

The results above help to confirm my theory that compared to rest of the populace of New York, runners in particular show an affinity to the New York Mets that exists due to the deep-rooted psychological concepts of failure and optimism that are reborn each year with each new season of Mets baseball and every new year with one’s running career.

Palisades Climb Adventure

I recently took my 13-year-old to an indoor rope-climbing place called Palisades Climb.  We planned on checking it out together to see if it would be a good place to celebrate her birthday party next month.  I was getting tired of having my kid’s birthdays at the typical party places and I thought that an indoor climbing park would be fun for the kids.  When we got there, the place was huge; it’s touted as being the “World’s tallest indoor ropes course”.  At 85 feet tall divided by five levels with 75 challenges, the place was a sight to behold, especially if you’re the adventurous type.  My daughter and I couldn’t wait to get started on our climb.  Once we each paid our $16.99 admission fee, we got on line to be rigged up in a special safety harness that would protect us throughout 100% of the climb.  At the top of each of our harnesses was a tether that moved through a continuous track above our heads no matter which direction we walked throughout the climb.  This tether insured that we could never fall off the climb regardless of how difficult and dangerous the challenges were.  This was a relief because some of the challenges were quite harrowing as you moved up through the higher levels.

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A close-up of our tether in the track.

The entire climb can be found in the middle of Palisades Mall, about an hour’s drive from Brooklyn.  The climb’s five levels spans both the upper and lower levels of the Mall.  Once you are harnessed by the climb’s employees, you enter the climb at the fourth level and you can choose via a series of staircases which level you want to start with first.  My daughter and I decided to start at the bottom level and work our way up.  It was a good decision since the rope challenges were easy there and got more difficult as you worked your way to the fifth level at the top where they were most difficult.  Upon walking across the first challenges, it takes some time to adjust since the fear of falling is constant at first.  Then, as you complete each challenge and as you gain more faith that the tether attached to your harness will protect you anywhere you go, you start getting more brave when attacking the next challenge.

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My daughter Emma at the first level of the climb. The levels got increasingly difficult as we went up towards the fifth and final level.

For those who love adventure racing, I highly recommend this place as a fun, but challenging way to improve one’s rope-climbing technique.  I found that walking across the balance beams and ropes challenges a great training ground for those who participate in such adventure races as the High Rock Challenge, an immensely-popular adventure race held every April in the Staten Island Greenbelt.  With each ropes challenge I completed, my approach to the next challenge became gutsier by seeing how fast I can get through the next challenge successfully without “falling off”.  Also, even though you are obviously in the middle of a huge man-made mall, looking at the faux wood-colored climb from a birds-eye view and using your imagination a little, one might feel as if they were high up in the canopy of a tropical rain forest, only that they were the monkey enjoying time in their “natural” playground.

For those who have younger children, there is a height requirement, but it doesn’t mean your child cannot participate.  For children who are 48″ and under, there’s a separate ropes climb course nearby called Sky Tykes.  Children between 42″-48″ can participate in the full-scale adventure climb, but they must be with an adult.  I’ve seen a father and his small son do this course together and they seemed to have a great time.

By the time we reached the fifth and final level and completed the final ropes challenge roughly 1-2 hours later, my daughter and I completed the climb with the satisfaction of knowing that we had just had a ton of fun while getting a great physical workout together.  I highly recommend this place to those parents who have a thirst for adventure who like to encourage it in their children.  Couch potatoes need not apply.

Staten Island Athletic Club Institutes New Fun Run Marathon

Silive.com  Monday, March 31, 2014 3:35PM from the SI Advance Sports Desk

It’s been years in the making, but with the help of the Staten Island Athletic Club’s fun run coordinators David Panza, Mike Garone and Brian Rowan along with assistance from the SIAC Board, local police authorities, and Assemblyman Michael Cusick, the Fun Run Marathon is now a reality.  Starting this Saturday at 5:00AM and every Saturday thereafter, a weekly fun run marathon will be conducted by members of SIAC.  According to SIAC club President Mark Vogt, “The fun run marathon will basically be the old 3-mile fun run course, but runners will now have to run this course 8.73 times in order to equal the number of miles required to run a regulation marathon distance”.  A few club members expressed their excitement at this new course distance change.  Chris Calimano, a long-time SIAC member active member of the Marathon Maniacs stated, “This is no biggie for me; I often run two marathons a week, but I have to fly to other states to run them.  Having a local marathon here on the Island every Saturday will save me a lot of money”.  Many runners throughout the Staten Island running community expressed trepidation on running so many miles every Saturday morning starting at the ungodly hour of 5:00AM.  When told about this new weekly fun run marathon distance being held at Clove Lakes Park as a replacement for the traditional 3-mile fun run, long-time SIAC club member Mario Ricca, Jr. responded, “Are you nuts!?”.

In order to compensate for the increase in so many more miles on a course that was only three miles long for so many years, fun run marathon coordinator Dave Panza said that a lot more Dunkin munchkins and extra free water will be given out to those runners who complete the entire marathon distance.  Panza still will be using his bullhorn, but it will be to shout at and motivate the slower runners who may not meet the four-hour cutoff time that is the new requirement for all marathons run inside public New York City parks.  Those who complete the entire fun run marathon distance will not receive medals nor recognition, but their name and finish time might be added to a little blurb posted somewhere in the sports section of the Staten Island Advance.

As part of their plan to increase club membership and to align SIAC with future racing trends, SIAC Board members are currently discussing on having a weekly Fun Ironman Triathlon in the park where participants would have to swim 275 laps around one of the lakes in Clove Lakes Park to equal the 2.5-mile swimming distance required of a true Ironman competition.  This would be in addition to running a full 26.2-mile marathon and biking a 112-mile bike race.   Permits for this event are still being worked on by Staten Island Parks Department spokesman Michael Schnall.  When asked about the kind of support that’s expected for such an event, Dave Panza stated, “We will definitely need more Dunkin munchkins for that one”.

A Year In Review: 2013

2013 feels like it was one of my fastest years in recent memory.  One of the highlights of the year was that the I was featured as a dead body in an episode of Law & Order: SVU.  The episode came out in January.  You can read more about my experience here.

On my son’s 9th birthday in February, he met an Abraham Lincoln reenactor.  This was of special significance since he and Lincoln both share the same birthdays.

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For his 9th birthday in February, we celebrated at the Museum of Math (MoMath) in Manhattan.  There you can ride on a square-wheeled tricycle that really works.

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Hunter had made a goal to run both the Brooklyn Triple Crown and Staten Island Triple Crown races series.  He completed both race series and was invited to both awards ceremonies.  Here he is posing with several members of my running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club.  Our awards were the jackets that we’re wearing in the photo.  Pictured below are Me, Barbara North, Katie Kulichenko, Darin Magras, Jules Moore, and Yessica Herrera with Hunter in the front.

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With three years of gymnastics under her belt, Emma has been getting very flexible.  She can easily do splits on the floor as well as in the air.

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And one-handed flips performed here at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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She made Arista, the Junior National Honor Society.

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In the Spring, I made friends with a very sweet lady named Lisa Castillo.  She’s a member of the West Side Runners running club who’s also an actress.  She has a tremendous positive attitude about life and is a talented  runner who has become one of my running partners.

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In May, Hunter was invited to the Staten Island Triple Crown ceremony and received a trophy for his age group.  The race series consisted of a 5k, 4-miler and 5-miler.

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In the summertime, we went on a 4-day mini-vacation to Niagara Falls.  One of the exciting things we did was take a hike to the bottom of the Falls and a boat ride underneath Horseshoe Falls.

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I was invited by my friend Marteen to an informal high school reunion for the Class of ’83 (I graduated in the Class of ’84).  I was extremely happy to see my old high school track coach Mark Silverman there.  It was a total fluke that he was there since he was invited by a friend of a friend.  Seeing each other was the highlight of the year for the both of us.  Here is how we looked back in 1984 with my old running buddy and track captain Jimmy Gonzalez…

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…and 29 years later in 2013….

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Emma and Hunter both visited their preschool teacher Carolyn.

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One of the hobbies that Emma has developed is knitting.  She learned it from her after-school program and can now knit her own winter hats and even her own shirt.

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We visited Governor’s Island and had fun on the rides at a 19th Century French amusement park that goes touring throughout the World.  Here’s Emma and Hunter on a ride with their friend Salil.

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This year, I’ve had the privilege of playing a bootlegger in several episodes of Season 4 of Boardwalk Empire.  Here I am hanging out with a bunch of my background friends during a break on location in an old warehouse in Staten Island.  The warehouse served as the bootlegging distillery.

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My family participated in a family-style adventure race sponsored by the New York City Parks Department.

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In August, we went to Cape May where we met the Steve Thomas and his family.  We went on a dinner cruise together.  Here’s Emma with Steve’s daughter Sara.

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Emma and I participated in a local protest in our community.  We protested the building of a new dumping facility that would adversely affect the health of our community.

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As the publicity director of the Staten Island Athletic Club, I was invited to hear a speech given by Senator Chuck Schumer.  He spoke at a press conference at the Staten Island Greenbelt about the rapidly growing incidents of Lyme Disease in the Staten Island area.

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I participated in the Super Spartan race for the first time.  Some of the challenges I had to do was drag a 50-pound bag of rocks over a long distance, climb a rope and jump over fire.  My left hand got hurt badly from being hit by a punji stick by a large gladiator moments before I crossed the finish line.  After several months, my hand finally returned back to normal.  Here’s a photo of me and my good friend, running buddy, fellow thespian and teammate Mark Vogt.  Our antics together during the race helped make it fun.

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In October, I participated in the Ridiculous Obstacle Race (ROC) with Emma.  We wore costumes that Emma selected and had a ton of fun getting soaking wet in many of the obstacles.

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In September, I signed up Hunter with the boy scouts.  At first, he did not want to go, but after the great experience he had at the first meeting, he is now likes it.

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In November, I ran my fourth NYC Marathon, but this time as a pacer.  As an official 4:30 pacer, I lead a large group of runners to the finish line.  It was a very satisfying experience to help other people achieve their marathon goals and dreams.  I even crossed the finish line with my friend Bob Wisner, which was an added bonus.

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In December, I played a news reporter in a remake of the musical ‘Annie’.  During the grand finale scene I was in with many other background actors, we had to lip-sync and dance to the song Tomorrow.  The movie should come out sometime in December 2014.

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Making The Impossible Possible

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One of the gifts my son received this past Christmas was an addictive brain game called Rush Hour.  It comes with a bunch of reference cards showing different levels  of difficulty (easy, medium, hard, and expert).  Each card has a pattern of plastic toy cars that you have to start each unique game with.  The goal is to move the cars in just right combination so you can move your red car out of the traffic jam and off the game board to win the game.  I have tried to play this game and the harder levels are difficult even for an adult.

My son spent hours on the hard level with no success.  Mentally exhausted, he shouted out to me, “Dad, this is impossible!”.  Hearing this, I turned my head towards him, then a few seconds later, he had solved it.  I used this incident to teach him that if you never give up and keep on persisting, you can  solve things that seem impossible at the moment.  This is a good lesson for adults as well, for we have to visualize and have faith in a solution even when at the moment, things seem impossible.  Our children’s success in life will depend on their persistence in not giving up when things look bleak.