Wednesday, October 23, 2013
That morning in 1999...the beginning of Wish for Wendy
The first Wish for Wendy logo
As we approach our 14th Wish for Wendy, I'm reminded of that morning back in 1999 when I woke up, put on a suit and tie and drove down to North Druid Hills in Atlanta. I parked my car and walked in a building I hadn't been in since I was a kid when I used to crouch behind my mom because of my excessive shyness. I was there to see Maureen Fraser, the Director of the CF Foundation of Georgia.
As I walked in, I didn't know what to call her. As a kid, I knew her as Ms. Fraser. I was an adult now so I figured a first name was fine.
"Maureen," I said, "I have an idea for a fundraiser. I want to raise money for cystic fibrosis in memory of my sister."
I could see Maureen looking at me. I was a 26 year old who had no idea what he was about to get into. Maybe she didn't see that though. Maybe she saw a younger version of my mother.
My mom had started the Santa Claus House decades ago to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Imagine a Jewish woman working on an event with Santa Claus in the title. She did an amazing job though. My mom told me the story of how she was driving down West Paces Ferry and saw renowned singer Isaac Hayes running in a jogging suit with his entourage. She stopped and asked if he would help with their charity event. Most people would be reluctant to try but my mom was not afraid of the word "no." Soon after, a few large men came in the morning of the Santa Claus House event and brought autographed memorabilia generously donated by Mr. Hayes. That's when I learned to never fear the word "no." Because of that story, we have raised nearly $2 million today. Thanks Mom!
Maureen asked me how I was going to go about raising money. All I knew was I had the motivation in my sister. I had the resources in my family and knowing so many people through softball. What I had no idea was how to find sponsors. Still I had a few great friends who helped me to create the event and even more friends who volunteered the day of the event. I'll never forget our first volunteer umpire Joe shouting "Play ball!" as the event started nearly a decade and a half ago. We raised close to $30,000 that first year. I honestly thought it was going to be a one-time thing but as we were leaving to go home that night in October of 2000, one of the players said something that turned the event from a one-time money-maker to a 14-year philanthropic giant.
"Can't wait till next year!"
Every year following the first shout of "Play ball!" and the close of the event, I think about hanging it up. I really do. Each year I grow a few more gray hairs, something that was considered impossible for a CF patient to ever have when I was a kid. I focus on other joys in life but I can't give up on this event. Not only is it fun but it funds a cause that myself and my family are dedicated to. I lost my sister to cystic fibrosis. My children are carriers of this disease. I have CF. Wish for Wendy is kind of like my baby. It will never be as big a priority as my wife and children but it will always mean a lot to me.
It's hard to believe that I've given this speech for 14 years.
I know a lot of people who are fighting every day to beat cystic fibrosis. Just in the last few months, I have known several people who have lost the battle to this disease including Ana Stenzel who I wrote a blog entry about. Ana, ironically, didn't die from cystic fibrosis but a symptom of it as you'll see from the entry.
I continue to battle CF and my numbers, sadly, have gone down the last few weeks. I am working my tail off to get them back up but I will be at the doctor the Monday after Wish to see if I need to go on IVs. Regardless I will continue to fight and fundraise and I will be playing again on the Wish for Wendy Warriors. I don't just intend to go out there and go through the motions. I plan to get a few hits while I'm out there and maybe a diving catch or two.
Put me in coach!
Wish for Wendy has played a significant role in my life. It was the event that brought me closer to my sister, a person who I never got to meet but I'm sure is at the event every year judging by the amazing weather we have. It brought me in touch with so many amazing people and for that I am truly blessed. One day, I hope it will also help to bring us a cure for this devastating disease.
I will see all of you on Saturday as we make A Wish for Wendy come true for the 14th time!