Rise Up.

I’ve been slowly turning over Roshi operations to others, and as well, retiring from World’s Toughest Mudder as of next year. Other than turning my attention towards innovative stuff at Apple, why am I doing these things?

Stripping away all of my faults, I know what I’m good at. I am very good at bringing large groups of experts together to agree on and solve complex issues. That’s how I’ve survived and thrived at a certain fruit company for so long. And at my core, while cheesy to say, I really love seeing people achieve their dreams.

So… I’ve decided that I want to fulfill my childhood dream, and run for elected office.

Whoa, slow down. It’s not going to happen right away.  I have a vision of how I’d like to do it, and will reveal more as time goes on.

In the meantime, I’m reaching out to my friends and communities to support me if they think I’ll be any good.  My stances are on that page, and my analysis for solutions of the problems outlined in the stances will be highlighted on this blog.

I’m pretty excited.

I won’t tell you which one I am. But standing to my immediate left is Endicott Peabody, former Democratic Governor of Massachusetts and a mentor to me as a child.  There is also a Republican in this photo.

Worlds Toughest Mudder 2017: One last time.

To the World’s Toughest Community.  The greatest feeling in the world is when you are physically and emotionally drained, and you still feel like you got more than you gave. Thank you.

No offense to Atkins and Albon, but THIS is the team that won WTM this year.
No offense to Atkins and Albon, but THIS is the team that won WTM this year.

“Like the scripture says:
Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid.
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree.
A moment alone in the shade,
At home in this nation we’ve made.
One last time.” – George Washington, Hamilton: The Musical

In May this year, my crazy workout and run exploits finally caught up with me, along with years of sitting at computers with bad posture. I became partially paralyzed while enduring a pain I had never thought imaginable.   To fix the issue, I needed emergency surgery to fuse two bones in my neck and remove a disc. Not pretty, but the surgery went relatively smooth due to my kickass surgeon. Cassie Harris flew in to help me through it. Ehsan Farkondeh, Erik Panu, Brianne Kuchera and Adam Nagle (my original Pit Crew person and best friend since 2012)  were also present while Heather Heaton and Jared Quance both offered their amazing expertise through a distance.  I had an entire community of support to help put me back together.

Life, and the setbacks associated with it, will always be a reason to laugh at yourself.
Life, and the setbacks associated with it, will always be a reason to laugh at yourself.

The next two months were fraught with setbacks, things I never shared with anyone. The pain would come back at very inopportune times while in rehab. I don’t know how many people have experienced nerve pain, but if you haven’t, please keep it that way. Crying in my bed at night seemed completely acceptable. And I developed serious headaches.

Eventually, I made adjustments to my diet and started losing weight at an accelerated rate. My muscles around the neck and back became stronger, and were able to support all of the rehab I was doing. It was doubly important for me to get stronger because Rocky Horror was around the corner.  A dozen setbacks from nerve pain led to 13 steps forward in my progress. Eventually, with the help of a focused personal trainer, CJ Nguyen, and waking up at 3:45 every morning to slowly rehab, I was able to declare myself completely ready for Rocky Horror. And Worlds Toughest Mudder.

Rocky Horror was an amazing success. Worlds? It was a partial victory.  Life wasn’t going to let me out of 2016 without my declaration of one final emotional “whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.” Don’t get me wrong: goals were reached all over the place (a really fun Thursday night event, over $100,000 raised by our beautiful fundraising team and 65 miles, a new PR). Most importantly: My spine wasn’t screaming anymore and my body wasn’t shit-tacular. But my headaches were not going away.

Fast forward. Two weeks after World’s Toughest Mudder, I went to New York City to see what the fuss was all about with Hamilton.  It just so happened to be immediately following the show Mike Pence attended.  It took me about two songs to really start to warm up to it, as it felt more like a revue than an actual musical.

While I gradually increased my love for the show throughout its progression, “One Last Time” was the point in which I fell for Hamilton. The song speaks to George Washington’s final decision to step away from the Office, which, in historical context, set a precedence for future presidents (oooo alliteration!) to step down after limited amounts of terms.

The lyrics I posted at the top will never leave me. As they were sung from the lips of Nicholas Christopher (the actor who created the illusion he was actually George Washington), something started to click in my mind. The final realization came into being when Christopher sang the following line:

“History has its eyes on you.”

2012. 100% Complete Newbie Contender coming through.

History. Legacy. The words had never been important to me. My job at work has always been focused on innovation, and I’ve always left it up to “historians” to write the life I’ve lived.

I’m ready to bookend my WTM history. And I’m ready to say good bye.

Forgetting about the bastardization of Alexander Hamilton’s actual history in the musical for a second, I would like to at least write down my 5 favorite moments at Worlds Toughest Mudder, one from each year:

The first pair of Worlds Toughest Mudder socks ever created.
The first pair of Worlds Toughest Mudder socks ever created.

2012. Absolutely freezing at 12AM, I duck into a med tent (as they used to be on course those days).  “Anyone have anything hot?” I ask as I pass some folks who are struggling under emergency blankets. The medic says “well, we have some freshly boiled soup!” “Thanks,” I said as I grab the cup and pour it on my foot. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. “That was just boiling less than 60 seconds ago,” she said, eyes wide open.  I look down at my foot, look back at her, shrug, and run out.

2013. Running at 2AM, I am going at a decent pace, in the middle of my 8th lap, right before Leap of Faith.  I hear a set of footsteps coming up right behind me, to which I shout out “Great job, man.” Passing me is Deanna Blegg, hauling ass and smoking my pace with ease.  “Thanks,” she said without looking back. “And it’s ‘Lady!'”

This was the first Orphan Tent purchase made in 2014. Obviously, it was fueled by logical and sound racing practices.
This was the first Orphan Tent purchase made. Obviously, it was fueled by logical and sound racing practices from the beginning.

2014. Ken Jacobus, the godfather of the Community, had set up his tent next to our first Orphan Tent. When he was taking a break from laps, he was helping us as people came through. Around 11PM, I started to leave for my next lap, noticing that the winds were really picking up. Before I left Tent City, the winds had swelled to hurricane speeds, so I went back to check on the Orphan Tent to make sure that everything was okay.  When I got back, I will never forget seeing Ken holding down our canopy and my orange VW Tent, which was massive.  “GOOOOOOO!!! JUST GOOOOO!!!!” he yells. It was a scene from a movie; better than Swingers at 4am.

2014 Honorable Mention. My final lap. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t pass on it and decided to run it.

2015. The entire event was a much different one, getting the privilege to run with Team Four Eyes(check them out on CBS Sports!). Late into the evening, we were all exceptionally tired.  Kara, our amazing Pit Crew said to us that we weren’t allowed to have alcohol till after the event was over.  Kc Hereth, one of our esteemed team members blurts out “DON’T TELL ME… WHAT TO DO WITH MAH LIFE!!!!”  While this was one of those moments where you had to be there, it was probably the funniest moment in my WTM history.

Sam and Karen, my extended family.
Sam and Karen, my extended family.

2016. Crossing the finish line and seeing Samantha and Karen Mahan smiling. I remembered what it was like to attend Carter’s funeral in 2014, Samantha’s son who passed away 21 months into his life.  Seeing her smile triggered my emotions to flood completely out of my soul, a release I’ve needed for years.  This release was the beginning of clearing my head, which has led to this eventual decision to say goodbye.

Absolutely amazing memories. They allow me to write my final chapter with a smile as I recite my personal WTM lifetime statistics, if for no other reason than to remind my 60-year-old self what I actually did:

  1. $150,000 money personally raised in three years for Wounded Warrior and St. Baldrick’s with the help of some incredible donors.
  2. Organized a team of fundracers who raised over $125,000 in 2016.
  3. Created deeply personal relationships.
  4. 3 Thursday night dinners
  5. Made it possible for 23 people to have experiences at Worlds Toughest Mudder.
  6. Co-created and co-funded the Orphan Tent with Melissa Dugan.
  7. Shared way too many laughs with Keith Allen… but not nearly enough.
  8. I suppose 245 lifetime miles should be on this list.
Yeah, I’ll miss WTM. But I kinda lead a very unique life.

And now, with one year left, I am setting my 2017 goals upfront, and the actual reason why I’m writing this so early. There is lots of work to do, and I will need the Community’s help to do it:

  1. There was a time when TMHQ gave an award to the person who raised the most money for charity.  None of us who actually raise money ever care about the accolades.  But TMHQ needs to reevaluate their removal of this special award and make it important again.  There are lots of donors who are completely in awe when I tell them about the event, and the 24 hour experience has motivated some of them to change their lives.  This event offers an incredible opportunity for people to fundraise and inspire others, and recognizing fundraisers furthers TMHQ’s mission of recognizing leaders.  In my opinion, fundraising is tougher than training for this event. #itsAllBeenFundraising
  2. The establishment of a Tough Mudder Hall of Fame is something I will continue to fight for. This isn’t something necessarily related to WTM.  The Friday night dinner that TMHQ puts on should be the TMHQ Hall of Fame induction event. And I think our first nominee should be Jim Campbell.
  3. I want one chance to represent my country at Worlds by singing the National Anthem.
  4. Less organizing and more spending time with the community on Thursday, Friday, and event leadup.
  5. 75 miles. What the hell, let’s go out with a bang.

I’ll never be too far away from WTM as a concept, but my days of organizing events and training specifically for WTM are coming to a close after 2017.  Thank you, WTM Community. I am blessed to always be a part of you.

Running towards my own vine and fig tree.
A way to live.

The Principles of “Fundracing”

12 years ago, I did my first fundraiser for Beyond The 11th.  It was founded by two American women, Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, who were widowed on 9/11. I thought it important to say they were “American” because Beyond The 11th’s mission is to aid widows in Afghanistan, one of the places I’ve heard several of my friends refer to as “the enemy.”  Both Susan and Patti had the courage and foresight to see beyond the rhetoric surrounding the deaths of their husbands, and focus on a hard truth; Afghan women were byproducts of a horrible war-torn land, and amongst the poorest and most oppressed in the entire world.

Beyond The 11th’s big push every year is to ride bikes from NYC to Boston in honor of the flights and fallen victims of 9/11.  I was moderately in shape, but I had never signed up for anything more than a lacrosse game at the time.  So, I agreed to join them for the last 100 miles of their bike ride.

It was the best choice I had ever made, because it helped me discover one of my favorite passions in life: Fundracing.

Fundracing /ˈfʌndˌreɪ.sɪŋ/
noun – marrying the decision to do a fundraising project with an upcoming race or event.

Over the past three years, I’ve been able to fundraise over $150,000 for various charities with the support of amazing people and communities.  Couple that with the exceptionally horrible mistakes I’ve made, and I have a few tips to stop you from making a complete fundracing ass out of yourself.

Fundracing is about personal connection, not money.

Making fundracing solely about the moolah is the biggest mistake we all make, yet is also the “Never feed them after midnight” rule from Gremlins.

I’m supporting St. Baldrick’s Foundation this year. Here’s why.

When I attended college, I became very close with a surrogate family after I lost my grandmother, the love of my life. I ate dinner with them most nights, slept over their house, told absolutely horrible jokes that they put up with, and became an unofficial member of their family. We were very close then, and even now, 20 years later and living on opposite coasts, we make it a point to keep in touch over all major events.

Such a major event started four years ago which would alter the course of the family’s history forever. His name was Carter Lolax… a beautiful son born on April 16, 2012. He loved doing things that most toddlers loved to do: riding on Dad’s tractor, run outside, dance to music (better than most humans, actually), and smile profusely in wonder of the world that he saw in front of him. The family’s joy of having him in the world was something you could feel when you were around them.

That joy always came with a very real fear that eventually turned to a living nightmare; Carter battled acute myeloid leukemia his entire life, eventually succumbing to it on January 21, 2014.

I’ll never forget the following week for as long as I live.  There’s no other way to describe it other than a feeling of total sadness.  Onto my point…

If you make a personal connection with your donors through your fundracing work, you have succeeded. Giving someone access to what’s in your heart is the key to many things in life, and fundracing is no different.  More interesting than the cause you represent, people want to know who you are and what makes you tick. Oblige them, and you’ll find yourself to be happier and more successful in fundracing than you ever imagined.

As part of finding that personal connection, it’s always good to ask of a potential donor if they’ve been affected by the horrible effects of your cause. It starts off the conversation in a very personal way without asking for details that could make a donor uncomfortable.

Sometimes people will simply want to support a cause you’re supporting, and that’s completely wonderful. But never forget that by giving money to you, they’re supporting you and your fundraising efforts.

Also, a sub rule that I firmly believe in: if you can’t come up with at least three reasons that this fundracer is important to you, then consider supporting another cause. I have given a ton of advice to folks, and the first thing I ask: “Why are you supporting this group?” If they don’t have their answers ready, I usually suggest that they look elsewhere to put their efforts.

Set a realistic goal. And if you don’t hit your goal, it’s okay.

A good fundracing strategy takes years to develop. My first Beyond The 11th fundrace I viewed as a total disaster, attempting to hit $10,000.00, and only raising $1300. I vowed that my goals would be more realistic, and that I would change my approach. The next year, I set $3,000 as my benchmark, and I reached $3,500. Many of the people who gave money to me were people from the year before. That’s when the cow bell in my primitive brain went off; time is an important factor in developing a fundracing relationship with friends, family, and co-workers.

Matching gifts are a Fundracer’s best friend.

The secret to my success is finding donors who work for corporations with a matching gifts program. There are lots of companies that will match the amount of money donated by your donor. Every dollar you get from them nets $2 for the cause. You can find a search engine for companies with matching gifts here: https://www.matchinggifts.com/rit/

Giveaways and raffles make for better fundracing than asking for straight money.

You might know someone who knows someone who knows someone who’s famous or has something really cool or priceless that they’re willing to part with.  Set up a raffle scenario in which you give away that thing in exchange for a donation to your cause. It’s a great way to generate interest, and rewards people to be good with an incentive.

It’s much more fun with a team of people.

This is the first time I’ve focused my efforts on asking others to help fundrace. It was the best decision I ever made; I don’t feel as if I’m working alone. I share stories with the folks on our team from a daily basis on how to better approach fundraising. As well, I have made new friends and have learned things about people I would never have known. Plus, I see our totals going up almost on a daily basis, and I’m not pushing as hard as I have in the past to achieve my personal goals.

Almost everything is better with a team of people. This year, we have almost 30 participants on our team shaving their head for St. Baldrick’s at World’s Toughest Mudder. And they are all amazing people, from a financial advisor in New York, to a multiple year winner of World’s Toughest Mudder.

It is absolutely rewarding for me to see a diverse group of people get together to raise money to end children’s cancer.

Carter would be flattered. I know his family is.

St. Baldrick’s and Beyond the 11th are both really amazing groups.  Please support our fundracing efforts to $100,000 this year for World’s Toughest Mudder, and check out Beyond The 11th.

Next: Talent.