Sep 15 2022

Finding His Path To Happiness

Paul Asaro has overcome many challenges to achieve success and happiness.

Recently, in sports competition, Paul won gold and silver medals at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Florida. He earned gold in men’s open water swimming, posting a time of 36 minutes, 6.6 seconds for more than 1,000 meters. He claimed silver in the men’s triathlon (440-yard swim, 10.8-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run) in one hour, 33 minutes, 35.4 seconds.

When Paul returned home to Westchester County, he draped the medals around his neck to showcase his achievements for fellow parishioners at his church. For several decades, he has been an inspiration to adults and children at his place of worship and also within his community.

The 43-year-old has been involved with Special Olympics in the Hudson Valley as an athlete since 1994 and as a coach since 2008. Paul was named 2005 New York State Male Athlete of the Year and 2017 Hudson Valley Male Athlete of the Year. He has represented the United States at the 2003 World Games in Ireland and the 2019 World Games in the United Arab Emirates. Paul also has held several New York executive positions with Special Olympics.

Paul was born with duodenal atresia, a blockage between his duodenum and small intestine that led to complications with brain swelling and lack of oxygen to the brain. Despite this significant challenge at the start of his life, Paul was attracted to sports as a child. He participated in the Eastchester Youth Soccer League and was a distance runner in the track program at Eastchester High School. He was nominated for the school’s 1995 Athlete of the Year.

Paul never has allowed his disability to prevent him from enjoying life. An important part of his life is a passion for service. He is a volunteer firefighter. At his church, Paul is an altar server, usher, member of the Knights of Columbus and member of the parish council.

Though dealt a tough hand at birth, throughout the years Paul has met many challenges with his own personal philosophy: “There is always a path that makes us happy.”

Jul 15 2022

Catching One Last Wave

No matter how often fun, fun, fun as a group is celebrated in Beach Boys surfing songs, the sport is a lonely one. Surfing is a solitary journey as the surfer tries to catch a wave to sit on top of the world. This secluded ride on a board at the ocean’s roar has embraced Dan Fischer for many years.

The loneliness for Dan was altered a few years ago. He now casts his eyes over thousands of names etched on his surfboard as he rides the waves along the beaches of Rhode Island. His boards are covered with the names of people who have died, mostly from cancer, and who shared his love of the ocean.

Dan created the One Last Wave Project this past January. He captures the healing power of the ocean to help people celebrate the lives of parents, siblings, partners, children and friends. He was in the same boat, or on the same board, during 2019. Coping with the loss of his father, Dan etched Karl’s name on his board. They had shared a love of the ocean and of adventure—mountain climbing, paragliding, hockey and cycling. Soon after, Dan’s dog died and he etched Rudy’s name on the board.

As Dan remembered his father and dog, he recorded a video from a beach near Newport and shared it on social media. He offered to etch names onto his boards to honor people who have passed away and to celebrate their lives. He takes the boards into the water to catch the waves while, in a spiritual way, memorializing each person who enjoyed the ocean.

Dan’s first two boards contain 3,500 names. The third board that he took to the water over the Memorial Day weekend contained the recently added name of Kinley Sexton. She, too, loved the ocean, according to her mother, but the love affair was short. Kinley died from an aggressive brain tumor at age six just a few years ago.

Dan regularly receives names to add to his boards through email and social media (learn more and contact Dan on the project website. He plans to continue to add names to surfboards for as long as this tribute resonates and helps the people who have remained behind to mourn their losses.

Jul 01 2022

A Young Champion Of Concussion Protocols

Sports leagues at all levels increasingly have become aware of the many serious life issues associated with concussions. The youngest athletes are monitored closely, as are older players, including professionals. In most leagues, when observers determine that a player may have been compromised by a head injury, the athlete is removed quickly from competition as part of concussion protocol initiatives.

Following numerous concussions over a number of years, Meredith Greenberg likely has played her last competitive lacrosse game. Meredith is only 19 but she already has suffered seven concussions along with a case of Post-Concussion Syndrome when symptoms persisted beyond the typical recovery period. The Westchester County (Bronxville) native personally understands the health setbacks caused by head injuries, and she already has moved forward with her post-athletics mission to support other players who have suffered or may suffer from concussions.

Meredith feels that many young athletes and their parents might not possess all the important information about the dangers associated with head injuries, potentially jeopardizing critical decisions about proper medical treatment and future playing options. She is committed to helping these athletes enjoy the positive on-field opportunities she experienced while ensuring that parents are informed about the latest medical information and resources that address contact sports health issues.

Athlete Concussion Foundation (AFC) is Meredith’s advocacy organization that educates students and parents about the importance of reporting head injuries to coaches and reducing the risk of permanent brain damage. AFC is focused on prevention through education and the inclusion of mental health resources.

A few months ago, Meredith’s initiatives were discussed during a filmed program about a treatment that might be adapted for concussions. Stellate Ganglion Block is an injection of medication into nerves to help relieve pain in the head, neck, upper arm and upper chest, and to increase circulation and blood supply to the arm. After seeing the interview, a neuroscientist who is a personal friend of former Green Bay Packers and New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre, introduced Brett to Meredith. The doctor and the football player are raising money to develop a drug that, through a nasal spray, quickly might treat concussions. The three-way conversation also embraced Meredith’s long-term goal to develop an affordable EEG device that is easy to use and can quickly detect concussions in an ambulance and on the sports field.

It is very unfortunate that Meredith’s competitive sports career has been compromised at such a young age. She is, however, one of the young pioneers, a sports champion, who is seeking solutions to help protect the health of current and future athletes of all ages.

Jun 15 2022

Supporting A Special Field Of Dreams

Todd Frazier recently retired from baseball. He impacted the game for a number of seasons, including stints in New York for the Yankees and the Mets. Nearby, though, in his hometown of Toms River, New Jersey, he has had a more significant impact on the lives of many children and adults.

A Field of Dreams has been created in the community. The RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams is a one-of-a-kind athletic complex where children and adults with special needs are welcomed to enjoy the game and engage in other fun in a safe environment. With Todd’s support, and the support of many others, the concept that was just a thought by Christian Kane five years ago recently was unveiled for the community. Christian developed his idea for his 11-year-old son, Gavin, and many others.

On July 12, 2012, Christian’s vehicle was struck by a beer truck. He was not injured, but Gavin suffered a traumatic brain injury. While doctors suggested placing Gavin in a long-term care facility, Christian and his wife, Mary, decided to take Gavin home and begin the rehabilitation process. Gavin cannot walk independently and he communicates through a tablet. Otherwise, he is the same as any other child. When Gavin was about five or six years old, his parents researched a special needs baseball league. Unfortunately, the closest league was almost 90 minutes away.

This was unacceptable to the Kane family, considering that Toms River has such a huge youth baseball program. So, Christian decided to start his own program and build a special needs complex. The plan included a playground, basketball court and additional facilities. He then reached out to Todd, a hometown baseball hero, who made an immediate financial ($50,000) and personal commitment to the project. The Todd Frazier Special Needs Baseball League at the complex opened this past April 30. Gavin took the mound and tossed the ceremonial first pitch to Todd.

The many smiles and helping kids swing the bat touched Todd. The field is within walking distance of his home, and he plans to visit often to have fun with the boys and girls.

The complex remains unfinished for daily activities. While the Kanes have raised $3.6 million, another $300,000 is required to compensate for pandemic setbacks and inflation. The Kanes keep moving forward with their dream. They know that if you build it, they will come.

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.