When I was 14 years old, I almost lost one of my legs. I was playing baseball, running track, growing up… and my adolescence came to screaming halt. After a few weeks of pain, I had my parents take me to the doctor, which led to a diagnoses of bone cancer in my left tibia. A board of orthopedic surgeons reviewed my case and suggested aggressive action. Bless my parents for searching for any other diagnosis than radiation, chemo, and possible amputation. We found one, but it was just as grim. A staph infection in my bone. How it got there is a mystery, but had that reached my bone marrow, then lights out Justin. So I was put in the hospital the next day and had a quarter size hole of my upper tibia scoped out and grafted.
A week later, I was still in the hospital and just silly kid trying to walk. It was too soon and caused swelling plus a fever spike. One of my original doctors was doing his rounds that day and checked on me. He suggested that his original diagnoses was correct and that I did have cancer all along. The delay increased the odds of losing my leg. Hearing that alone, without my parents around… kind of scary! But my surgeon WAS correct. I got my first lesson how professionals could be wrong at their jobs sometimes. Sound familiar weatherman haters?
However, the very next day, I developed an allergy to penicillin from my IV treatment. If you’ve ever had a full body rash. then you know there is nothing good about it. Ugh! So I was put on a relatively new drug called Keflex (for the medical pros reading). I was told if it was just a few years earlier, this drug was not around, and yes, I would have lost my leg after all. Strike 2! But I was not out yet…
A month and a half in the hospital, more time at home on IV, I lost part of my summer and was isolated. If there was an organization like Cool Kids Campaign, I would have benefited. That is why I became involved four years ago with my Wind for Change Program.
Come From Behind Track Victory
I eventually recovered, and a few years later was where I expected to be. This video of track meet is the only one my parents ever recorded. Thank you! This was the moment captured in time that changed everything. It was the finals of the 4×200M relay at the southeast NY regional invitational. I was the anchor leg, and getting the baton 10-15 yards behind the leader, I had tunnel vision. For the first time I felt 100% healthy, and I was able to come from behind and beat him at the finish line. Victory, as good as it feels, is even better after overcoming obstacles.
That video is how I still end my weather assemblies (it never gets old for me) and pump up the kids who participate in my Wind for Change contest. It is how I encourage kids to keep their courage even when something scary happens. Focus on your strengths and believe in yourself. In five years, we have raised $102,000 for the Cool Kids Campaign. I am grateful to every teacher, parent, and student that contributed.
I was 14 years old then,I was 41 when I did the first trek across Maryland. It is a reflection of digits and time for my own reflection. Considering it was 20’14’ and I was on TV in Baltimore for 14 years, it just fit. Plus it had been 27 years since this happened. 2 x 7 = 14.
There are more. Please see By The Numbers and I’d love to know what you think
I have been given a blessing in social media. I left TV over 3 years ago, but I reach more people today than ever. What good is having almost 200,000 followers on Facebook, 25,000+ on Twitter, and reach over one million a week if you don’t do any good with it? That is what I want to prove. Justify the large community for a purpose outside of myself.
For some reason I have been able to transcend cyberspace and connect with a lot of people. It has to be more than great photos, timely weather updates, a blockbuster winter storm grade report, or whatever. Some piece of me has reached others on many levels. Will sharing a bit more while doing something outside of myself be the validation of all of this? Before I embark on anything else in my business and life, I need to see that.
7 Days, 321 Miles From the Mountains to the Ocean
Starting from the summit of Wisp and ending at the Inlet in Ocean City. I picked Maryland’s two largest playgrounds for the kids who want to be kids again and just play.
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It is a hiking and biking combination everyday, to cross the state of Maryland from west to east in 7 days. Two legs each day, pun fully intended. That’s the plan. I’ve moved from sprinting to long distance running in my adulthood, but the hike is something more people can relate to. For the haters and trolls who wanted me to take a hike, OK. I am! Again!
The biking portion represents the fun part childhood, plus it relieves tension on my legs using different muscles and shortens the time of the entire event.
Each day will start with a 27 mile hike at a fast pace. See the daily routes here. I average a little more than 4 miles per hour, use trek poles to save my legs and back. They come in handy uphills, balance and deter sprained ankles when I get tired, and then I tuck them by my side like ski poles and jog downhills.
- 27 is for the years since I was sick (up to my first trek). It is also a little more than a marathon each day to honor my friend Kelly LaBare who got me into long distance events… But I got injured and didn’t finish my marathon before she died. The bike part will be about 14 miles, for the age I was when I was sick.
- Each day will be to honor one of our Cool Kids, telling you their story and let them know that many people care. Perhaps 27 years from now, they will be all grown up and tell their story about when they ‘were’ sick.
I have assembled a team and have support from some great people and experts in fitness. I am proud to have the backing of Gold’s Gym and Charm City Run to provide materials, advice, and guidance along the way. The people at Zest have built me a new web page (there is a lot more on the way), and they will be instrumental in helping with the technical side including a live GPS tracking page to see if I am really doing this. Plus, if you can, I’d love to see you along the way.
If you drive by or stop to say high, we can take a pic and post it using the hashtag
#CMD4CKC to help document this once in a lifetime journey. I’ve got some cool surprises along the way as well so you hopefully stick with me all the way through the end.
In addition to just finishing, yes I would like to raise money for the Cool Kids Campaign. In addition to the great services for kids and their family’s, we just purchased a beach house in South Carolina for the family retreats. Your donations will help keep this operational and enhance some good times and needed mental health for them.
Optimistically I wish we could raise $10 for every person on my FB page. The first year I set the mark at $14,000. That number again for my age when I was sick. Note that most kids we work with are much younger, and we want them to go well past 14 (and 41). Since we ended up raising close to $24,000 in the first year, we compiled a team this time. Sandy MacIver and Wayne Hydorn are joining me for the whole week. Three other people I will introduce during the week are doing individual days. Each raising money as well. This year’s goal: $50,000. A big goal, but I believe many in our community have big hearts and will see the big effort we are putting forth.
Help support the cause now but pledging here. Click on the orange tab with my silly mug and pledge there.
I feel I need to do this! Perhaps it is my mid life crisis, but I can imagine worse things. I am far from perfect, but have gained perspective to grab all flaws and obstacles, combine them with all that is good surrounding me, and do something positive. I hope my actions will resonate with you, inspire you, and encourage the kids to look past their disease to a time when they can attain their dreams.
I am also doing this for my two boys. Thankfully they are both very healthy at ages 5 and 9 and I could not imagine one of them being ill. I want them to see their dad complete something physically grueling to push past their fears and beyond what they think may be their limits. It’s my own personal American Ninja Warrior.
It is also for my parents. They’ve seen my best and worst (which wasn’t pretty) and still believe in me. This entire week is cosmic judo. Redirecting all obstacles and forces to something so good and beyond myself that is has to succeed.
I hope you join me along the way. I am so glad to have this opportunity of a large audience and physical fitness. I will need all support along the way, after the adrenaline fades and I proceed on fumes.
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