Sunday, August 16, 2015
I have been struggling on how to properly memorialize sweet Gwendolyn and extending my condolences to Bill and Victoria. I will do my best. I remember first hearing about Gwendolyn and the Strongs while I was preparing for Western States 2010. I would be running in honor of Owen and all others affected by SMA. Before the race Heather mentioned how she had met this amazing family online while dealing with Owen's passing. She encouraged me to contact them and I first reached out to Victoria. I was amazed how sweet, compassionate, and dignified Victoria was. Her grace radiated through her emails and she was very excited I would now be running for the GSF. I soon met Bill online and was amazed by his strength, compassion and dignity. If I was half the man Bill Strong was I would be doing alright. I started to follow the GSF and was amazed by that little angel Gwendolyn. I watched how Bill and Victoria celebrated her life and would not let her be excluded. Running Western States in 2010, I continually drew on her strength when I felt weak. I had a sheet of paper with a picture of Owen and the names of Gwendolyn and other SMA babies. I took it out many times during the race when I was feeling low. They empowered me and motivated me. We have run for Gwendolyn and SMA ever since. Sometimes the weakest are the strongest and the strongest are the weakest. In 2012, myself and Kenny made our way to Santa Barbara to finally meet Gwendolyn and her parents in person. Although it was a short visit, it was a remarkable experience. It was an honor to finally meet this amazing family. We learned how relentless and insidious this disease really is. We watched Gwendolyn's big beautiful eyes follow Bill attentively wherever he went. I watched how amazing Bill and Victoria were as parents. This special little girl was in the best of hands. Sadly it was just a short visit but it had a profound affect on me and will for the rest of my life. When I try to explain to people who have no idea what SMA is about, I often find it difficult to find the right words. Cruel, insidious, unrelenting. Those words aptly describe what SMA is. But when I try to explain to people how amazing Gwendolyn, Bill and Victoria are, the words I use to describe them often feel inadequate. In my line of work, I often see the absolute worst in human beings. With the Strongs, I have seen the absolute best. They shared beautiful Gwendolyn with all of us and taught us how to be better. Gwendolyn has touched so many lives and will continue to do so for the longest of times. In our community, there was no SMA awareness prior to Owen and Gwendolyn. Now there are thousands and that number will continue to grow. What one little girl has done for this world continues to inspire and amaze me. This year has been a difficult year for me. Mostly self inflicted pain and mistakes made. I don't know what the future may hold for me. I know changes need to be made and they will be made. Once before, I drew on the strength of Gwendolyn and other SMA babies to help me out through some dark times. Once again I will draw upon their strength to help me through. I owe myself and them that much. Sweet Gwendolyn, thank you for inspiring me to be a better person. Thank you for shining your bright light upon all of us. You will be missed greatly but never forgotten... Bill and Victoria, I love you guys very much and I am eternally grateful to you for sharing you sweet angel with us. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will always have hope! Godspeed Gwendolyn
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Even though my mind is still a bit numb in light of what transpired yesterday, I thought it would be important to blog about yesterday's events. I tend to procrastinate and I thought it would be best that I memorialize as best I could what myself and those I hold near and dear experienced yesterday. I will try to do my best. The 2013 Boston Marathon actually started for us on a beautiful June afternoon 2012. Kenny "aka gambler" Rogers had just completed the Western States 100. I made it a point that I would finally meet Bill, Victoria and Gwendolyn Strong after the race. We drove down to Santa Barbara and finally met this amazing family. It was a special afternoon. They are amazing people, selfless, kind, generous and always look adversity straight in the eye. They have to because they live with SMA everyday. They have inspired me so much. As we were sitting around and talking about running, I asked Bill if he had any goals or wishes in regards to running. Bill mentioned that he would love to someday run the Boston Marathon. I don't think it took long but I told him I could probably make that happen. I don't know if he believed me or not but I was determined to get my friend a number and make a wish come true. With the help of my good friend Geoff Smith(2 time winner of the Boston Marathon) I was able to get Bill a number for this years race. It would be extra special because my fellow SMA ass kicker, the Lovely Lauren Lundy had qualified for Boston this year. This had been Lauren's goal and holy grail for many years and she had finally achieved it. I am so proud of her. She is so bad ass and an amazing person. Also Bill's friend William Crader had also qualified for the Boston Marathon and would also be making the trip out to Boston. Team GSF would be assembled and the theme as always would be NEVER GIVE UP! For those of you who know me, I'm not big on road marathons and would much rather spend my time on the trails. I could not pass up this opportunity however and was so excited to be running with these superstars. Plus its the Boston Marathon. I have been struggling with a hamstring injury for over a year so I was not in tip top shape to say the least. This would be a "pageant" run, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd. I just wanted to run with my friends and help make a difference in a childs life. Fast forward to race day, and the full team assembled in the athletes village. It was so cool to see my friends Bill and Lauren and to meet my new friend, Billy. We were all sporting our Never Give Up shirts and I must say we were looking good, well at least those three were! Billy was in the first wave, Lauren the second, and myself and Bill in the third. Billy and Lauren left to run there Boston marathon and we wished them good luck. Myself and Bill milled around a bit longer and talked about things like we were old friends. Bill is one solid dude. Bill was amazed at the magnitude, scope and size of the race and was totally excited. He kept thanking me for the opportunity but it was me who was thankful for all that he does. I explained to Bill the significance of Marathon Monday and of Patriots day. It is the most special day for Bostonians. I told him to expect the crowds to energize him along the way. I told him to enjoy the hundred of thousands of spectators who would be lining the streets to cheer on his efforts. I told him how crazy excting Boston would be once he got near Fenway and the fans spill out of the ballpark. And finally onto Boylston St., the amazingness of the finish I just knew he would be amazed by the race and I would be proud for having him here. GSF would be heard from here in Boston! Before the race started, I told Bill that I was unsure if I could keep up with him because of my lack of fitness. I told him to run his own race, soak in the day and I would see him at the finish. Finally the gun went off and within 10 minutes or so our 2013 Boston journey began. Per usual it was slow going for the first couple of miles but that was totally enjoyable to me. Like I said, I had no intentions of going out hard and fast and would be super happy with a 4:15 marathon. The weather was perfect for running and Bill was looking real strong. I stayed with him for about 3 miles but I knew I could not keep up the pace. I let Bill drift ahead and I was content to just hang back and soak in the race. No pressure. I felt good for about 5 or 6 miles, but after awhile both hamstrings became sore and were very tight. I wasn't going very fast at all and was predicting a finish well over 4 hours. The pace was enjoyable but again the hammies were toast. The crowds were great and helped move me along the course. There is nothing quite like the Boston Marathon. I got to mile 15 and Kenny and Victor Couto were greeting runners from our area. I told Kenny I left my hammies at mile 10. Kenny jumped in with me and ran about a half mile. I told him how I was feeling and that I was taking it easy. After leaving Kenny, I proceeded along until I got to Mile 17 or 18, turned up the hills and started to give it a go. I don't know what happened but the crowds and the hills really energized me. I powered up the first hill and my hamstrings started to loosen up a bit. I forgot to mention that the Never Give Up shirts were a huge hit. The crowd kept cheering the slogan when I passed by and it always gave me a big jolt. I also like to run on the left side of the course for some reason and like to run near the crowd. There are so many children lining the course and I like to make them feel part of the race by giving high fives to them. I got to the top of the first hill which I believe is mile 19. I started to have the old internal conversation with myself, "Hey dummy, your a feeling a little better, why dont you start running." Then I doubted myself some more and then I said "why don't you run this bitch." And so I did. I felt totally energized and strong. I had not been running consistently for sometime and did not know where this was coming from. I had some time to make up to break 4 hours but I thought I would give it a go. And later on, I was fortunate that I did. Fast forward to the end, I made my turn onto Boylston St and once again I was amazed at the crowds. Thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets of the finish. Once you make the turn onto Boylston St., it is approx. 1/2 mile to the finish. So I was running close to the crowds on the left hand side and I saw my 3 Team Cheering Crew, my girlfriend Rebecca, along with my best friends Heather and Gillian. I was so happy to see them and I ran over and we had a big old Team Owen hug. I think I told them I got snots on them and then I ran away lol. I then continued on my merry way and finished my Boston Marathon 2013. I was so happy that I was feeling suprisingly good. After crossing the finish line, I started to mosey along the runners chute where all the runners are contained after they finish. I made it to the water station and started drinking some water, and doing a little stretching etc. And then it happened. I was facing away from the starting line when I heard this horrific blast. I turned around in time to see a plume of smoke rising from the start area. I knew in an instant it was not good. In what seems like seconds, I saw a bright flash of flames and then a louder blast. I knew what was going on. I was probably 200-300 yards from the explosion. I started to walk towards the explosion when several officers started to scream for us to run. My first thought was oh please don't let the girls be near this! But I knew that after seeing me they would have started to walk towards the finish line to meet me. In my head I knew that they would have been so close to these blasts. My heart was in my stomach. What I didn't know and I am so grateful for is that Bill was only 1 minute behind me. I thought he had already crossed the finish line. What I didn't know is that I had passed him along the race and didn't see him. Unknown to me, they had waited that extra minute to see Bill run by them, then they started towards the finish. Little did we know that this one minute changed everything for my loved ones. Bill was 1 minute or 100 yards closer to the blast than I was. For those of you who have not run Boston, the runners chute that we were in is lined with school buses containing runners personel belongings. There were a couple thousand runners now jammed into a "chokepoint" on Boylston St. My training and experience took over and all I was thinking was getting to the girls. Most people were oblivious to the magnitude of what had just happened. Many were saying it was probably a generator or a man hole cover exploding. I knew better. People were still getting their medals and I was trying to tell anybody who would listen that they needed to screw the medal and get out of here. We were in a perfect terrorist trap and I was just waiting for a secondary device to go off. The buses are parked bumper to bumper so you cannot get access to the sidewalk. So I low crawled under a bus and hopped the fence onto the sidewalk. And then I ran, I ran towards my bus parked on the common so I could get my phone and find out what had happened to the girls. Once I got on the bus, I frantically called Rebecca, Gillian and Heather. All my calls were going straight to voicemail. I was leaving pleading, frantic messages for them. I tried to call Bill and Lauren but nothing would get through. I tried texting everybody again but only got Bill. He said he was safe in the Common and Lauren and Bill were safe too. I still could not get through to the girls. I was frantic, I was helpless. My good friends Kevin Mullen and Mike Maher showed up and told me they had been near the blast also. They told me what I already knew, that it was a couple of bombs, maybe car bombs. The city was in chaos. Our worse fears realized. I kept trying and trying but nothing worked. My mind was racing trying to figure out what to do next. Thankfully after many calls, Rebecca finally answered. She was hysterically crying and I could not make out what she was saying. Their was terror and fear in her voice but at least I heard it. I was somewhat relieved but it sounded like the girls had been hurt. I talked to Gillian next, thankfully she told me they were OK, a little cut up, bruised and beaten, but they were ok. Heather would need stitches on her foot but they were in tact. I knew the girls were scared and I knew I had to get to them. We finally figured out that they were along the Charles near the Mass Ave Bridge. I left my stuff with Mully and then ran as fast as I could down Commonwealth Ave. I felt so strong and empowered for those 2 miles. It was like I hadn't already run a marathon. I then turned the corner and ran towards the bridge. I saw the girls being helped by another runner. I ran to them and hugged Rebecca, Gillian, and Heather. I was so grateful that they had not been seriously hurt. We got our bearings, headed towards the car and got out of Boston as fast as we could. There are so many emotions that I have been experiencing the last 36 hours. Anger, sadness, helplessness, anger again, gratitude. It is tough to comprehend what just happened. You also feel guilty, or at least I do. Why was it somebody else and not me? Why was it an 8 year old boy and not me? Why did I run faster the last 6 miles and where did that come from? Why would some evil bastard do this, knowing that you would kill and maim innocent, happy, loving people? As Team GSF, we were so looking forward to celebrating my friends accomplishments. And now their feels like emptiness. A big hole in my heart. I don't get to see my friends often and it breaks my heart what happened this monday. I can have some comfort knowing that they are all right physically and I hope mentally too. I just wish there was more I could do. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy. My heart breaks for you and your families. I really don't know how to end this blog other than to say... I'll see you at the 2014 Boston Marathon! Post Script After looking over the blog, there was just so much more I could have written about but I would be here for another week. A couple of things that I must mention is my friend Dawn Nunes(President of the Greater New Bedford Track Club) did an amazing job accounting for all the track club members and keeping a cool head during all the chaos. Dawn was also assisted by my friend Laurie Bertoldo Walker. Well done my friends, well done. And I left out the most amazing piece of our story, the bravery of our three girls Rebecca, Heather and Gillian. After looking over pictures and video of what happened in Boston, I can only imagine the horror they witnessed. Pure horror. I am so grateful that they are ok and are still with us. Once again i firmly believe the O man was protecting his mommy and all her friends.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Team Owen 2013 will be taking over the streets of New Bedford this Sunday! A sea of blue is ready to descend on the streets of New Bedford and the excitement is palbable. We estimate at least 150 runners representing the Team this year. The amount of support and dedication towards Team Owen is incredible. I can not thank everybody associated with Team Owen enough. Training for the race was especially tough this year because of the weather but we pushed through the mental barriers and continued on. Tommorow will be a special day and one that we will not soon forget! Stay tuned for a post race update!
Sunday, April 1, 2012
What a day! Team Owen officially owned the streets of New Bedford for the 2012 New Bedford Half Marathon. It was a truly an amazing and special day, chock full of good times and new memories. I couldn't be any happier or more proud of the outpouring of support and effort of so many. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by so many special people. Here is a brief recap of what transpired on this special Sunday.
As Team Owen assembled near the steps of the New Bedford Public Library there were several things that became apparent. First, the weather was going to be perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, bright sunshine and warm conditions. That meant big crowds to come out and cheer all the runners. Secondly, Team Owen had grown from last year. Unofficially I believe we had approx 150 runners for Team Owen this year. We had so many new faces and we have made many new friends. A sea of blue was everywhere and you could tell alot of spectators were watching and saying to themselves, "who is Team Owen."
After taking the Team pictures, we headed to the starting line and started to mingle with other runners. Heather was running her second New Bedford Half in memory of her beautiful boy and was super excited and ready to kick some ass. Her escort for the race would be the lovely Lauren "runs for Owen" Lundy straight from the boogie down Bronx. Heather and Lauren have become best friends, drawn together from this terrible disease, but united in the cause to kick SMA so hard. They are bad mama jamas!
The gun went off and we were on our way through the streets of New Bedford. This years race had a record number of runners(3500) for the race. The streets were crowded with runners and supporters and it was set for a great day. I was not in tip top shape for this run and opted to just relax and enjoy the run, and take in the whole atmosphere. What became apparent very soon in the race were the cheers from the crowds for Team Owen. You could not run 25 yards without someone shouting "go Team Owen." It was amazing. This year we had the T shirts made by my good friend Russell Katerle from Kat Man sports. He did an unbelievable job and the shirts really stood out. All along the run people were asking me about SMA. Who is Owen? What are you guys running for? How could I join the Team next year? How can I help? I was in running bliss. This is what Team Owen was all about. This is why we run and "we run for those who can't." It was great seeing so many Team Members smiling as we paraded through the city.
As I crested the hill of County St(mile 12), the crowds were huge and the cheers for Team Owen were deafening. A big ol cheesy smile was spread across my face. Again the goosebumps were there and stayed with me until the finish line. As I crossed the finish line, I was first met by Dan Macarthy(race director, Friendly sons of St Patrick, supporter of Team Owen and one cool dude.) Dan looked super awesome in his Team Owen apparel. I then waited for other Team members and took in the accomplishments of all the Team Owen members. Everybody was so excited to have run this race on behalf of Owen and were all amazed at the support we received. Lots of endorphins flying around. Heather and Lauren finished super strong and had a great race. Heather was so proud of what her little Angel had accomplished, he has literally changed so many lives. We had at least 150 runners running for Owen, as well as over 400 Team Members who supported the cause. Owen you are one amazing little boy.
After the race, we headed to Knuckle Heads Bar and grill for a little post race celebration. Lots of food, fun, raffles and good times. A great crowd showed up and we had a lot of fun. The band was fantastic! It was great to see so many little kids running around in their Team Owen shirts. That is what it is all about. Paying it forward and showing by example that it is cool to give back and to help others.
I was fortunate enough to win an amazing charcoal sketch of "Tarzan Brown' an amazing Narragansett Indian who was a tremendous runner. The sketch was donated by an amazing artist, co worker and friend, Scott Carola. And as I looked around, there were lots of smiling faces and contented runners. I can't wait until next year, Team Owen is amazing.
There are so many people I would like to thank for all their amazing support. Team Owen is a total team effort and we would not be where we are without everybodys support. First and foremost, thank you to Andrew, Heather and Adyn for being an amazing family and amazing people. Your grace, determination and unselfishness sets the example for all of us to follow. What they have been through and what they continue to do makes me proud to say they are my friends. Thank you to all my friends who supported us, donated or made time for Team Owen. I am surrounded by amazing people and quite frankly I am the person I am because of you. Thank you to Bill, Victoria, and Gwendolyn Strong for all your support and inspiration. What you guys do, how you live, and how you help others continues to amaze us and inspire us. It is an honor to run for the lovely Gwendolyn, a special, special girl! There are not enough superlatives to describe you guys. Last and definitely not least, thank you to the amazing Sampsons(Claudia, Gillian and Ianthe). You guys are the foundation of Team Owen and all this is possible because of your hard work. You guys are always willing to drop what you are doing to help others and often times it goes unrecognized or unappreciated. Believe me, we all appreciate who you are and I am fortunate to have you as friends. You guys kick ass.
And Dear Owen, thank you for inspiring us and making us realize how fortunate we really are. Your beautiful smile is a bright beacon that shines brightly and will continue to shine. You are changing lives and making us realize the power of one little boy. We will continue to run in your honor and keep you in our hearts as we continue to fight this shitty disease. I am one grateful man.
Ahhh these are SPECIAL DAYS!
Friday, February 24, 2012
Well folks 2012 is in full swing and I hope your training is going well. As you may know, we are running the New Bedford Half Marathon on March 18th 2012 in memory of Owen Simmons. Team Owen was a smashing success last year and we are hopeful that we will have as many or even more runners helping stomp out SMA. The response thus far has been outstanding and the donations are starting to roll in. Last year we were able to raise over $15,000 and we are hoping to top that mark. Let's get that moolah flowing.
We have a new T-Shirt design this year and to put it simply, they are awesome. We will have over 100 runners with their blue angel wings come race day. Again all we are asking of Team Owen members is to wear their shirt on race day and to take a picture with the whole team before the race on the library steps. After your race is run and completed, we will be having a post race dinner and party at Knucklheads Bar and Grill. We will have food, music, raffles and a great time. If any Team members know of anybody who wishes to donate any raffle items, we are excepting. We will also be having 3 more training runs on the New Bedford Half course starting this Sunday and following the next two Sundays. It is a great way to meet other Team Owen members and to also get a feel for the course. Come on out and experience some great people running for a great cause.
Finally, Heather(Owen's Mom) received some sobering news this week. She received an email from a local family who shared that their 4 month old child had just been diagnosed with SMA. They are full of fear, sadness, worry etc. SMA is so cruel and this is a strong reminder of why we do what we do. Be grateful for your healthy children. Be grateful for you're health. Remember how devastating this disease is and that SMA babies and their families need our help and support. So lets dig deep and and try to make even more of difference in a child's life this coming half. Thank you so much for your continued support and help and remember "WE RUN FOR THOSE WHO CAN'T"
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Well 2011 went by in a blur but it was certainly a memorable year! I am grateful for all that I was able to accomplish and look forward to more adventures in the coming year. There is alot on tap and I'm sure more will reveal itself.
Once again, I entered the lottery for 2012 edition of the Western States but sadly I was not picked this year. I am a bit disappointed but I am grateful for the opportunity to have run this race two years in a row. Many go years without being selected so somebody else will have the chance to have their life changed by this incredible race. However my good friend Kenny "the gambler" Rogers was selected this year and he asked me if I could pace him. Of course I gladly accepted and will be in Squaw Valley this coming June to support and help bring Kenny across the finish line. I will be able to view the race from a different perspective and still represent Team Owen and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation at WS100.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. Once again SMA ass kicking will be in full effect again in 2012 and you can join us and help make a difference in a child's life. On March 18th 2012, the New Bedford Half Marathon kicks off and Team Owen will be running strong in Memory of Owen Simmons. Last year was our inaugural event and it was a smashing success. We had over 100 runners running for Owen and this year I know we can top that number. It was a such a great day, an exciting day, a day that we still talk about. " There are big days, and their a little days.......Make this your BIG DAY."
We are in the process of ordering t-shirts for the event and also planning an after race dinner/party. All we ask to join Team Owen is to purchase a t-shirt and wear it proudly on race day. We will also have a fundraising page set up on the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation page to make it super easy for any fundraising you want to do. We encourage fundraising for our cause but it is not mandatory. Every penny counts though in helping find a cure for this crappy disease. Again we will take a pre race photo on the steps of the New Bedford Public library to show everybody that we are in the SMA ass kicking business and business is booming! We will also have some training runs on the course starting in February and I will be posting when they will take place. For any further info, don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on facebook.
I would just like to thank my friends from Team Owen for all their help this year. Without you guys, all of this would not have been possible. A very special thanks to Andy, Heather, Adyn, Bill, Victoria and Gwendolyn Strong, Gillian and Claudia Sampson. You guys rock and I am fortunate to call all you friends! 2012 here we come!