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There are two things that everyone who knows me well will tell you: first, I am the least athletic guy on the face of this earth, and second, I am very passionate about helping support childhood cancer research. Last year I embarked on a nine-day adventure to climb the second largest mountain in a desolate region of the Sierra Nevadas. This endeavor took me out of my comfort zone, but the constant training leading up to the climb prepared me both physically and mentally. In the end, I climbed a total of 36 miles, including 18 miles in 22 hours from basecamp to the summit on the final summit day followed by a strenuous nine-mile climb back to the base. This adventure allowed me to raise almost $6K for pediatric cancer research to support the work of Dr. Mary Beth Madonna at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

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I woke up one morning a couple months ago with a crazy and unplanned thought in my head—I would row across Lake Michigan in a solo man-powered boat from Michigan to Chicago to help raise the funds necessary to keep this research lab going. Not the greatest thought of my life, but still, it could be the next great adventure. I knew nothing about boating, rowing, water or even the distance. To top it off, the last time I was on a boat, I was unbelievably seasick. What was I thinking? I mentioned this idea to my wife, Rafaela, when I woke that morning, who confirmed my thoughts: I was crazy. Maybe I am, but I know that overcoming challenges I create like this is nothing in comparison to what the kids affected by neuroblastoma go through. Each day, they wake up sick, struggling to live, fighting for their lives, yet they are all so happy, unaware and innocent. They do not know a life without cancer. They do not know the battle ahead of them. They do not realize that one day, there will be a cure.

After months of research, I realized that although this would be the most strenuously physical and mentally exhausting goal of my life, I was determined to make it happen. Lake Michigan from east to west is approximately 65 miles, and I would need to row consecutively at a pace of 2-3 mph for 24 hours. Keep in mind that only a couple years ago, I could hardly walk up three flights of stairs. Regardless of the physical limitations, I had determination. Last year proved to me that if I put my mind toward a physical goal, I can achieve it, and half the battle is mental. Then again, maybe this is mental.

Since the inception of this crazy idea, I have started training in the most basic form I know how—first learning to row. What did I get myself into? I am in over my head, in more ways than one.

Over the next few months leading up to a September departure, I will be pushing my body to the limits and learning as much about boats, Lake Michigan and endurance as is humanly possible. When the day comes, I will set off on the row and arrive in Chicago one day later, proud, accomplished and knowing that I contributed, in what little ways I know how, to raise money to help find a cure for the worst form of childhood cancer.

The funds raised will go directly to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Specifically, they will help fund the amazing cancer research of Dr. Mary Beth Madonna. Her research focuses on neuroblastoma, expanding the knowledge of chemotherapy resistance and identifying potential targets for therapy. Neuroblastoma, as you may have guessed, is the most aggressive and deadly form of childhood cancer. Her research, although specific to this strain of cancer, can directly affect and correlate to other, more well-known cancers. I could go into more details about the actual research, but again, I’d be in way over my head. Take a look at the laboratory webpage for more information: Dr. Mary Beth Madonna

Throughout this journey, I’ll share more information about her research and the good that is coming of it. Stay tuned for what I hope will be an inspirational journey of conquering one’s fears and overcoming obstacles. I hope to provide some comedy and humor along the way.

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