THANK YOU ALAN, THANK YOU MY FRIEND
By Jamie Lassner
In the darkness of the early morning hours of July 31, 2011 a caravan of 2 vans and 1 car from Manhattan and 1 van from Short Hills, NJ began their road trip to Belmar, New Jersey. All 13 people knew that that day was going to be like no other day.
The goal for all of us was to finish our Triathlon or Duathlon. Peter an executive at the Reeve Foundation,traveled with his buddy Chris and discussed their Duathlon relay team strategy. Mamadou traveled with my 2 sons, Sam and Adam,with the all the athletes bikes and equipment. They got pumped up for the big day listening to the latest pop songs. In our van, Amy, Emily, Mara, Mitch, Susie and I talked about past races and plans for future races. Glen (‘Hollywood’)traveled with Alan, the man who has inspired many in his life and was about to captain the TEAM REEVE ‘Never Say Never” in the 2011Triathlon/Duathlon for Autism.
Upon arrival at the starting line in Belmar we unloaded our bikes and gear under the shadow of a spectacular sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.
Tom Manzi, the U.S.A. Triathlon Official in charge of the race greeted us with our race packets containing our numbers and electronic timing chips. Tom, a caring human being, was instrumental in making sure that Alan’s participation in the event was a smooth sail. Alan,who I know since we attended Ramaz School and played hockey together on the streets of New York City, was spinal cord injured 23 years ago while in the ocean on vacation in the Caribbean. Living with quadriplegia, Alan was set on returning to the ocean for the first time as the swimmer and first"leg" of the triathlon. In celebration of the 20thAnniversary of doing the NY Marathon together, Alan suggested that I do the cycling"leg" of the Triathlon (he asked me 15 minutes after I finished my first Triathlon on June 19).
Several years ago, Alan started using the Ibot Wheelchair, a chair that works on gyroscope technology. Sam, my oldest son, who was about 8 at the time, was amazed at Alan’s new chair. To illustrate how amazing the chair was he asked Sam to give him a hockey check. Sam pushed him slightly. Alan looked at him in amazement and said “is that all that you got”. Sam, an accomplished hockey player, turned tome in dismay and asked in hockey language “Dad, should I plaster him?”. Before I could answer Alan replied “go for it”. So Sam took 3 steps back, ran towards Alan,went airborne and checked Alan really hard across the chest. The chair moved back a few inches and self-corrected immediately. From that time on, Sam and Alan bonded in a very special way. They have a unique and at times warped humor laden friendship. In that spirit of friendship and camaraderie, Alan chose Sam to serve as our runner in the final ‘leg’ of the Triathlon. TEAM REEVE ‘Never Say Never’ - Relay Team #339 was ready.
At about 6:45AM Adam, Amy, Chris, Mara, Mitch and Peter arrived at the start of the Duathlon (2 mile run, 13 mile bike and 3.1 mile run) on Ocean Avenue.Susie and Emily with their wetsuits and goggles on jostled for position at the start of the Triathlon (Quarter mile ocean swim , 13 mile bike and 3.1 mile run).
A couple of minutes before the 7AM starting time, lifeguards and police cleared the path to the water’s edge so that Alan, could be brought to the shore via golf cart. In the carriage of the cart, Mamadou, at 6’9”, gem of a person, was on Alan’s left side and Glen, better known as‘Hollywood’ was on Alan’s right. The cart stopped. The crowd of about 500 started to swell around the center of the Triathlon start. ‘Hollywood’, lifted Alan up in a fireman’s carry and proceeded to walk Alan into about 4 feet of water. The crowd burst into loud clapping and calls of “go Alan” from Eva Bernstein Wasser (who knows Alan since birth) her husband Cliff and their family. The crowd got louder and louder as Alan faded into the horizon doing a strong and smooth backstroke.
With tears in my eyes (ok, I was crying), I looked out in amazement. Alan, was back in the very water that changed his life forever, competing in a Triathlon. I looked around me and all were moved to tears, those who know Alan for 3+ decades and those who were witnessing one of the most inspirational moments of their and our lives. Alan, was remarkable, doing the swim in such speed that I was not ready when Sam came running over to me with the race timing chip.
Cycling 3 laps of a 4+ plus mile loop on the shores of the beautiful Belmar Beaches and small lake inland, was very cathartic. Lap 1& 2, gave me ample time to reflect on Alan’s accomplishment on that morning and in years past. Amazing, remarkable, inspiring, ‘meshugana’ were but a few words that went through my mind. I thought about how Alan meets life’s challenges head on and how he is at the forefront of helping other on a moments notice. I recalled the inscription on a photo that hangs in my office of Alan on top of the Verrazano Bridge in NY Marathon. It reads “This Bridge is the 1stof many obstacles we will cross”.
The final lap, I began to reflect much about my experiences since I was injured on 9/11 as an EMT/first responder at Ground Zero. I did take time, to thank G-d for my wonderful family, and for watching over me and all who are near and dear to me.I was grateful to Him for having Alan as an integral part of our lives. Alan has served as my rock when the going got tough and certainly in the days following September 11. Suddenly I hit a bump in the road and my water bottles and energy food went flying. It was certainly G-ds way of telling me, “hey Jamie you are in race, focus!’.
As I entered the straight away I could see the finish line about a mile away. I also spotted Adam, who was cycling at a great pace and enjoying the day. I increased my cadence so that I could finish in a strong manner. As I entered the transition area, I saw Sam waving at me so I could hand off the Relay Team #339 Chip. We high-fived and Sam was off.
I went over to the finish line area to cheer on my TEAM REEVE teammates – all of whom finished. All improved on their personal records and Emily, Mitch and Adam were among the top finishers in their age groups. Amy, an accomplished Marathoner, competed in her first Multi-sport event and crossed the finish line with grace and is now a Duathlete. Peter and Chris finished with smiles on their faces. Susie, a childhood friend of Alan’s, finished her 2nd Triathlon with a graceful sprint to the finish line. Mara, my wife and best buddy (who went to camp with Alan), finished her2nd Duathlon with her signature smile.
Sam, Alan and I, Relay Team #339, finished the Triathlon in 1 hour and 18 minutes. The 18 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word Chai = Life. Indeed on that day, all who were there to witness Alan’s inspiring accomplishment, walked away with a great and lesson in life. Thank you Alan, thank you my friend.