Jim Asker

Cancer survivor, cool guy, runner, monster fundraiser and technology impaired writer.

Nov 232014
 

Hello everyone! Great news from the running trails… our team is beginning to grow, and we have already put thousands of dollars on the board for for Gilda’s Club Nashville.

Wait a second.

You might not be aware of Gilda’s Club and their mission. Gilda’s Clubs are located in many cities around the country, named after the late and truly great Gilda Radner. Gilda, fighting ovarian cancer, wanted to do something for other people fighting cancer. So, along with her husband Gene Wilder, they decided to launch something great– where everyone would be welcomed warmly and aided in their battle against a wretched disease, which rages on, 25 years after Gilda passed. She died in 1989.

Gilda Radner, one of the original SNL cast members, would be smiling down if she got a glance at the Gilda’s Club in Nashville. The building sits on Division Street right off of Music Row. You may have heard that there’s a hotel going up right beside it (Lord knows we need more hotels, condos, apartments and overrated-overpriced-pretentious restaurants for the many who are moving to ‘It City USA’).

When I fought lymphoma I was actively involved with Gilda’s Club.  However, I didn’t want to be at first. The day I walked in, because a friend talked me into going, it was early on in my battle. I was skinny, weak and didn’t really want to talk with anyone.

I sat on one of their big comfy couches, my ball-cap pushed way down over my eyes, and the Gilda of Nashville, Felice, sat down next to me. I did not want to be there, but she was really nice, in a caring way. She asked about my cancer, what was going on, and how she could help. I told her I was visiting because I promised someone that I would, but that I probably wouldn’t be coming back. Even though I was pretty close to the grave at that point, I was still in that denial stage that hits a big percentage of cancer patients. I didn’t want to say the word. I didn’t want to be around a bunch of other people that were also dealing with cancer. I wanted to be in one place…bed.

I have forgotten so much that transpired during that period. Other memories are etched in stone, like a bunch of selfies stuck in my brain. This recollection happens to be one of those. “You promise me you’ll come to a support group here just once, and if you don’t like it you never have to come again.

When a passionate woman gives me an order I’m not one to fight, so I told Felice I would.

She wrote down the date and time of the meeting, handed it to me, and said she’d be expecting me. I almost backed out. The meeting was on the same day as a chemo treatment and I wanted to rest. But a promise is a promise, so I got myself there. After that, I went every week for the next 2-years at least, continuing until after I was in remission. Not only that, but no matter how sick I was on meeting day; I couldn’t wait to get there. Gilda’s became a ‘safe place.’ You could tell everyone you were sick of the whole stupid ordeal– or felt like absolute dog crap– they’d understand. We told each other our major fears and what we were angriest about. There was never any judgment or lectures, just support.

After I started getting healthy, I started running again. To say that was a long and trying process would be an understatement. I ran my first half marathon in my new life, in 2009. Almost exactly 2 years after going into remission. The battle to run again was not as difficult as fighting lymphoma, but pretty damn hard. I would jog for a couple minutes, my legs would shake…sometimes I’d fall from being dizzy. I’d get up—do it again—then it was 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and finally, a mile.

I think that anyone that wasn’t affected by cancer doesn’t understand and finds it difficult to wrap their mind around this one big fact; the damage from chemo stays with you forever, many symptoms don’t show up until years later. Eventually I did the half marathon and then other races. To date, I have run 6 full-marathons since going into remission. I have also raised a good amount of money, about $100,000. All of it went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and their fitness program Team in Training. Later on I became a Coach, and became very attached to the program. And no secret here, in some ways, I still am.

When I was with TNT, I’d see Felice from time to time and I’d feel guilty (I grew up Catholic). Once she kiddingly said something like, ‘when are you going to raise a little money for us?’

Last summer I suggested to my running friend and good pal, Jim Brown (who lost his awesome wife Dori to cancer), that we try to start up a little team, train for a marathon, and raise some money for Gilda’s. Jim has already raised thousands for Gilda’s, and for TNT. But he immediately said he was in. From there we contacted other running friends/fundraisers, and started recruiting. My first call was to Ted Sanft because I can’t help start a team without Ted. I’m not very technical. He does all of that for me (including the posting of this blog). I thought that Ted, Jim and I would balance each other well. Jim is Mr. Positive; a great guy, fantastic fundraiser & recruiter, and always even handed yet passionate. Ted does all of those technical things I just mentioned and a lot more. He’s also a great fundraiser and recruiter. My role… is to be a major pain– make people feel guilty if they don’t join the team, fail to show up on Saturdays etc.

But here’s the deal. I brought them both in, we enlisted a bunch of teammates, chose a marathon to run (Louisville), and then I abruptly decided that this was not a good time for me. “I’m out boys.” Yes, I left my buddies holding the bag, after suggesting the whole thing in the first place.

Truth is, I’m not in the music industry anymore, and besides, I have tapped out my friends. I’ve been to the well way too many times. And I’m really in a place where a lot has to be worked out personally. I wasn’t up for raising money for anyone, no matter how great the cause, even Gilda’s.

Then I thought about Felice, promising her that I would raise money for them at some point. A promise is a promise, and even though a lot of people don’t want to hear about it anymore—I’m still a cancer survivor—stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I know that I probably can’t raise as much money as I did in my best seasons with TNT; $25,000 when I ran Dublin, $40,000 (with Ted), the year we were supposed to run New York (Sandy got in the way), plus $17,000 here, $11,000 there. I have bugged a lot of people for donations.

But what the hell.

They can say no—some already have. Other old friends just ignore, maybe even discard my emails. That’s not okay with me either…I take everything personally. On the other hand, many have already come through again. They’ve been there time and time for me. I’m hoping others will too. Like I said, I’m still a cancer survivor, so I’ll keep asking. Truth is, I don’t know how many more marathons I can do—we never know when it’s our last race. Also….Gilda’s is a great cause… and way, way, way too many people are still fighting cancer.

So here we go people.

We‘re already out there on the trails—slogging it out. We ran 8-miles this morning. I use that word ‘run’ in the loosest way. To be honest, it’s kind of ugly—Lord knows I feel chubby…older…fatigued…etc. But life, as in fighting cancer, is about putting one foot in front of the other, for as long as we possibly can.

Also, the great news about this, our little team has already raised over $8,500 for Gilda’s Club Nashville. That’s awesome, and it’s mainly because of Ted and Jim B. I’m doing okay– I climbed over $1,000 this week. Plus…what I am really excited about, we have some very good fundraisers on our team. They are just about to get rolling. I’m really happy that we’ve got Erin Stryker with us…that girl can raise some money, and we have the great Carol Rolfes, my awesome friends Jenaca Smith, Kristen Parker, and many more that I’ll be talking about in future posts. All of these folks are the kind of people that chip and help, even if it’s someone else’s fundraising event, like a concert or auction. They’re really selfless, generous folks; the likeminded type of soul that gravitates to a journey like this. And that’s the best part about showing up early on a Saturday morning to bang out 10 miles or so, even when it’s 20-degrees and snowing.

We’re gonna make some noise with this group. It’s TEAM DORI by the way, named in honor of Dori Brown, Jim’s late wife. She fought this horrible disgusting thing with more dedication, strength, and grace, then anyone I have ever seen. I know Jim and his family miss her terribly. I only knew her a short time. But I do too. In fact the last time she texted me; shortly before she passed—she said, “keep raising money.”  And how do you say no to a tough passionate woman. You can’t.

Now I’ll ask you. Can you give a few bucks?

I know it’s the holidays—but it’s never a good time to ask for money. If you can give $5 or $500, we appreciate it just the same. Just click this link and give what you can to a great cause… and thank you!

Jim

Donate by clicking HERE!

Jan 222013
 

The current Team In Training season has been in progress now for seven weeks, not including recruitment meet-up’s, coaches meetings and other events that help us gear up for the new season.

This year is a little different in that all of our different groups are lopped in together- some are doing the half-marathon for Country Music, others are doing the full-marathon for Country Music—another group is doing the Flying Pig in Cincinnati and another bunch the Rock n’ Roll San Diego—it makes me a bit discombobulated just saying it.

The deal is though, that all of these fine, giving souls are raising money for the cause that I am strongly attached to—the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, where 74-100% of all money raised goes directly to research, to find a cure for blood cancers. As a lymphoma survivor I am extra appreciative.

There are a lot of new people wearing TNT Purple this year—that is beyond awesome (and how over-used is that word ‘awesome anyways!). At any rate I think most of these new people haven’t a clue that I’m a ‘survivor.’ In fact, for a lot of them, I think I’m just this guy who shows up on Saturday morning and tries to get everyone’s attention, while they fidget and try to keep warm, wishing that we coaches would shut the hell up, so they can get the run over with because it’s 7am and freezing cold!

This past Saturday, to be honest I was hurting—I felt weak and tired and being out there was probably the last place that I wanted to be. If this part of my message sounds ‘self-serving,’ that’s because it is.

For cancer survivors, it never ends—no matter how many years that you are outside of actually having cancer—there is always something that you’re dealing with—and I am sure that fellow survivors can relate here—while you don’t want to talk about it anymore, you want people to just understand, that you didn’t have a cold and you’re now over it—it’s a lifetime of complications, doctor and hospital visits, pokes, prodding, never ending prescriptions and side effects—and it can be really fatiguing.

For me– I had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—it wasn’t a bad bout with the flu or strep throat- it was cancer!
If you have a cancer survivor in your sphere, try to keep that in mind—if they say that they’re tired, they’re probably exhausted. If they admit that they’re not feeling well—they most likely feel a lot worse then they’re putting out there.

So this cancer survivor, me, runs. That’s because I ran a marathon 3 months before I was diagnosed with lymphoma, and while sometimes I truly struggle with God’s plan for what I’m to do…this part I know—I am supposed to keep running, keep recruiting others to run, and keep raising money—until I can’t anymore.

At this point, getting people’s attention to donate seems as difficult as getting the group’s attention on Saturday mornings. They would just like you to stop talking so they can get on with their own deal.

And so that’s why, when so many others have been posting fundraisers on Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, direct mail and I’m proud of all of them—I have been pretty silent.

I tell my team to ask people til your blue in the face and if the people don’t like it… well that’s their problem—yet when it comes to me—I’m just a bit paralyzed so far this season.

But that needs to end. Now.

So, here we go—if I can’t raise one more dollar so be it, but this is my cause—what I’m supposed to be doing—so if I stop now it’s kind of like giving up in the middle of chemo treatments.

And that ain’t happening.

For all of the cancer patients, who are fighting for their lives as we speak-this is for them. And for me. Because I was one of them.

Even if it’s just $1 or $5 I would really appreciate you giving to LLS—there are a lot of causes out there—great causes- but this is mine and I’m asking.

Will you help!

Just visit www.runningtocurecancer.org and give what you can- please.

And though maybe I almost did a few times in the past several months…No Retreat, No Surrender.’

Thank you-
Jim

Nov 122012
 

On the morning of Sunday, November 4th, the lobby of the Westin Grand Central was buzzing, full of people with their running clothes on—but something was missing. Only a few of the 100 or so runners gathered, were wearing their coveted numbers for the NY Marathon that was scheduled for that morning.

The reason of the cancellation of course was the horrific storm, Hurricane Sandy, which caused so much pain, devastation and too many senseless deaths in the New York, New Jersey areas. Because the NY Marathon is such a major event, it seemed like the cleanup for Sandy had not even started yet, when the media started beating the drum for whether the race would be cancelled and should it be cancelled.

Like every other person training for this race, I had been getting in my miles for months, and like many of the runners, I was not just running the race for the medal—we had been raising money for cancer research for Team In Training and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. My little team of 3 raised about $28,000. There was more to this agenda than just running. Team In Training was started 24 years ago at this very NY Marathon- and to date we’ve raised almost $1 billion and helped fund about 37 drugs in the fight against blood cancers. There are many great causes…but this is my cause. And it’s personal. I’m a lymphoma survivor.

Team In Training contacted us early that week and offered a switch. We could transfer our funds to another race—and they were good ones—we could run either Paris or Honolulu. The discussions were on.

I went to bed that night thinking that the race may be cancelled anyways-that it probably should be cancelled. I felt a little selfish even. The next morning however, Mayor Bloomberg appeared on the Today Show. The race would go on—he was emphatic and emotional. It was to be a healing event for the city and its citizens.

The next day I made my decision. As tempting as Paris seemed—I have never been there—it would have to wait. I thought that even if the course was a mess—even if only half the 50,000 registered participants showed up- I needed to go—I had blogged about it, held fundraisers, bugged friends….and trained. I wanted to support New York City—and the people there. But mainly….mainly….I had to run for the people that I raised money for. If they were fighting for their lives against this wretched disease, the least I could do was get myself on a plane and run this race. I had no doubts that this had to be my decision.

When we arrived in the city, LaGuardia Airport seemed eerily quiet. I thought maybe we landed in Binghamton by mistake. When we got to the Expo and picked up our race registrations, the mood actually seemed upbeat-I thought we may actually do this thing—I clutched my race number in my hand all the way back to the hotel—I didn’t even put it in my bag—I wanted to make sure that it was right there in sight.

It was Friday night in New York City—we were going to walk about 7 blocks to the Midtown Hilton—the site of the TNT Inspirational Dinner—we were scheduled to gather in the lobby and meet the rest of our Teammates—many who travelled further than we did, some from as far as Alaska. As soon as I got off the elevator I saw that I had several texts proclaiming, “The race had been cancelled.” I thought it had to be a mistake but the texts flowed in….then phone calls—it seemed like the calls came all night. We had a quick Team meeting and I immediately felt badly for our TNT staff person there, Sue, who had to now put a positive spin on the field trip weekend we were about to have, after the letdown of finding out the race had been called off. Essentially, Sue did an amazing job—we ended up having a really good weekend—I think mainly because she wouldn’t allow any of us to be negative—we had to remember why we were going to do this in the first place and stop brooding!

First of all—none of us disagreed with the cancellation of the race—we disagreed with the timing—thousands of people had flown in—many of them if not most, from other countries! It seemed like a train wreck, a major one.

There was also a good amount of animosity from people in New York towards the marathon. I can understand that too. But I didn’t hear a word from anyone about canceling the NY Giants game in New Jersey that same night—how can that be—all of those thousands of vehicles using all that precious gasoline to get to the stadium? The use of all that electricity, while literally millions were without heat? Where was the outcry? There was also a NY Knicks game at Madison Square Garden and a NY Nets game in Brooklyn that both went on, not to mention Broadway Shows…etc….etc. So, I was a bit baffled about the outrage specifically directed at the race. It seemed to feel like many thought that we were all a bunch of prima-donnas who thought we were entitled to run our little race.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The icing on the cake was the hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from running friends back in Tennessee….some who suggested “I told You so,” and others who sort of self righteously pounced on the situation with an “it should be cancelled!” This surprised, even saddened me a bit, because many of these folks are our TNT Teammates, who know our intentions.

We ended up going for a long run as a Team that morning that was to be race day—we ran the last 10 miles of the course, and then a loop around Central Park—when we entered the park we joined thousands of runners who seemed quite joyous. Many flew the flags of their respective countries—Italy, France, Norway and many more. I admired their spirit. And I admired the spirit of the many who boarded the Staten Island Ferry and went to the site of where the race would have started—but on this day they carried hammers instead of water bottles—many spent entire hours and hours helping citizens rebuild.

The folks with the NY Marathon are still trying to figure out what they’ll do, if anything for the thousands of runners who spent the $275 or so to register for the race, not to mention the money spent on expensive NY hotel rooms and plane fare and other expenses.

Most of the people I talked to think that they’ll try and come back next year and and make another attempt at this. I don’t know if I will or not—right now I think not but we’ll see-as we all know, a lot can change in a year.

But for now, there are races to run and money to raise. In a couple of weeks I will be doing the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis—mainly as a good faith measure to the many generous people who made donations to my fundraising for NY, but also and honestly, because I have run so many damn miles the last 6-months training for this, that I may as well do a marathon!

After that Ted Sanft, Mike Oland and I will be training for the San Diego Marathon and continuing to raise money for cancer research. We have to—too many people are fighting cancer.

The 2012 New York Marathon has been cancelled. Unfortunately, cancer has not been cancelled. A cure has yet to be found.

So the fight goes on.

Would you please make a donation….just visit our website and find the ‘donation’ button at www.runningtocurecancer.org. Whatever you can spare, even a few dollars would be greatly appreciated.

With sincere thanks-

Jim Asker

Jun 302012
 

I wonder how many times these words were uttered by passers-by this morning—“hey honey look at those idiots out there running in this heat…they must be crazy!”

Well, I’m proud to say, that I was one of those kooks out there running this morning, and there were a lot of us! We ran one of my favorite courses, Grassland, in the Franklin area, so there were lots of cyclists, runners, and big vehicles flying by like they were angry to see runners. It really would be nice for drivers to slow down when they see runners and bikers on the road—God forbid they run 30 seconds late for that biscuit at McDonalds.

Anyways, Ted and I, training for the New York Marathon, joined up with the Team In Training folks this morning. We’re not really part of the Team, but with the Flex program we’re doing we’re invited to join them. Coach Christopher and his Mentors and participants were all really nice and welcoming.

So, being the kind of runner I am, I sometimes have no idea how far I’ll do, until I get out there. I thought it would be either 8 or 10 or 12 miles. If you do 12 at Grassland, the turn-around is at this cute little white church where the nice people leave the doors open so we can use the bathrooms, and maybe say a quick prayer that you can make the 6 miles back to the finish.

I decided to run about 10 and a half miles, and ended up alone by the time I turned around—Alex, one of the mentors, who is a lot younger and faster, waited for me at the water stop, and was kind enough to tow me in the last 3 miles. By the end it was probably 92 degrees and felt like 110.

But guess what. It’s fine. I feel beat up and tired, maybe even a little discouraged that I have some weight to lose– but on a hot, syrupy day, when most people chose to stay inside in their air-conditioning, we were out there getting it done.

As I was running, I was thinking about one of my Wilco teammates, Sarah, whose grandmother is battling cancer, and is back in the hospital. Sarah was one of my favorite teammates. She’s just a tough cookie, and she ran the Country Music Half Marathon, 20-weeks into her pregnancy. She ran for her grandmother and I can still remember the Mission Moment that she gave, when she spoke so fondly of her. So I prayed for them as I ran, and was thankful, that I’m able to be out there, heat and all.

None of us know when it’s our last race. I’m a cancer survivor, and I don’t take it lightly that I am able to run for those who can’t. So yeah, a little heat, bring it. Things can be a lot worse.

And for a lot of people they are worse—so we run for those who can’t.

Ted and Sammi and I are running the New York Marathon and our fundraising goal is $100,000. We’ve raised enough money now where just about everything we raise goes to cancer research. For people like Sarah’s grandma and everyone else fighting right now.

We might not make that $100,000 goal by November 4th, the day of the big NY Marathon—in fact we probably won’t. I intended for this to be a ‘year’ of fundraising, so I hope to hit $100,000 by spring. And honestly, it’s tough out there. I have raised money before, a good amount in fact—so a lot of my friends, who have been so generous previously, have about had it. I understand.

So there will be other sources—the money will come from somewhere. It has to- or Ted and Sammi may never speak to me again for one since this figure was my dumb idea!

But we have to, because too many people are fighting cancer. Too many people have relapsed. We have to find a cure.

I heard the other night, that after the Supreme Court’s decision on health care, that both the Obama and Romney camps raised over a million dollars each—in one night. So, if people can kick in money, so we can hear wall-to-wall attack ads for the next 6 months—we can’t raise $100,00 to cure cancer???!!!!

Sounds crazy right? So yeah, we have to.

If you can’t give, please pass this along to a friend or relative or post the link on your Facebook page, Twitter it, etc, and please help us okay.

Maybe running 10 miles in 100 degrees is worthy of a $25 pledge—if so—please click this link, and know that we appreciate every dollar more then you know.

Thank you!

Jim

May 232012
 

Spring is my favorite season, it always has been. When I was a kid, growing up in snowy and cold Upstate NY, I’d start the countdownevery year in December, right after the shortest day of the year. I was never a fan of winter, and spring was the beginning of baseball season, the home-stretch for school, and longer days. Even in grey Upstate NY, we may see the sun occasionally.

To this day, I still really love spring–just feeling the sun on my face lifts me up. However, since 2005, spring has a lot of emotional feelings that roll in with that big shiny sun.

I was diagnosed with cancer on May 23rd, 2005.

Today is my anniversary, and it’s a challenge to draw a picture for anyone else to see. And I hate feeling self absorbed anyways, so I normally choose not to bother people with it—but this year is different. So here’s a ‘snapshot’ of what would take 10-12 pages to tell the entire ordeal.

The 23rd is also my birthday. Yep, I was diagnosed with stage-4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on my b-day. I am hoping it was God’s way of icing the cake with a nice little cherry that will make for a fine book or movie one day and make me a boatload of money. Or, maybe it was the punch line of the ultimate cruel joke. I prefer the happy version.

At any rate, running is a diversion from just hiding under the bed all-day, as if I could fit anyways. So, I am hoping to go for a nice long run later. I think only runners would think that’s a good way to spend your birthday–to anyone else I would sound like a complete loon. But aside from just being a distraction, and fun, there’s lots of other personal significance to running.

In February of 2005, I ran a full 26.2 mile marathon in New Orleans. My oncologist said that the reason that I was feeling so sick that day was because I most likely had stage 2 cancer at the time. It was brutal and slow–but I finished–not knowing as I crossed the finish line that day, that I’d not run again for the next two and a half years.

During that 2 and a half year period, I remember one day in particular, while lying in bed and watching TV, I flipped to one of the channels carrying ‘live’ coverage of the Country Music Marathon. I turned it off immediately. It was too painful to watch. At the time I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to ever be active again, and honestly, I was envious of everyone there.

That was a moment when I thought that I really had no understanding of healthy people who didn’t like to exercise. What a waste of a gift. And I remember praying that if I lived, that I’d be able to run again.

The road back was not so easy. After going into remission I could only run 1-2 minutes at a time before my legs would give out, then I worked up to 3-5 minutes, then finally a whole mile. That was a big day.

So, today, training for the New York Marathon means a lot–not just for me, but all of those people in bed now who can’t.

That may sound self-serving to some people, but that’s okay. I know what my intentions are and why I do this, and if we based our actions on everyone else’s approval, we’d never get out of bed in the morning.

So the truth is–we run for those who can’t. I understand that well–I have no idea how long I’ll be able to do this. Pre-cancer, I never had physical issues. I had a good run!

But it’s different now.

Chemotherapy beats the living crap out of your joints, and the affects last for the rest of your life. A lot of people don’t get that part. But in the past two years I’ve had knee surgery, a torn hamstring and a torn calf muscle- and yes I know I’m crazy.

The NY Marathon is November 4th and together with my little Team NY, which is 3 people, Ted, Sammi and me, we need to raise $100,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 

The money that you give goes to cancer research–and it works. I’m alive because of it- and now we run for those who can’t.

Will you do me a favor–pass this on to whomever you think might relate to this story- and maybe some nice, giving billionaire will put us over the top with one click of the link- that would be the best birthday present ever.

In the meantime, would you think about giving today?

Even if it’s 5 or 10 dollars-it all helps- and we appreciate you more than you know!

So on behalf of Team New York, and Sammi, Ted, and everyone who wears Team in Training Purple, thank you for helping to find the ultimate finish line– a cure.

No Retreat…No Surrender!

Now please click this link and give!

Thank You!!

May 032012
 

This past weekend 30,000 runners converged on Downtown Nashville for the Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon.

Out of those 30,000, 24 were my folks, the Williamson County Team In Training Team–the mighty Team Wilco!

We have been training together, since November, and have met as a Team, every Saturday morning for the past 6 months. I must say that in that time span, we managed to develop a bond that I’ve not experienced to this degree previously, not collectively like this.

We were all pretty proud of our group and probably a little territorial. I think I became a ‘den mother’ along the way, and on race day, as I stood in my place on the course, at times I was truly like a worried mom. It was hot as hell and muggy, and you know… those hills! Also, I knew a couple of them had been sick- really sick.

Both Bethany’s and Morgan, and Joe were all battling illness but they gutted it out like the true champs that they are- I love you girls (and guy), for that fighting spirit. You might not have gotten the race-times that you wanted but you finished a hard race, on a tough day, while you were sick! You are true rock stars.

Keep in mind that most of our training was in cool to cold conditions, and of course, come race day, the temperature was turned on big time and it was humid!

But it was a glorious weekend. The Inspirational Dinner was Friday night, and I must say, my Team looked fantastic– the women had flipped a dollar bill in my living room to decide whether it would be “dressy” or more of a “runners” look for the affair-“dressy” won and the girls looked great- the boys did too to be honest. Traffic was horrendous getting to the Doubletree, which is a nightmare to get to on a good day, and my team, runs late when there’s no traffic– but somehow they all made it.

I was asked to be one of the speakers for the dinner, and though I tell people I would just wing it- friends who know me well, know better. I prepared for weeks. The reason I wanted to do well was mainly because I didn’t want to choke in front of my team- most of them had not heard my cancer survivor story, so I wanted to knock it out of the park for them. There was about 500 or so people on hand- TNT runners and guests from all over the U.S.

I think it went fine, except they said I needed to keep my talk to 10 minutes. I just go from notes and never time these things, so I figured I went overtime by a couple of minutes. I got back to my table and asked Ted, one of my 3 awesome Mentors, how long it was- I was sure he’d be timing me, because it’s Ted…of course he would time it- so, he goes, ‘ do you really want to know?’ And I was like, of course- “18 minutes” oops.

Before I got up to speak they announced the top 10 fundraisers– the participants who really shot the lights out. My teammate Sarah Thomas was 2nd in the nation and #1 for Tennessee– she raised $8,000 for the research of blood cancers. Sarah ran for her grandma who is battling cancer- lots of the Team Wilco folks, unfortunately, have a direct connection to the cause.

Over the course of the season I became fond of every member of this Team, and I was Sarah’s number 1 fan– I mean what’s not to love about a woman that’s 20 weeks pregnant, showed up almost every Saturday, and raises all that money–she ran a great race too. She’s amazing.

I’m a fan of everyone on Team Wilco – I’m so happy that they all finished- they all crossed the finish line!

So that’s it for the mighty Team Wilco.

Great job people– Every one of you- so let me thank some of them right now.

Ashley, my awesome mentor who I recruited personally a long time ago- you rock Ash- Glorisa my awesome Mentor, who I recruited last fall- great job Glorisa– and Ted, one of my partners in crime (along with Sammi), for the New York Marathon, who I also recruited, and who I depend on for so many things- tremendous job Theodore.

These Mentors don’t get enough thanks and most Saturdays they’re helping the other runners. They are giving volunteers for TNT and for Team Wilco, I could not have done this without them. I know I was a pain sometimes, but I loved my mentors!

So thank you Mentors- you rock in all ways!

And thank you Team! Amanda, Amber, Angela, Bethany A, Bethany L, Carissa, Christopher, Danielle, David, Devon, Florian, James, Jill, Joe, Lee, Mike, Morgan, Pat, Sarah, Tonda, Valerie, and Veronica.

I mention them all, because they were all part of the very best Team a new Coach could ask for.

I know bands get together for reunion tours- I don’t think a TNT Running Team ever has done a reunion- but if it were ever possible– I would love it for TEAM WILCO to gather once again and take the journey– for they are a very extraordinary, sort of rebellious, a bit rag tag, more often than not tardy, ass kicking, giving, thoughtful, selfless, remarkable, and totally  ‘bad ass’ team of teams!

So long for now Team– I love you and miss you already. Shot block omelets and pancakes with blueberry Goo at my house soon!

And now on to the next journey– for Ted, Sammi and me, it’s time to rock this fundraising into high gear. We will be running the New York Marathon this November, and trying to raise $100,000 for LLS, so we need your help big time!

If it matters, I ran 18 miles chasing my Team around on Saturday– and if that’s not enough, I’m doing a little 26.2 mile practice run at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati this weekend—so I hope that would warrant a $25 donation right!

I mean really…we’re curing cancer here!

So in honor of the great Team Wilco, who just completed a journey with grace…. please click this link!

And thank you!!

Jim

Apr 202012
 

As we come up on our very last ‘Group Training Session’ of the season, before the big race next week, I have been reflecting a lot on the start of this season, way back in November. It’s not that long ago–but it has been a long journey. This was my first season as a ‘coach’ for TNT–I guess that completes a journey for me as well, since I started with TNT back in 1998 when I did Boston for this great cause, and followed that up with New York in 2000. Strange. I never worked out with the Team back then, never met a coach, mentor or any of the other Teammates–but I did run in Purple and I raised a good amount of money– but keeping it real, I never thought about the people that I was running for–not out of selfishness or anything like that–like many people, I had no experience with cancer, and I had no idea what lymphoma or leukemia was.

Five years after New York, I was hit with stage-4 non hodgkins lymphoma. When I was sick, people that I didn’t even know were out there running for me–and because of that, I am alive. And although it has not been easy–I am able to run again–so now I run for those who can’t, with a $100,000 goal for this year. As you can imagine it means a lot, and it would also mean a lot if you gave us a donation–simply visit www.runningtocurecancer.org and click the donation link. There are people out there who are fighting for their lives right now who would thank you–but they can’t- not yet–so I’ll handle that for them- THANK YOU!

Here is something that I sent to my Team in the early stages of the group–it was just an email describing the entire process, as I see it, of joining the program and sticking with it from start to finish, starting with attending a TNT Recruitment meeting.

It’s not easy, but it sure is worth it. I have 25 awesome people, including Ted, Glorisa, and Ashley–my wonderful Mentors–who are about to complete this trip– they are currently at about 125% for the fundraising goal that was set for Team Wilco– as I said many times before but really mean it–Team Wilco is just ‘bad ass’ in every way.

So here’s the fictional story that I came up with to encourage Team Bad Ass….and we weren’t exactly so ‘bad’ in the beginning–I am not sure if anyone even read it to be honest–so check it out now!

And of course…GO TEAM! 

Jim


Dear TEAM:

I had said there would be another email, and here it is–I wanted to address, in my own words about why these first GROUP TRAINING SESSIONS (GTS’) are so important and how it may even be a little bit of a struggle to get there. I hope you take the time to read this- it’s all sincere.

In my experience with TEAM IN TRAINING, which has now covered every aspect, first as a participant, then a patient who was reaping the benefits of the research that the money you raise pays for– then a mentor and fund-raiser, and now coach. I have had a lot of time to think about the steps of this process- I know many that have experienced all of this from start to finish-

1) First you have to hear about Team In Training–maybe you had a friend who did it and lost weight in the process or a friend or relative who was hit with a blood cancer– or you simply saw the flyers and got yourself to a TNT recruitment meeting.

2) Getting yourself to the recruitment meeting is the first big step–you were curious enough to get home from work, have someone watch your kids, and get to the meeting

3) Once you arrived at the meeting, you most likely watched the TNT video, which still makes me want to sign up, even after watching it 5,000 times–next you heard a Coach, Mentor, and TNT Office Representative speak.

4) You may have gotten so caught up in the moment that you registered that night–most do–and then you have to go home and tell your spouse what you just did–“are you kidding,” says your hubby. “What about the kids–how are you going to raise all that money!”
*Note that many times the scenario is on a more positive note but just roll with me here and assume that it was not great.

5) You have 2 weeks til’ the first GTS–the holidays are coming up–you’re feeling guilty about making hubby watch the kids for a whopping 90-minutes on Saturday morning–you have trips planned for the holidays to the in laws in Michigan and your family in Atlanta. You can’t possibly make the first GTS, so you plan for the 2nd–some pain in the neck TNT coach calls to see what’s going on and you delete the message 4 seconds in–by this point hubby stops talking about it hoping it ain’t gonna happen–and so what that you spent $50 or $100 already to register–no big deal–it’ll go to a good cause

6) You think about getting to that 2nd GTS–you’d love to do this, get in great shape–put that 13.1 sticker on your car–raise the money, help the world be a better place– but really- can I really raise that money–we have to buy all kinds of video games and gadgets for the kids for Christmas and I’m supposed to buy running shoes at $100 or more!  And I also feel guilty about this being selfish…so….what do I do?

7) The phone rings again–now it’s one of those pesky chicks from the LLS office–followed by your mentor calling–and you go to bed that night weighing the whole thing in your head, maybe getting out of bed and going to the computer and the TNT website while what’s his name drifts off to sleep- you watch the video again–it gets to you, and you think how great it would be to do this, raise some money, make a difference, and get that 13.1 sticker.

8) In the morning (it’s Friday by the way), you tell your husband that you’re going to go out and buy running shoes–and that you’re doing this after all. With that, you whisk out the door and get yourself to the running store–not even turning around to look at what’s his name, so his facial expressions don’t get to you.

9) On Saturday,You show up at GTS and the first time in a long, long time you’re running maybe 2-3 miles. It feels very gratifying. Before running you met some really nice people and notice that they’re all ages,shapes and sizes–and you think “I can really do this!”  You also heard a Mission Moment from someone running for a relative or friend going through cancer, and you think how this money you’re about to raise, may just keep someone alive- you’re starting to feel good-

10) Weeks later you run 10-miles for the first time in your life, you’ve made a lot of great friends and have hit your $1200 fundraising minimum. Back at home you see that everything is okay without you for a couple of hours on Saturday mornings. And you even like getting up early to go see your new friends on Saturdays–by this point, you find yourself looking forward to the next GTS by Tuesday.

11) You finish the race–and crossing that finish line is better than you imagined–you find yourself crying and hugging people that will now become lifelong friends–you’re hooked and you did it!!  On top of that,  your family is proud of you for sticking with this program and completing a half marathon! Mom is a hero.

12) The 13.1 sticker goes on your back window and it feels pretty damn good parking that baby at Publix.

See you Saturday Team- the journey has just begun-

Jim

Apr 132012
 

We are down the stretch for this current journey with Team In Training. As of today, there are 15 days to go before the Team I am coaching lines up to run 13.1 miles in the Country Music Half Marathon. Believe it or not–there are a few teammates, who will be doing that for the very first time–not just a half marathon but the first race…period!!

No 5k’s, 10k’s, ‘Fun Run’ 1-milers, 1k Walks with their puppy-dogs….nope… nada!

I must say that while I didn’t sign up for it, I have even enjoyed taking several of them over to Fleet Feet to get fitted for running shoes, by my friend Drew— and I will always smile when I think back on the day that I was saying hi to him, and then the expression on his face when he looked up, only to see Angela, who I had sent to see Drew originally weeks before, and was now returning her running shoes …for the 4th time! “Oh no.” was all he said, okay he might have uttered a few other things, but he was sweet as can be in the 2hrs he spent with her– as she picked out pair number five. I blew out before the first hour was up. I said it was fun, but even good fun can become well, hell, after shopping with a woman for more than an hour. I’m happy to say that Ang did fine with those shoes. And since she’s missed over half the Saturday GROUP TRAINING SESSIONS (GTS’), they’re no doubt as good as new.

Just kidding Angela!

But getting back to this being the first race for some–I also have some veterans and a wide range of paces. My Wilco Team is bad ass in all ways. Sarah, now 16 weeks pregnant, if I’m adding correctly, ran a 12 miler in just over 2 hrs last week and that’s slow for her. In addition, as we speak, Sarah is also the top fundraiser in Tennessee for TNT as she closes in on $8,000-  On days when I’m not feeling well, I think of Sarah and sometimes, depending on the day, I can reach down and pull some strength  that I didn’t think I had that day.

Team In Training runners have the ability to inspire each other because we are kind of like minded in many ways.

So the paces run from really fast- Pat, Bethany A (who has gone from 10 min miles when the season started to 8’s now and is going to crush this race)–then the other fast ones are Bethany L, our exchange student FlorianChristopherJoe, Morgan, Amanda, Angela and Veronica.

That’s all I’ll mention for now- but we also have a good size mid pack. And in running it’s just a fact, that people will end up in the back. Many times it’s me, especially when I don’t feel well. And by the way, what’s the point of surviving stage 4 cancer if you can’t use it as an excuse some days!

I don’t accept running in the back with much grace-I most likely won’t say anything out loud to you, but if I think I should beat you and you come in ahead of me- in my head I’m normally thinking something like ‘that’s bullshit‘ or ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ Sorry, just keepin’ it real!

I’m happy to say that the rest of my Team has more grace than I do.

Take David– David’s a ‘walker’ to ‘walk/runner,’ and we have a lot of walkers and a great TNT Walking Team, coached by the awesome Coach Shellie. However on ourWilliamson County Team, we don’t have a walking Team. So David is on his own a lot- and despite the fact that everyone runs by him twice normally–once on the way out and again on the way in- he is always smiling and upbeat. I looked at him last week and noticed he was losing a good amount of weight- he is doing a fantastic job in both training and fundraising and in turn, he has inspired us. And he looks great! What a truly admirable performance. I can’t wait to see him at the finish line on April 28th.

So, you never know that you’re affecting and moving people, simply by walking through a place where God wants you- in David’s case the walking is literal–however, he’s also completing a journey that I’m not sure he was confident that he would finish when we started this thing. Awesome work my friend!

Well….Ted and I have a new teammate for the New York City Marathon and an element of that journey that I’m not so confident about yet–raising $100,000 for LLS and to help cure cancer. Our new teammate will improve our visual branding too- but that wouldn’t take a lot.

Our new Teammate is Sammi Schmittou and don’t worry about pronouncing that last name–I don’t even try.

Sammi’s the girl that can run 100 mile ‘ultra marathons’ and as long as she raises some money doing it, I’ll be cheering my sister on. Seriously, Samantha or Sammi or Samuel or any of the other names I call her– is someone we all look up too. When I was running the Dublin Marathon last October, I was having a bad day- it got rainy and cold and I was hurting–plus they ran out of water at the water stops – Sammi, a coach on that trip, was running into stores to buy us water, plus Skittles, and peanuts and everything else I scarfed down to keep me moving on that 26.2 mile trip.

She could screw up her appointment book 100 more times (hey I didn’t say the girl was perfect), and after Dublin I could never be upset. She saved me that day but she also saved many other runners out on that course. She must have easily run 50 miles that race and she wasn’t even participating! And an hour after the race she was downing beers with the rest of us.

So welcome Sammi!

Now grab Ted and start raising some money for Gods sake! We can’t exactly cure cancer with 3% of our goal.

Speaking of that, are you feeling generous today- how about a donation right now! We only have to need 1,000 people give 100 dollars each! And as of today we only need 970 more!! We’re rockin’!!

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!!

And of course…thanks!

Jim

Apr 062012
 

I had actually been struggling with something inspiring or at least interesting to talk about this week.

Then last night on my way home from work, in a driving rain, I stopped off at the Starbucks at the halfway point. I usually do anyways, but the rain gave me a good excuse.

While there, I ran into one of my teammates from my Wilco TNT Team who works there as a Barista. Valerie is one of the “Java Joggers,” which is a team within a team, I guess you would say — 5 women — 3 of them being Starbucks employees. They will no doubt all be featured here at some point — but this is all about Valerie this week.

I had not seen Val lately because she’s been having IT band issues and has been in physical therapy, and hence, not able to run recently.

Only runners who have been injured know how lonely it can feel on a Saturday morning, when your friends go off to run and you’re stuck at home, nursing an injury. It kind of sucks.

What’s actually worse, is when you try and suck it up, put your game face on and decide to venture out to help the runners with water stops or whatever else is needed—be a ‘team’ player.

So, you stand there at the starting line and watch them all run off — and you’re left standing there — usually, the other folks see you as a good target for holding their jackets, hats, keys etc. You feel very sad as you see them jog away while you’re stuck there — wait there for 90 mins with your friends keys, hats, jackets etc., and you start to stew — you quickly transition from being ‘blue’ to being irritated as hell — so when they come back in, all happy about their great run and they’re laughing and whooping it up, barely acknowledging any sensitivity towards you and your plight, you feel like taking their keys and whipping them at their head.

Hey I’m just keeping it real.

Anyways, even though I didn’t see her whip any keys in anyone’s direction, I’m sure Val had to feel some of those emotions when her little Java Jogger friends came back to their house all happy, giggling, cackling and giddy from running a great 10 miler.

Val’s a spunky chick who kind of tells you exactly how she feels, so I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall back at the Java House when that was all going down, well come to think of it then I’d hear what they’re all saying about me- scrap that!

I still remember the day I recruited Va l — it was after the I Run For The Party half marathon last fall.  Java Joggers Jillian and Amanda both trained for that race and kicked ass — completing their very first ‘half.’  I was helping out at the Team In Training tent at the finish line, and right there on the spot, Val signed up to run Country Music for Team In Training– I was really excited because I love recruiting people to the cause, and I don’t even think I knew yet that I’d be coaching Val’s Team. But I was thrilled anyways.

Fast forward to late November, 2011 — our very first TEAM WILCO Group Training Session (GTS), for Country Music – my first run as coach – I was as nervous as they were-maybe more so.

We were to jog a whopping 3 miles from Granny White Park. I am not sure if Val ever ran before- but she blew out of the chute with a very steady and determined pace — I jogged up next to her, as I really wanted to try and connect with this Team, so I tried to make some silly small talk with Val — she shot me the look that all guys know — that look — the one that is good advice to just stop talking and go away — so I did —  I ran up ahead to some of the other runners, but I decided to come back and give Val another try — I got the look again, not only from Val, but Jillian also signaled to me to leave her be — Jillian is sort of the mother hen of the Java Joggers –– so I decided to cut my losses.

But Miss Valerie finished the 3 miles and she was visibly excited and in a great mood afterwards — and she was only quiet out there because it was unknown territory, and she conquered it. I was sold immediately.

I quickly became a fan of Valerie and her steady determination and stick-to-it attitude, even her somewhat headstrong personality — I like bickering anyways so while we certainly had our days — Val became one of my favorite people, and slowly she got hooked on running — to the point where she started giving me advice. She likes to give advice anyways. There was a run not too long ago, where I was sick, and should have showed a good example to my Team, and not run — but having a head like a rock, I ran. And this time it was Valerie running next to me — lecturing me — for a solid 8-miles. But it was fine – she already had my respect. 

However, in the very beginning Val told me she’d probably not stick with this whole thing. But you know what — on that one I knew better — certain kinds of people gravitate to the TNT culture — running, community spirit, curing cancer, making the world a better place- I just had a feeling she would get sucked in because of who she is — and she did.

But the running- every week I watched this girl get stronger… and stronger… and stronger. It was obvious—she loved it-she was in!

The day Val did 10 miles for the first time ever-I saw ‘that’ look in her eyes. She was hooked for sure, but she was also an athlete now — the look of determination became one of accomplishment and confidence — plus she was a great fundraiser and fired up about raising money. She was running but also curing cancer — what’s not to love about doing that!

A few weeks ago Val was jogging along and I could see she was hurting — her knee hurt — I was so sad for her — I just hoped it wasn’t severe — I had to stop training 2 years ago and have knee surgery — it sucks to pull out of training for a race when you’re just a few weeks away — I prayed that would not be the case for her — so when Val texted me from the doc to say it was her IT band and not her knee, I was really happy — she was probably wondering what the hell I was so pleased about — but we had about 6 weeks to the race — I knew we’d be ok.

Well just as I knew she would — Valerie worked really hard in physical therapy and she’s coming back this week to run — maybe not the 12 miles everyone else will do, but I bet she does 8 maybe 10…hopefully pain free. I won’t be running beside her trying to chat it up this time. I’ve tried to learn all of my runners’ individual personalities along this road….and the girl needs her space.

There’s no way that she’s not completing this race on April 28th. And I can’t wait to see her cross that finish line and complete this awesome journey.

Like all great journeys, the road to a half marathon has some bumps — But you handle them — and put one foot in front of the other — we have to — because we run for those who can’t.

So my journey this year will lead to the NY Marathon—and a $100,000 goal to help cure cancer.

Will you help….give what you can and click that link — I really appreciate anything you can give — I really do!

Happy Easter everyone!

Thanks!

Jim  

Mar 272012
 

This past weekend I ran into a couple of runners wearing their shiny red ‘Gilda’s Gang’ t-shirts.

I will always be partial to Team In Training, but there are quite a few running groups raising money for worthwhile causes out there- ‘Gilda’s Gang’ is one of them. They raise money for Nashville’s Gilda’s Club, a fantastic organization founded by the late Gilda Radner at the end of her life. We’re really lucky to have one here in Music City.

Gilda’s is a wonderful place—for me personally, it was an oasis when I was fighting cancer– a safe place if you may. Everyone on the staff has much experience with cancer and interacting with cancer patients- You feel welcomed warmly as soon as you walk through their ‘red’ door. And you’re always made to feel like family there too. Gilda Radner has been gone since 1986, but I feel like Felice, who runs Gilda’s here, is basically ‘Gilda’ of Nashville. She’s awesome.

When I was sick I mostly avoided being in public- first of all, when people see you and you’re 50 pounds lighter than you were just a year before, and are not exactly looking like a picture of health, people want to ask what’s going on—they mean well- but it’s very fatiguing to talk about it—at least it was in my case- so instead, I tended to try and avoid awkward conversations. But at Gilda’s it’s as if everyone knew and understood what you were going through. You didn’t have to say anything if you didn’t feel like it. And if you did, the others understood as they were in the trenches right there with you.

Bumping into those runners has had me thinking a lot about my friend Dori Brown. Dori was training with ‘Gilda’s Gang’ at about this same time last year– when she was hit with a 3rd relapse of leukemiaDori was a fighter like no other. She passed away on June 7th, 2011, after a heroic and gallant battle. She was 42.

Dori and I were ‘Honored Teammates’ at the same time for TNT. She loved Gilda’s but she also loved TNT–we both had that in common too.

When I saw Dori’s husband Jim, also a very good friend, and a TNT Alumni, at the services, I felt consumed with ‘survivor’s guilt.’ What happened to Dori was not fair- she fought not once but 3 times. And she went through hell not once but 3 times. It makes me sad but also angry.

This year before one of our Saturday Group Training Sessions, my TNT Wilco Team got to hear Jim give an amazing ‘mission moment.’ Mainly it was about Dori, but also about continuing the fight. So one day no one else will suffer from this horrible sickness. Jim is also a very amazing human being.

Dori was a fighter but she was also a giver–and right to the end. Her last email to me, just a few days before she passed, ended with a simple plea, please keep raising money so people don’t continue to suffer.”

I took that email very seriously-and not only will I continue raising money- but also keep talking about Dori and Jim– as they defined the spirit of wearing Purple and running for TNT. I think about them every time I slip into one of those Purple jerseys. And I feel like I have been tasked with keeping Dori’s spirit alive, at least within the ranks of TNT. They need to know.

Ted and I have about $98,000 to get to our $100,000 goal that we have set for this year–lately I think we’re nuts even thinking we have a shot at this- I think essentially however… that if you have faith…and your heart’s in the right place…eventually it comes. And after all–we’re not collecting money for a yacht or to take an extreme vacation and climb mountains or swim with sharks somewhere exotic—I can care less about that stuff–no we simply have marathons to run, and a lot of cancer to cure. So this is where you come in- we need you.

Even if it’s just 5 or 10 dollars- I would love it if you can help us- we would love it if we’re right now too, so we can get to 3% of that goal soon- woo-hoo!!

Thank you!

Jim