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My Passion for Making a Difference

Race Report: 2016 TriRock Philadelphia - The Lengthy Road to Holding a Half Million Dollar Check…

This year, I raced for sweet Lulu, the granddaughter of a J&J colleague and friend Pete Garibaldi. I raced with #LoveForLucyAlways tattooed on my right shoulder and two similar stickers on the aero bars of my bike. I was not expecting that this would be my best experience in 15 years with the Company!

Shortly after her first birthday, little Lucy got diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, bringing her entire family to its knees. She spent 9 months at world’s most prestigious CHOP and courageously survived five intensive chemotherapy regimens and three bone marrow transplants.

She wasn’t a typical ‘sick’ child: she played, ran, danced, and pushed her baby dolls in her stroller all while her mom and dad ran after her with her IV pole.

But on May 13, 2015, sweet Lulu ‘s life took a horrible turn and she left us at just 22 months of age.

Lucy’s extraordinary will to live and be happy against all odds inspired me to bend over backwards to try to honor her life and - together with 448 J&J colleagues - to raise as much money as possible to help scientists find a cure for pediatric cancer, a cause close to my heart: Every day, almost 700 new kids are diagnosed with cancer, with 250 kids losing their battle.

This was my third J&J Olympic triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) and a special one from the get-go.

During last year’s race, right at the beginning of the final 10K run, I totally ruptured my right Achilles’ tendon. The thought of the little CHOP fighters battling much worse helped me finish the race despite the pain. A month later, my surgeon reattached the tendon and a year-long of humbling physical therapy started.

At first, I could only swim but could not push from the wall during my flip-turns…I walked and slept with a boot for almost 8 weeks (my suture re-opened)…I agonized while re-learning to walk without a limp…I got authorized to get back on my bike but could not stand on the pedals as I lost all my calf strength...I spent hours sweating on my trainer to get ready to bike again with my cycling peeps…I tried to run…at first just a block…I could not train at the normal intensity so 20 nasty extra pounds made me run like an asthmatic German Shepherd with bad knees for a few weeks…

Thanks to my beautiful, generous and compassionate wife, my family, my triathlon coach and 101 friends who sponsored me (including Lulu’s family), I was able to stay focused on the microscopic progress I was making every day and to run my first 10K about 2 months before the race. That day, Lulu was there for me and I saw the end of the tunnel. Fascinatingly, I exceeded my $8,000.00 fundraising objective that day. Then, it hit me: Could I become the largest Johnson & Johnson fundraiser?

Well, the day of the race started like a dream: my dashboard recording $17,475.00!!! It warmed my heart to shatter the 2015 J&J record…

It was now 4:45 AM and time to deliver on the promise. 87 degree temperature was optimal for a beach day but I do not do very well in the heat…I hydrated as much as possible, swallowed a protein-rich breakfast and headed for the transition area to set up all my gears. Besides Jon, my coach, I did not recognize anyone but irrespectively felt like part of a bigger thing as I got surrounded by multiple J&J uniforms… A splendid “sea of red” like our CEO Alex Gorsky says

I got rapidly confirmed that wetsuits were not allowed due to the high water temperature. I swim faster with my wetsuit but I was mentally prepared for this scenario and felt in peace as I walked half a mile upstream to the swim start. There, I was happy to see my J&J friend Zhong Yuan who competes in the same age category. It did not take long after listening to a lovely rendition of the national hymn that we were paired for starts every 3 seconds. I was not used to this format and struggled a bit with it as I am a relatively good swimmer and immediately caught up with about a dozen waves, getting my share of kicks along the way. What I was most worried about was an approximate 500 yard swim upstream but thankfully, the current was minimal. This is when I noticed a submerged cable connecting all the buoys. A fantastic discovery as I suddenly got a visual underwater guide similar to a line in the pool. As I passed the first kilometer, I still felt strong. I got out of the water eighth in my age category and started to jog to the transition area.

Aero helmet and bike shoes on, the bike portion began. This is when you start to hear the moving “go J&J” from the public. With the sun shining and the breeze generated by the speed, it felt like perfect conditions. I quickly leaned on my aero bars and committed to stay in this position as long as possible as it usually brings me above 20 mph and allows me to pass a lot of other competitors. It would not take long before I hit the first out of eight serious hills. I was happily surprised that I was not out of breath at the top like the previous years. It felt even better when I was able to keep up with a group of six “pros” for a few miles (these are the guys with wheels more expensive than my bike). It felt like I was having a good day. I was a bit disappointed with my 18.5 mph average but grateful that I did not experience any flat this year.

As I dismounted and put my CamelBak on, I knew the hardest part was coming: The dreaded run! I got a little apprehensive as I passed the exact spot where I ruptured my Achilles but quickly smiled as I found a relatively happy pace under large trees. I felt so indebted after the first turnaround for all those who made my healing possible. I was still in a good place as I passed the 5K mark but I knew that the next half would be under full sun and that would be a different story. As I got close to the second turnaround, I noticed that my heart rate was extremely high as I was going anaerobic. Keeping the same pace for the last section would be insufferable. I felt angry and disappointed at myself but decided to adopt a walk-run strategy for the last 2.5K which slowed me down greatly. This is where you meet your demons. I thought of sweet Lulu and what she tolerated. With about 400 yards to go, I accelerated and finished with a long sprint to pass one more competitor. By the time I passed the finish line, I knew I had given all I had in me, even though this would not be the personal record I had hoped for.

As Jon & I walked back to the J&J hospitality tent to celebrate these good times, the cherry on the cake was waiting for me: after a photo shoot with our CEO Alex and our worldwide VP of Human Resources Peter Fasolo and an interview with J&J Corporate, I was invited to meet Dr. Stephen Hunger, Chief of Oncology at CHOP and later on to present him with a half a million dollar check on behalf of the J&J triathlon team. I never held a check that big in my life!

I cannot think of a more meaningful finale. We made a difference for so many families. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be a part of it.

#LoveForLucyAlways. #HumbledByMyFriendsGenerosity #DoGoodBeWell #ThisIsWhatTheJ&JCredoIsAbout