From a Marathoner with Love

Closed Central Park

Dear Friends, Fans, and Family,

To those of you who’ve supported me by donating funds to Team for Kids, running with me, or cheering me along my training, thank you. I couldn’t have come this far without you.

As you know, this part of the world has been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, and I have no words to express my sadness and heartbreak for the victims of this storm. That it has begun to polarize our community about such a life-affirming event as a marathon further breaks my heart. So many of us have spent months training for a challenge designed to makes us stronger and raised donations for very worthy causes, and I believe in this marathon and that it should continue on Sunday. I believe we each should run with our heads held high, celebrating 26.2 miles of this amazing city and the inhabitants who now fight daily to keep it running in every way.

Although I think it practical and important to keep the marathon’s spirit, income and revenue rolling despite this difficult time, my heart does truly goes out to my friends especially in Staten Island, Long Island, lower Manhattan, and NJ, as well as those affected in other localities. Throughout the days leading up to the race and on Sunday, volunteers are encouraging runners to donate to help victims of the disaster. As participants, may we use this moment as a call to volunteer our time or donate as we can and not turn away from those who need our help. As spectators, please meet us with a cheer rather than a protest for our months of hard work.

Let’s not turn our backs on each other in this time of need. If you need disaster relief or volunteers elsewhere, please post where we can help in the comments. If you have a donation to give, please begin with the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief here: http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy. If you’d rather give to another similar organization, this Huffington Post article provides some good tips for giving well to the disaster relief efforts.

If you’re interested in giving also to Team for Kids, please send your donations in the way of my friend Kristen Kasarjian’s page. She’s running for the same charity I am and still needs to reach her goal. We all have goals, after all… Some of us want to finish a race, some want to replenish our incomes so we can pay our bills, some of us want heat, water and electricity, some of us need a new home. It’s the energy and beautiful stubbornness behind people like marathoners that make this city great. Please don’t hide behind the glow of your television, computer, and smartphone while criticizing people bringing revenues and hope to a city we love. If you want to help, unplug along with those who have no choice and look for an opportunity. I promise you, there are plenty… and if I can help, please tell me how.

Gratefully Yours

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” To those of you who have helped me raise over $3000 for Team for Kids for this year’s ING New York City Marathon, you have made possible one of the major experiences of my life and the motivation and encouragement of countless children who will benefit from your donation. Thank you! One of the many beneficiaries of your kindness left me a voicemail the other day… this is who you have helped.

Still haven’t had a chance to contribute? Meet Kristen Kasarjian, an amazing friend of mine running the race for the same amazing charity. Please help her reach her goal, since I’ve already reached mine! Anyone who donates at least $100 to her campaign can still sponsor a mile in mine (I’ll think of you during the marathon in the mile of your choice)… Just let me know when you do. In the meantime for me, lots of training continues, as I keep running to prepare for the 26.2 mile course I get to complete on November 4. Today, I ran 16 miles, and I get to train in some of the most beautiful areas. Here’s your bird’s eye view into some of my favorite runs so far. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making it all worthwhile. I can’t wait!

An Early Run at Bard
An Early Run near Bard College
Run in Palisades Park
Run in Palisades Park
Sunlight in Palisades
Sunlight in Palisades
Back in the city
Back in the city

Run with Me

On Skydiving for Pearls, you can pretty much count on the fact that I love to seek out peak experiences. Bucket list items, challenges, excursions from the realm of safety and predictability. Why? Because when I push my boundaries now in the relatively secure confines of experimentation, then the real, unavoidable trials will later meet a stronger and more stubborn foe. As a bonus, I’ve discovered priceless joy and peace in activities I once feared or disdained.

That said, some strange part of me wants to suffer through these adventures like the heroine of Hunger Games or some similarly daring and adventurous paragon of courage. In hindsight, I think that same odd spirit in me relished dreading skydiving, as the only one of my group of twelve friends who honestly never wanted to try it. Despite my initial fears, I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Although it may take some time to gather the motivation (and money) and feel the drive to try it again, if I had to choose one day of my life to keep and loose the memories of all the rest, I would save the day where I plummeted from that very tiny plane. Hands down.

Recently, I’ve chosen a new peak to pursue that I also kind of dreaded: running in the 2012 ING New York City Marathon. In some strange imaginative portion of my brain, I expect to hate it, push through it, and succeed. Running for an extremely worthy charity, I also have the fabulous temptation of fearing not only injury, dehydration, heart and cardio concerns, and nutrition but also raising the required amount of $100 for each of my 26.2 miles.

Somehow despite the obstacles, including some ridiculous runs on which I’ve strayed onto wooded paths and tiny, busy highways, I had fun today on my four mile run. Achieving something new always feels great, but after my five miler on Monday and standing all day at rehearsal yesterday, I did not expect the sense of relief and renewal I experienced at the end of a surprisingly peaceful time. The nourishment of my food afterwards felt real and incredible, and I appreciated the dining commons at my summer gig at Bard Summerscape with no palatable annoyance at the influx of kids at their sports camps or the increasing predictability of food offerings. No. Those black-eyed peas and local baby plums amused me to no end, and my body teems with a consistent life and vigor I haven’t felt in a few years.

Does this make me a runner? We shall see. In the meantime, lucky me who gets to enjoy pursuing what I know will be a hard-won goal this November. As for the charity, I’ve chosen to run for Team for Kids, an organization that provides coaching, motivation, and inspiration for children in New York City, across the United States, and in South Africa. Focusing on inner city (can you imagine running in the city without a coach as a child?) and/or low-income schools, they give kids an opportunity to stay active, prevent childhood obesity, qualify for scholarships, and feel the genuine rush of health and of achieving something real.

So it appears the silly, grinchy side of me who longs to suffer will at least have to wait while I enjoy living as an example for the children I hope to help with Team for Kids. For my friends with me upstate at Bard and in the city later this summer and fall, please join me in a run if you like and can suffer my still slow pace. For everyone else, please consider contributing to Team for Kids in support of my run. I have a birthday upcoming on August 3… Feel free to think of it as a gift. I know I do.

Donate to Team for Kids

The Weather Monster

If you haven’t heard already, I’ve decided to run in November’s ING NYC Marathon for Team for Kids, a great cause promoting fitness for children in low income schools and preventing childhood diabetes. Please take a moment to visit my fundraising page, read about all of the great work Team for Kids does, and consider contributing to help me reach my goal.

As for my other goals? At the top of the list of course lies finishing. I also would ideally love to run the entire race, although as my first ever running event, I will happily walk if needed to arrive at the finish line. Truthfully, as a fresh-faced marathon newbie, I feel nervous to begin training for this next major Skydiving for Pearls adventure. How will I manage keeping my nutrition and energy elevated, with my regularly low blood sugar levels? Will I stay motivated and injury free? And seriously – rain? Cold weather in the fall and early spring training? Can’t I just run this thing on an indoor track somewhere?

Today I faced my first fitness challenge with a bit of a weather monster. Everyone has their dragons to slay… Mine? I hate the cold. That said, I also adore skiing! Vacationing in Okemo, VT has brought me a lot of fun, and we had a tremendous day on the slopes yesterday. Moguls kept me on my toes, and my body had an excellent workout. Still, I felt a bit unsure on shorter skis than usual and rarely ski without taking a private lesson, so I signed up for the following morning at 8:30 AM private. Early, but cheaper and with far fewer people on the slopes.

When I left our studio this morning, I thought the freezing rain might stop soon. Not so much. Kevin, my fun and knowledgeable instructor, helped me work on my turns, edges, and balance. Despite my fogged-up sunglasses (I promptly bought new goggles after my lesson ended), I loved challenging my mind and body to improve upon a sport I enjoy and revisit only once a year at best. Honestly, I can’t wait to go back out this afternoon and try out my new techniques… After the rain stops.

Racing down my final hill in my lesson, the hail stung my face and made my glasses almost unusable. The cold began to seep through my soaked ski pants, and I realized the water from the wet ski lifts had permeated down to my now quite cold skin. As I contemplated whether more expensive gloves might protect my hands better, I considered my upcoming marathon training. I will not likely want to run in freezing rain, but with the marathon in early November, I probably won’t.

Having enjoyed today’s lesson despite close to the worst weather conditions I can imagine, I learned another lesson I hadn’t quite expected. All of the things that can go wrong pale in comparison to the potential for growth, fun, and new experiences. Weather doesn’t matter really, and even the cold doesn’t sting quite so strongly when the heart starts racing for a fun sport or a good cause. I imagine the children who benefit from Team for Kids learn that truth well. Having slayed my morning weather monster, I feel much more confident and can’t wait to start running for those kids. This marathon, and training for it, might actually provide me with as much fun as the challenge itself, no matter the weather.

Skiing in Okemo

An Autumn Awakening

This last day of Autumn, I find myself surrounded by the common theme of new dreams, uncharted challenges, and new adventures to discover. Last week, blessed by four completely different performances for which to prepare and perform, I had the opportunity to check in with my incredibly talented and diverse friends and colleagues. One friend had just produced her second one-woman show. Another contemplated her next steps to her rise to hopeful fame, while a third shared her desire to sing jazz despite not knowing quite where to start. Bold steps by brave people.

Taking me to a black belt Aikido test, another adventurous man opened my eyes to the calm intensity of a challenging practice that intrigues me, and I had the chance to watch even a handful of elderly participants test for their black belt after years of training and discipline. Finally, at a party hosted by some invaluable friends, a photographer friend Michael Chadwick convinced me to run a marathon with him. So, for next Autumn, I’ve decided to run the ING NYC Marathon to support Team for Kids, a non-profit organization working to keep children active and combat childhood obesity. I’ll have more information in future posts, hopefully including details about a team to join if you’d like to take up the challenge with me! In the meantime, please consider helping me get off to a running start with a donation of any amount.

In the similar rush of these changing seasons as Autumn comes to a close, New Year’s seems already upon us, and my friends and I contemplate actions of almost spring-like renewal. In celebration of the rebirth we each have when we wake to a new day and open ourselves to new possibilities, I leave you once again with my dear friend and hero, Kara Morgan. Her ability to create her dreams literally and figuratively, always with a dash of humor, inspires me regularly to take the leaps that scare me most. May we all have such courage to wake up to our dreams this holiday season.

AIDS Walk

Breakfast with Team Lotsafun 2009
Breakfast with Team Lotsafun 2009

I’m walking for AIDS Walk again this year! Want to donate to the cause? http://aidswalknewyork2011.kintera.org/abbywright

If you’d like to walk with us, please check out the details at our Facebook event for team lotsafun! I really couldn’t find a better group of people with whom to spend a day. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=156470697739913

Defeating the Seasonal Funk, Day 147

In a funk, not quite functional, preoccupied and a bit derailed – so I felt a few days before Christmas. We all have known a stray day here or there like this. I suspect the homeless man currently ranting across the subway car at another passenger who somehow insulted his honor has had quite a few himself.

Last week, I experienced a much lesser version of such a day, bewildered by past emotions from months and even decades past in the face of present and future circumstances. Wondering if I would regret the choice to RSVP to attend Nancy Wertsch’s caroling-centric holiday party on my only full day off from singing in weeks, I dragged my issues and attitude up to Riverdale nevertheless. My good friend Alex asked, “How are you?” “Fine,” I responded not terribly enthusiastically.

We went to a local nursing home, Schervier Nursing Care Center, and donated our time and talents to wander the halls singing carols. Given the quality of the singing, we discovered many patients who seemed surprised to hear such caroling streaming through their rooms and corridors. It didn’t all go smoothly, of course. After cleaning vomit, into which I accidentally stepped, off my new boots, it seemed that one of the residents who requested our presence in their room really wanted to watch Family Guy instead. On the contrary, the patient loved us despite the background noise of the television, and everyone we encountered from the elderly to the nurses, supervisors, and maintenance workers greeted us with kindness and gratefulness.

On the fourth floor, a lovely pale-skinned woman in a wheelchair thanked us, offered to pray for us, and insisted that she would include us all in her will. Another woman painstakingly left her room with her walker to greet us in the hallway and listen. On the fifth floor, after a fantastically talented whistler couldn’t remember what carols he liked but kept whistling “Silent Night,” we began the song again for likely the twelfth time that evening.

Reminding me of our earlier encounter, my friend Alex said, “Why don’t I give you a ride home after this, and you can explain to me why you just feel fine?” At least an awkward twenty seconds later, I finally remembered to what he referred  – my mood upon entering the nursing home. “Oh, I had forgotten all about that! I’m actually doing something productive and worthwhile,” I responded, insisting upon basking in the goodness that for an evening filled the Schervier Nursing Care Center.

In an instant, I remembered caring for my grandmother for a couple of days in a similar center in Malone, NY years prior. Unlike most of the patients with whom we interacted at Schervier, she couldn’t walk by herself or even operate a wheelchair to sit and socialize with the others. Most often alone in her room, she began to lose her sense of reality, and I found it incredibly difficult to help her in conversation. Finally, on my last day visiting, I gave her a back massage. As she sat there, moaning a little and thanking me profusely, I thanked God that I could do something to make one moment of her final days just a little more livable.

Living at a much more rapid pace this year upon my return from Washington, I launched immediately into the hustle of a classical singer’s Christmas in New York, rehearsing or working at least two and often three gigs per day. I honestly forget how many Messiahs I’ve sung these past few weeks, and I know some of my colleagues worked more. Between performing in Amahl, the Messiahs, the Mozart Requiem, three Christmas services, and two temple services and recording a voice-over and with a choir for an Iranian composer,  I had plenty of stimulation. Friends somehow still managed to schedule time for lunches and coffees, two operas, overnight conversations, and a social media party. My apartment morphed a bit further, with new lighting fixtures and a few new shelves and pictures on the walls, and I survived an exhausted trip to visit family in Pennsylvania for Christmas and a blizzard that dumped a foot and a half on our Washington Heights roofs and vehicles.

Ultimately, after a moment to pause and reflect, I have so much for which to be grateful. What a wonderful, if hectic, season I’ve had! I feel infinitely better about the present and optimistic about the future. I’ve had a chance to let go of expectations and longings and, perhaps more importantly, to embrace the grand gestures of those interested and willing to make investments of time and effort in my life. Such time and effort spent for free on my only day off at the nursing home caroling party, after all, turned out to give me even more joy and fulfillment than any of the truly wonderful gigs for which I received payment.

Unfortunately, the time between Christmas and New Year’s has a reputation for inciting more depression and suicides than any other throughout the year. During these days, we pause, we reflect, and sometimes we don’t like what we have or lack. Another friend tonight confided in me that he often doesn’t feel good enough or worthy of affection from loved ones. Once we sense ourselves entering such a holiday funk, we have to climb out in ways that sometimes seem to make us uncomfortable, challenge us, and help us to refocus. I may have stepped in some vomit along the way, but giving joy to those gorgeously happy faces in a nursing home made every minute worth my time and investment. This truly is a season best spent in giving.

On a personal note, I have a very dear visitor from Washington this week and may not have a chance to write again until after the new year. May yours excite and enliven you, give you joy for the present, and show you infinite hope for the future to come. I can’t wait for us to share next year’s challenges together.