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.

Oct 15 2020

Lacrosse Offers Hope, Sense Of Family In Film

“The Grizzlies” is a recent film that tells the inspiring true story about a town that suffered the highest suicide rate in North America. The residents found hope through the introduction of a lacrosse program for their teens.

Back during 1998, a recent college graduate (the film character Russ Sheppard) takes a job as a history teacher at Kugluktuk High School in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. Russ, a Caucasian, found that many of the Native students didn’t attend classes. They drank or took drugs, and the suicide rate was high. Crosses in the cemetery multiplied at an alarming rate.

Russ played lacrosse in college. He wondered if the game would give the kids a focus in life. He started a hard sell to spark interest, first speaking with the school’s principal and then promoting the program among the students with a flyer.

Russ was naïve about the culture. One girl helped him. She said that if he convinced two specific students to try lacrosse, the others would follow their lead. She told Russ to approach the students personally to show respect, rather than just hand them a flyer.

Russ learned that the problems faced by the teens extended into the home. Poverty, hunger, domestic violence and homelessness were part of the equation. One parent was drunk on the couch, forcing a student to forage for food for himself and a little brother. The girl helping Russ was abused at home. Another boy witnessed his father’s abuse of his mother.

These troubled teens, each suffering with his or her own problems, eventually found lacrosse as a new kind a family. Russ learned as much from his students as they from him. It’s the teens who build the team and keep it together.

“The Grizzlies” tells an interesting tale that brings a teacher and teens together through the sport of lacrosse. I would be interested in learning more about the actual teacher and his students who are the subject of this film, and where they are today.

Sep 01 2020

A Season To Bond For Hempstead PAL Lacrosse

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse, as with all sports at all levels, was required to cancel its spring practices and games this year due to the COVID-19 virus. This came as a huge disappointment for the team’s fourth, fifth and sixth graders. The 22 kids on the roster were excited and ready to learn the game and, for some,play it competitively for the first time.

The Tigers are part of the Nassau-Suffolk County Police Athletic Lacrosse League. The nine-year Hempstead program, led by Coach Alan Hodish, has introduced the game to more than 100 African-American and Hispanic youngsters, several of whom are from single-parent homes.

Alan is a longtime friend of mine. He is a Garden City attorneyand a revered former lacrosse and football coach at Hempstead High School. He has cherished every opportunity to coach and teach lacrosse on Long Island. Recently, with his induction into the Long Island Metropolitan Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Alan has been recognized for his decades of dedication to our student-athletes.

Hempstead PAL Lacrosse also has the commitment of Coach Bernard Williams and former high school players and other Long Island lacrosse standouts who serve as assistant coaches, role models, communicators and friends for the kids in the program. The team enjoyed several practices during the early spring before the crises paused the program. Only last month, once approved by the village, was the team allowed to gather for a handful of practices and learning sessions.

I have been involved with the program since its inception, providing the support required for these great kids to learn and enjoy a fantastic game. While the on-field activities stopped for a while, I did not pause my commitment to support Alan and the others as they continue to strengthen the program to welcomemore young players.

In honor of Alan’s ongoing devotion to the game and this specific program, an additional $10,000 has been donated to Hempstead PAL Lacrosse. My gift guarantees continued support of team operations, equipment, uniforms, expenses for officials and league registration, and an awards presentation at the end of each season. Even if these youngsters do not pursue lacrosse in high school, college, or professionally, the lessons, teamwork and camaraderie surelywill be a positive experience that the players will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

It has been a tough handful of months for these kids, and for all of us. I want the 2020 Hempstead PAL team to know that Alanand the other coaches will ensure that this season’s disappointment will be converted into a valuable lifetime lessonfor each of them.

2020 Hempstead PAL Roster

The 2020 Hempstead PAL Lacrosse Tigers roster consists of 22 players from fourth to sixth grades.

KayJay Benjamin – sixth grade

Jaden Bolling – fifth grade

Bentley Cannon – fourth grade

Amare Collins – sixth grade

Jonathan Davis – sixth grade

Keon Grier – sixth grade

Josh Hagler – sixth grade

Blake Harris – fourth grade

Jeremy Henderson – fifth grade

Tristan Herron – fourth grade

Jordan Hines – sixth grade

Steph Love – fifth grade

Julius McCloud – fifth grade

Zayden Mendez – fifth grade

Seth Montgomery – fourth grade

Aaden Sarduy – sixth grade

Riley Sarduy – fifth grade

Zyaire Thompson – sixth grade

Michael Toney – fourth grade

Morrell Toney – fifth grade

Ramon Washington – sixth grade

Jalil Watts – sixth grade

Jul 01 2020

Gymnast Becomes A Model And Breaks Stereotypes

Chelsea Werner is a gymnast from Danville, California. She also has entered the modeling world to showcase her unique perfection.

Chelsea was just a four-year-old when gymnastics came into her life as a way to strengthen her muscles. As a gymnast, Chelsea has earned national and international accolades for her routines. She became a champion and, according to Chelsea, gymnastics has taught her new skills and infused her with confidence.

Chelsea needed that confidence and family support in the modeling arena. She faced rejections, because a market did not exist for someone as unique as Chelsea. But, she persisted, and her family never gave up on her.

Patience and perseverance paid dividends. Chelsea was discovered through social media by We Speak, an agency that operates with the motive of promoting body positivity and inclusion in the modeling world. We Speak’s founder saw Chelsea’s bubbly optimistic energy in a viral video, and she immediately decided that Chelsea had the potential to succeed in the fashion world.

Since her first photoshoot, Chelsea has emerged as a global sensation. She can accept all kinds of feedback and she learns quickly about the steps required to succeed. According to many in the business, Chelsea has a bright future as a model.

Now, a little more about Chelsea. Her success in gymnastics came in the Special Olympics United States National Championships (four-time champion) and the World Championships (two-time champion). Chelsea has Down Syndrome.

Chelsea’s path to success in gymnastics and modeling has provided hope to parents with children diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She has shown that nothing can or should stop any person from pursuing interests, fulfilling dreams and achieving success.

Chelsea has proven that each of us is beautiful in our own way.