Sunday, July 21, 2013

Love Yourself: My Wigs For Kids Story

I received the honor of representing Wigs For Kids at the Senior Games this past weekend. Below is my story about the experience I had with an incredible organization on behalf of an extraordinary student of mine. Enjoy! :-)

“If you love yourself, the hate of others becomes insignificant.”

These are incredible, inspirational words that should resonate with all of us. Who said these words? A teenage girl of just 17 years. A young lady by the name of Annie Robinson. How is it possible that such a young person can have such deep insight and perspective beyond the significance of shopping and boys? Well, Annie is far from your average teenager and a few months ago I learned why.

Annie was a student of mine in my Honors Biology class at Aurora High School during the 2011-2012 school year. She was a kind, smart, beautiful, soft-spoken girl with an infectious smile and positive aura. She was popular, athletic, and well-respected by her peers and teachers.  She was a true leader by example and the type of student every teacher wished for. I always knew Annie was more than just an average student. The better I came to know who her, the more special I knew she truly was.

Being the high quality student Annie is, she applied to be a member of the National Honor Society in the fall of 2012. I am the advisor of this distinguished extracurricular activity, and am responsible for preparing the applications for review. As I was sorting through each application in the Teacher Work Room, I came across one that had a pamphlet attached to it. This was Annie’s application, and I soon realized that the pamphlet was for Wigs For Kids. I am an avid runner, and have run many marathons, half marathons, 5ks, and other races. I ran a really fun and unique 5k at the Zoo for Wigs For Kids in 2011 , and was excited to see what Annie’s involvement was with such a wonderful organization. Upon opening the pamphlet, I saw Annie was pictured. She was receiving what I soon learned to be called Hair Replacement Treatment. I then quickly discovered something about this above average student I never knew: she had Alopecia. I could not believe that Annie, the beautiful, bright, confident student of mine was dealing with such a serious, chronic illness and I had no idea. She never let on that she was facing such a difficult illness, and never let it step in the way of being the wonderful lady she is. I read on, and learned that Annie was not just a recipient of treatment from Wigs For Kids, she served as their national spokesperson. I held on to the copy machine for a few minutes to catch my breath. I was literally blown away. Annie’s courage to represent all children facing the hardship of hair loss moved me in ways that are indescribable. It was a divine moment for me, indeed. I immediately decided I wanted to donate my hair. But, I felt compelled to do more and so I did my research.

I went home that night and searched the Internet for “Wigs For Kids.” I went to their website, watched Annie’s video, and also learned about other children facing difficulty with hair loss. My heart ached for these children. As I continued looking through their website, I learned about the amazing work done by Jeffrey Paul and the Wigs For Kids team. Through the creation of wigs and hair pieces, they help to ensure that every child in need has the ability to live their lives beyond their fullest potential, feeling beautiful on both the inside and out. I also learned that these wigs and hair pieces come completely from donation, and that there assembly is expensive.  Every Hair Replacement System costs $1800 to produce. At that point, I decided in addition to donating my hair, I wanted to dedicate my 11th marathon, the Cleveland Marathon, to Wigs For Kids. As I would be training for the marathon, I wanted to raise at minimum $1800.

I had never run for a charity before, and felt incredibly nervous to embark on this journey. This was more than just a charity for me and reaching my fundraising goal meant more than any race personal record. I was running for an organization that opened the door to an incredible life for my dear student, Annie, allowing her to become the exceptional young woman that I know her to be. The support and opportunities that Wigs For Kids has provided for her are truly miraculous. Throughout her experiences, she has managed to inspire so many countless individuals with her strength, courage, and positive attitude. It is because of Wigs For Kids that Annie is not trampled by her medical condition, but instead able to shine. Those inspirational words I initially stated that are written by Annie, “If you love yourself, the hate of others becomes insignificant,” were part of a beautiful essay she wrote this spring upon reflection of her life experiences. The essay was for The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Stop the Hate contest, and among the all of the essays submitted Annie was selected as a top finalist. Upon presentation of her essay at Severance Hall, she was selected as the first place winner, and was awarded a $50,000 scholarship. Annie’s ability to turn a hurdle in her life into a stepping stone sets such an amazing example for all of us, and further inspired me to want to give back to Wigs For Kids on her behalf.

It meant a great deal to me to complete my Wigs For Kids Cleveland Marathon journey successfully, and so I prayed emphatically and was hopeful that others would help me reach my goal. With the support and encouragement from Annie, her parents, my family and friends, the Aurora City School District and community, and many others, I was able to surpass my goal and raised over $3,000 and donated well over 12 inches of my hair. The trials and tribulation that came along with my marathon training were miniscule knowing I was able to give back in ways I couldn’t have imagined to Wigs For Kids. In conclusion to my journey, I completed my 11th marathon, the Cleveland Marathon as 17th overall female with Annie cheering me to the finish. Despite being the day after prom, Annie was there to show her support and proved to me that angels come in human form. She is a standout individual far from your average teenager, dedicated to supporting and representing the organization that she has done so much for, as it has done so much for her. To say that knowing Annie and having had this experience has had a positive impact on my life is an understatement. I have since made it my lifelong goal to continue to donate my hair to Wigs For Kids and to help promote the goodness that they do in any way possible.

I encourage all of you to join us on Saturday, July 27 for the 8th Annual Wigs For Kids Day at the Zoo. Whether you want to walk, run in the 5k, check out Zoo animals with your family, make a monetary or hair donation, you will be helping individuals facing the difficulty of hair loss become the remarkable young people they are meant to be. In doing so we can help all of them, like Annie, learn to love themselves, so the hate of others becomes insignificant.



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Just Fine :-)

Lil MP in 1988!
I still remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. It was a warm, sunny August day in 1988. I was a VERY shy, doe-eyed little red headed girl who was incredibly intimidated by interacting with other kids who were merely strangers. In my favorite pink dress with my matching purse (with my favorite pony inside), my Mom walked me into the parking lot of St. William’s School. I can vividly remember her saying good bye and the feeling of her letting go of my hand. She told me I would have to stand in line by myself, and that I was going to be just fine. Being the good girl I was, I listened, stood there, and glared straight ahead at the back of the heads of the kids standing in line in front of me. I remember the burning sensation of nervousness in my chest, the curious feeling if anyone was going to like me, and the anticipation of meeting my first “real” school teacher. The anxiousness was palpable. Other kids had their parents standing with them in line, but my Mom and I had already said our good byes and I had to do this by myself. I was terrified. Then, the bell rang, and in a single file line we walked into the building. And, as my Mom promised, I was just fine. Little did I know that this would be just one of many momentous experiences in my life, and that the memory of this moment would give me the confidence to know that no matter what I was encountering, I would be just fine…just as my Mom said. I am forever grateful to my Mom for all that she has done to shape me into the woman I am today. I love you, Mom! :-)

As I’ve embarked on the beginning of other significant defining moments in my life, I always go back to that exact feeling I had on the first day of kindergarten. There are the defining moments that I anticipated like my first day of high school, getting dropped off for my freshmen year of college, completing my Master’s degree, beginning my first year of teaching, and running the Boston Marathon. And then there are the defining moments that have caught me by surprise. It is these moments that have me most reflective and reliant on the memory of that first day of kindergarten and those insistent words of my Mom reminding that I will be just fine.

What happened to me on Monday, May 13, 2013 before the Cleveland Marathon has become such an incredibly defining moment of my life, and has greatly altered my perspective. The fear of uncertainty regarding my health and well-being has been stressful beyond words. I’m still in pursuit of an explanation between the link of marathon training and what appears to be seizures that occur spontaneously when I run. Having this happen a 3rd time, for whatever reason, has changed me. In no other experience I’ve faced in my life have I felt the reality of my own mortality. Even a ruptured appendix during Graduate School didn’t strike true fear in me. But this incident certainly has, and my life has changed drastically.

It’s hard to describe in words how my life has changed. Obviously, discontinuing marathon training is part of it but not entirely. I feel more appreciative for the people in my life and more of a desire to try new things. It’s as if the incident was the jolt I needed to break from the strict routine I had been on in my life and loosened me up to new possibilities. The incident has also struck a great deal of fear in me, and I’m not sure I’ll ever feel comfortable enough again to run alone. I used to run miles upon miles in not-so-safe, desolate locations and felt no fear. Those days are over.

So what are some of these new possibilities I’m dabbling with? One is dating. If you know me, you know that deep down I’m still that shy girl intimidated by meeting strangers. So, that being said, I HATE dating. But, despite the fear and anxiety that comes with it, I’m doing it. It’s just like that first day of Kindergarten, and I know that no matter what it’s going to be just fine! So, have I been successful so far? With regards to finding a match, absolutely not. But with regards to learning more about myself and what I’m looking for, absolutely. So, who are some of these gentleman I’ve encountered over the past few weeks? In brief summary, my first encounter was with Cleveland Bar guy. He was nice, but a little too into the party scene and “hanging out” at 3am. No, thank you. Then, there was Overly Catholic guy. He literally recited Grace at dinner at a bar in Downtown Willoughby over his beer and burger. I nearly broke into the Church giggles. God and I were both rolling our eyes over this guy.  Next, there was PHD in Genetics guy. I was intrigued to hear about his research, but he found it more meaningful to show me videos he recorded on his phone of himself doing pull ups. And then last but not least, there was Overly Muscular Tattoo guy. He wore an extra small t-shirt on our date, and informed me that he works out simply to ensure his tattoos look good. All of these dudes have a few general things in common in that they’re good on paper. They have great jobs, graduate degrees, are good looking, nice, athletic, and care about their families. Also, they all did the Tough Mudder, and are a little too confident about how “bad a$$” of an experience it was. However, the main reason I’d say that none of these guys were a match is pretty simple—the chemistry just wasn’t there. And, that is just fine!

So what have these experiences taught me? First, that I’m VERY lucky to have a job that I love. I have yet to encounter a date that can agree that his job is his passion. Second, not to sound vain, but I definitely have accomplished significantly more than most individuals of my age. I was shocked to see how intimidated most of these guys were with my running experiences…and was intrigued to learn that none of them wanted to hear about them. They just wanted to talk about their own experiences with that stupid Tough Mudder thing…or wanted to show me videos of themselves doing pull-ups… or wanted to outline their daily routines on keeping their muscles inflated…etc. That being said, I’ve learned that it’s going to be difficult for me to find a person that’s okay with me being a chic that has a lot going for her. Lastly, these experiences have taught me that ultimately what I’m looking for isn’t quantifiable. The chemistry with someone is either there, or it isn’t, regardless of how good someone is on paper. I have 0% desire to settle and am okay with being single for as long as it takes until I meet the right person. It is what it is and everyone is just going to have to deal with it!

In addition to dating, I’ve been enjoying working out (in the gym), spending lots of time with my family, enjoying celebrating milestones in my friends’ lives, received the blessing of  being Godmother to my beautiful nephew Luke, and am trying not to focus on my health issues. It’s my doctors’ jobs to figure out what is wrong with me, not mine. I pray a lot, and am confident that everything is going to work out okay. God definitely works in mysterious ways, and all of this is happening for a reason I’ll understand some day.The incident that happened to me in May has commenced a new chapter in my life, and I’m confident that no matter what, as my Mom told me, I’m going to be just fine. :-)

Beach with the Nephews!

More nephews!!!

My Godson Luke!

The Logo Bachelorette celebration!!


And more weddings!