Feb 15 2022

An Italian Cyclist Who Saved Lives

The world commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the end of January. For more than 75 years, many stories have emerged about the heroes who risked their lives by defying the Nazis to save their countries and to save the lives of persecuted men, women and children. One story that I did not know until recently involved an Italian athlete.

Cyclist Gino Bartali was from Ponte a Ema. It’s a town near Florence. A son of modest farmers, he began working in a bicycle shop when he was only 13 years old. Racing bicycles became a passion. By the age of 21, he was competing professionally. A year later, 1936, Gino won the Giro d’Italia, an annual multiple-stage bicycle race.  He won this race three times along with many other race stages, including the Tour de France. Gino’s cycling achievements on the Alps and Pyrenees were legendary, earning him the nickname “Giant of the Mountains.”

A star on the bicycle, Gino also became revered for his actions during World War II. He hid a Jewish family from Nazi occupiers in his cellar, placing himself and his family at great risk. Gino also became a bicycle courier for the Italian Resistance.

Gino became so popular with the Italian people that neither the Fascist nor the German troops dared to act on their suspicions about him. They did not arrest him for fear of violent backlash from the Italian people. Pretending to train on rides that were over thousands of miles long, Gino saved numerous Jews by hiding them or alerting them about raids on safehouses. He later assisted in helping Jews escape from Italy and into Switzerland by cycling with an attached wagon that contained a secret compartment to hide people. Whenever he was stopped by authorities, he simply stated that the wagon was part of his training.

Gino Bartali’s courage saved hundreds of lives. But, he never spoke about any of it. Upon Gino’s passing during 2000, his son recounted that when people called Gino a hero, he would say, “No, no - I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements. Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I’m just a cyclist.”

We need to listen closely to Gino’s words, because too often many of us, consciously or unconsciously, bestow “hero worship” upon athletes. In this instance, however, during a critical time for the world, just imagine all the people Gino helped with his bicycle. He provided them with the opportunities to live long and enjoy prosperous lives.

Gino was an excellent award-winning cyclist. He also was much more—Gino Bartali Was A Hero!

Dec 01 2021

A Really Big Equality “Shew”

Ed Sullivan was one of the most famous and beloved television presenters in American history. As the host of the long-running The Ed Sullivan Show, he won hearts across the world for his exceptional talent to select the biggest stars of the future to appear on his show.

Ed was from Harlem. His Irish-American family flourished with the love of music and entertainment. From an early age, Ed’s first taste of the big stage came in roles on the school baseball, basketball and football teams. His teamwork would define his character throughout his life.

Ed befriended teammates and opponents of all races, and he would become a champion of anti-racism. His athletic career during his early years also was steeped in romance—and later in tragedy. Ed and Olympic swimmer Sybil Bauer became engaged but she died from cancer at the age of 23.

About two years after losing Sybil, Ed met Sylvia Weinstein. When her Jewish parents didn’t approve, she pretended that Ed’s surname was Solomon. Though the family learned the truth, the couple married during 1930. At the time, Sybil didn’t realize that her husband was destined to become one of the biggest stars of all time.

After settling down, Ed gradually segued from sports reporting to the news and entertainment industry. He wrote columns for the Evening Graphic and then the New York Daily News that focused on theatre and entertainment gossip.

By 1941, Ed was so popular that he was invited by CBS to host a television program. The opportunity led to The Ed Sullivan Show. Creating the foundation for the show, Ed incorporated the lessons from his youth when he first became aware of the importance of tolerance and inclusion. For a while, he was the only presenter to showcase African-American entertainers such as The Supremes, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Lena Horn, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong.

Despite opposition and criticism, Ed refused to listen to the prejudice toward these and other entertainers. He continued to provide them with a platform to showcase their talents. One performer became a dear friend. When singer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson died, Ed paid for his funeral expenses.

From sports to entertainment, Ed provided the world a huge lesson about equality and anti-racism. More people need to know about this magnificent chapter of the Ed Sullivan story and share it across today’s media platforms.

Nov 01 2021

Reunited On The Ice Launches Confidence

His confidence on the ice was low. It could not sink lower. Professional scouts were concerned about his skating abilities, causing Brennan Othmann to doubt himself as he continued to accumulate bad habits. Brennan was 15 at the time and the family took action.

When Brennan was in kindergarten in Ontario, he had been in Lisa Clark’s skating group during school lunch breaks. They would enjoy lunch together before each training session. Brennan was a good listener, with his eyes focused on her as she taught the skills of skating.

As Brennan grew older and become more involved with hockey, the family and Lisa lost touch. Though he enjoyed a successful 2018-19 season with a prominent team that was undefeated, Brennan repeatedly was told that he needed to work on his stride and posture. His mom rushed to the rescue when she realized that her son needed to get back on the ice with Lisa, who featured a nine-week program with six hour-long sessions each day. Brennan worked with the noon to 1 p.m. group and often remained for another session.

The reunion convinced Brennan to invest in power-skating, those drills without pucks dreaded by all hockey players from age five to 35. Each time he and Lisa skated, Brennan’s confidence soared to new heights. Lisa encouraged him to believe in himself as much as she believed in him. She brought a smile to his face every day on the ice—even on the tough days.

The drills helped Brennan achieve a successful rookie 2019-20 season with the Flint Firebirds. He scored 17 goals and 33 points in 55 games as a 16-year-old, ranking third in goals among all under-17 OHL players. For 2020-21, with EHC Olten in the second-tier Swiss League, Brennan posted 18 points in 34 games.

The reunion of Brennan and Lisa placed the young man’s hockey career back on the ice. Only a few months ago, he was the 16th overall draft pick by the New York Rangers in the 2021 NHL draft. Lisa watched the draft and celebrated Brennan’s selection.

“You get tears in your eyes and you think, man, I started with this kid three years ago and even when he was five years old,” said Lisa. “And then you watch them, you think about the struggles, and all the corrections and all the time and the effort that you both put into it — I don’t even know what to say.”

Following his first NHL training camp, Brennan has returned to the OHL to fine-tune his hockey skills. Scouts and coaches expect to see him in the NHL in the near future.

Sep 15 2021

Ironman Achieves Goals At Special Olympics

Chris Nikic is a Special Olympics athlete. Just about a year ago, he became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon).

Once he passed the finish line, Chris’ Instagram post read “Goal set and achieved.” The post continued: “Best part of all. New family and friends. All about awareness and inclusion. Awareness for Down syndrome and Special Olympics. Inclusion for all of us with all of you.”

Guinness World Records noted the achievement. So did the Special Olympics: “As the sun barely began to rise at 5:52am on Saturday morning, 7 November 2020, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City at the start of the IRONMAN Florida triathlon. Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, as the nighttime darkness settled in, Chris crossed the finish line and made history as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.”

From Maitland, Chris was 21 when he completed the Panama City Beach competition. He had to complete the swim in the Gulf of Mexico, the bike ride through Panama City Beach and the 26.2-mile marathon run along the beach within 17 hours. He finished in a total time of 16 hours 46 minutes nine seconds.

Chris faced several unexpected challenges along the way. He was attacked by ants during a nutrition stop and fell from his bike several times. With blood dripping from his knee, he showed sportsmanship and grit by continuing to push forward. To prepare for the grueling challenge, Chris and his father developed the one percent better training principle. Chris aimed to improve one percent – faster and stronger – each day.

The work and the triathlon were more than just athletics, a finish line and celebration of victory for Chris. According to his father, the challenge served as Chris’ platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.

Sep 01 2021

Remembering 9/11

Bernie Williams has often wondered about the woman from the armory.

In the years since his retirement from baseball, whenever someone would ask him about his most memorable moment in pinstripes, the New York Yankees center fielder would recall a day following September 11, 2001. It has been 20 years, and while many people and nations continue to attempt to harm the United States, 9/11 and the annual commemorations continue to reveal the best in people.

Though stricken with grief and anger, many Americans then and now vowed to uphold President George W. Bush’s words that “These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

A few days after the attack, Bernie was part of a contingent of Yankees who visited several sites around the city engaged in relief and recovery efforts. The first stop was the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between East 25th and 26th streets. Bernie was unsure about what he could do to help and if ballplayers should have even entered the location. He then met a Red Cross volunteer who had been working around the clock.

Bernie told her that he just didn’t know what to say, adding “but can I give you a hug?”

The snapshot of that moment has remained with Bernie, a vivid memory with each passing anniversary. The moment, Bernie thought, also possibly was recalled often by the woman. She likely knew who gave her a hug. But, Bernie did not know her name.

Bernie’s personal manager reviewed tens of thousands of pictures to learn that Eva Usadi was at the armory that day. Two years ago, Eva and Bernie reconnected at the 9/11 Museum.

“It was a real hug. I felt it in my heart,” recalled Eva in an article. “I felt his warmth and his compassion and that he saw something in me that I didn’t even know that I needed. That is a moment that I will never forget, and I’ve spoken of it often to friends and family.”

The events of 9/11 shaped each of their futures. We know that Bernie, professionally, played a number of more successful years for the Yankees and since has focused on his music and charitable programs. Eva, meanwhile, dedicated her life to treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder, founding Trauma and Resiliency Resources, Inc., a nonprofit not too far from the armory that aims to end military veteran suicides.

May 01 2021

Striking Out Stars Nothing To Sneeze At

Eddie Feigner never played a major league baseball game. But he became famous as a barnstorming showman with his four-man softball team.

Eddie’s team, known as the King and His Court, traveled around the world, similar to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Along with Eddie, the team only fielded a catcher, first baseman and shortstop. Spanning more than five decades beginning during 1946, the team played approximately 10,000 games in all 50 states and more than 100 countries for 200 million fans. Many from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Westchester recall seeing Eddie hold court.

The former U.S. Marine, whose pitches were clocked as fast as 104 miles per hour, was known for throwing from behind his back, between his legs while kneeing and blindfolded. A 2002 list of the 10 greatest pitchers featured Eddie along with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

Eddie’s most impressive feat may have been when he struck out six straight major league hitters during an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium during 1967. The batters were the top stars of the time—Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew. Each player won a Most Valuable Player award during the 1960s, and all but Maury are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

To honor his service as a U.S. Marine, Eddie and his team often played against military personnel at bases and on the decks of aircraft carriers. Considerable amounts of ticket profits were donated to charity. Following Operation Desert Storm, Eddie placed veteran support as the chief charity for game proceeds.

Eddie made light of his relative unknown status in the sports world. When Sports Illustrated named him the most underrated athlete of his time during 1972, he replied, “I’m a pipsqueak because I’m caught in a nothing game. It’s like being a world-champion nose-blower.”

Eddie has been gone for about 14 years, but he remains vivid in the memories of so many fans and the many others he helped with the proceeds from the games.

Mar 15 2021

Empowering The Girls Of Long Island

The girls of Long Island have great friends at Girls on the Run. The local council of Girls on the Run International is providing our young ladies with virtual and in-person programs during these unusual times.

Girls on the Run delivers a physical, activity-based, positive youth development program for girls from third to eighth grades. The girls who participate in the programs develop and improve competence, become more confident in themselves, develop strength of character, respond to others and themselves with care, create positive connections with peers and adults, and positively contribute to their community and society.

More than 100 girls in Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in last fall’s programs. All sessions are led by trained volunteer coaches.

Practices during the eight-week program are held outdoors. Participants and coaches maintain social distance and employ proper sanitary/protection materials that adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines. When weather isn’t favorable, rain dates or virtual lessons mirror in-person lessons.

Girls on the Run also offers financial assistance for families on a tight budget to ensure that no girl is unable to participate in the program.

Parents have been positive about the Girls on the Run programs. A mom of a fourth-grade student noticed “a very positive change in her overall attitude and behavior.” Another parent of a fifth-grade student indicated that her daughter “really enjoyed it and looked forward to going to practice very Wednesday and Friday.

Learn more about Girls on the Run Long Island at www.gotrlongisland.org . Besides girls for the programs, the organization seeks women and men as volunteers for a number of opportunities, including team coaches.

Congratulations to everyone who supports this wonderful program for the girls of Long Island.

Mar 01 2021

Having Fun Asserts Leadership

UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi became an internet sensation following her January 2019 floor routine. The online video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ic7RNS4Dfo) of that fabulous performance has captured almost 150 million views.

Katelyn is so athletic with energetic flips, splits and other moves. The judges awarded her a perfect 10. If you watch the two-minute clip, you also will notice so much more about her.

Katelyn is having fun. She “radiates warmth and glee,” wrote a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. “I think Ohashi’s routine is a radiant expression of what it means for a human being to be very, very good at something—and to want to share that with everyone.”

As you watch her routine, note the reaction of Katelyn’s teammates. They’re enthusiastically cheering for her. But, more than clapping and fist pumping, they’re synchronizing elements of the routine with her.

What we see, and what people who were in the arena that day personally witnessed, is not simply the athletics of an individual but the definition of teamwork. Research by psychologist Peter Totterdell (professor in the Psychology Department at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society) indicated that a team’s collective mood often is in sync with the mood of the leader. When a leader is upbeat, the positive energy is transferred to individuals. Energy radiates from the top.

Happiness and positive attitude captivate others. In sports, in business and elsewhere in life, expressing joy and passion encourages other people to react positively, and this, in turn, provides an incentive for individual and group success. If you identify with Katelyn, then you, too, are inspiring the people around you.

Following the floor routine, Katelyn’s beaming statement circulated in the media: “At the end of the day, I just go out there and do my best and have as much fun as I can.”

That’s a leader!

Jan 15 2021

The Legacy Of A Pioneer Sports Journalist

Jeannie Morris passed away at the age of 85 during December. Possibly you never heard her name. Then, you certainly were not aware of her significant contributions to the sports world.

Jeannie was a pioneer in Chicago sports journalism. Knowledge, writing and perseverance propelled her print and television success. Among her accomplishments:

  • First woman to report live from the Super Bowl (1975).
  • Multiple Emmy Awards.
  • First woman to receive the Ring Lardner award for excellence in sports journalism (2014).
  • When NFL press passes declared “No Women or Children Allowed in the Press Box” and she could not cover a Bears game, she sat on top of the press box during the icy game.
  • Her sports column, “Football Is a Woman’s Game,” ran on the “women’s pages” that once were prominent in newspapers.
  • Interviewed male and female sports stars, including Chris Evert, Joe Namath, Fran Tarkenton and Don Meredith. She never hesitated to tell an athlete, “Hey, you didn’t answer my question.’”

Possibly Jeannie’s most significant accomplishment, besides raising four children, was her 1971 book, Brian Piccolo: A Short Season. The story contributed to the legacy of the Bears’ running back who died from cancer. His life and friendship with teammate Gale Sayers were celebrated in the television movie Brian’s Song.

The book led to the success of the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund. Jeannie allocated all proceeds to the fund and to the player’s daughters. Despite her own battle with cancer over the last year, Jeannie roused herself a couple of weeks before her death to request that any donations in her memory “go to the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund.”

Jeannie was passionate about sports for almost all of her 85 years. Her love for athletics came from her mother, who was a huge sports fan. Her father, she once recalled, could care less about sports.

Nov 15 2020

Marty Lyons Grants 8,000 Wishes For Ill Children

On March 4, 1982, Rocky was born to New York Jets defensive tackle Marty Lyons and his wife. Marty recalls that the moment was a tremendous joy.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Lyons family during the following days. His father died from a heart attack at the age of 58. Two days later, a boy of five who Marty served as a Big Brother, died from leukemia.

What should have been a happy time for Marty instead left him shaken. Known for his toughness on the field, he now was searching for answers.

Eventually, Marty realized that highs and lows are part of life. Then, he said, it dawned on him that “this was the platform God gave me, to play in the NFL, and use that platform to help terminally ill children.”

The pain now made sense to Marty and it gave him a purpose beyond professional football.

The Marty Lyons Foundation began later that year. The organization’s mission is to grant wishes to children between three and 17 years old who have a terminal or life-threatening illness. Wishes can be a trip to Disney World or a laptop for schoolwork from the hospital.

Marty clearly remembers the first wish that came to the foundation. The young man, Steven, hoped to attend the Super Bowl in Tampa when the Oakland Raiders played the Washington Redskins.  Marty asked the Jets organization for guidance. The Jets organized a press conference to announce that they would be granting the wish and raised awareness for the new foundation. Unfortunately, Steven passed away before the foundation granted his wish. Despite only briefly knowing each other, Steven impacted Marty’s life.

Steven was proud to be the first wish for the new foundation. The boy’s father, shortly after his son died, gave Marty some insight on how to proceed — “Just remember one thing: do it because you want to do it. Don’t do it because you want to read about it.”

Close to 40 years later, Marty’s foundation now has operations in 13 states. Almost 8,000 children have received their wishes. Hundreds of wishes await funds to be granted.

The foundation actively is fundraising and seeking donations as the number of wishes far exceeds the financial resources provided by donations. Ninety percent of all donations are dedicated to the wish program.

Marty accomplished much on the field, placing him in the Jets Ring of Honor. His legacy, though, will be his work with the foundation, though he insists his contributions are nothing compared to the young people who are fighting life-altering diseases. He always states that the boys and girls who pass away are teachers and that the rest of us need to take the time to develop relationships with them and listen to their messages.