My article for The Cauldron – Medium A truly amazing experience
Diabetes doesn’t care if you are young or old, rich or poor, happy or sad, short or tall, weak or strong. It doesn’t make any difference. No matter who you are, diabetes can take you down. What’s important is how you deal with it once you’ve been diagnosed.
Benny Madrigal was 22 years old when he learned he had Type I diabetes. “Being diagnosed with diabetes at that point in my life was the last thing I ever expected to hear,” said Benny. “I had been an athlete since I was in the third grade and the diet I followed was better than most other people I knew. I was a college senior on a full scholarship for track & field when I began losing weight and not feeling well. Finally, when my vision became blurry I knew something was really wrong and I went to the emergency room.” Benny’s pancreas had failed. His blood sugar was so high that he spent nine days in the hospital.
After getting back on his feet, Benny was told he could no longer function at the same high level athletically, but he chose to ignore this advice and was determined to continue running competitively. He followed a good diet, checked his blood regularly and learned as much about living with diabetes as possible. “I listen to my body and if I make a bad choice my body is going to let me know,” said Benny. His diligence has paid off because his event times have actually gotten better since his diagnosis. “I feel like I’m more in control now that I’m in tune with my body,” he said. “I believe I have the potential to run even faster. I have plenty of good years left in me.”
Benny is a special education teacher in California and is also a member of Team Novo Nordisk, a group of diabetic athletes sponsored by the pharmaceutical company that specializes in diabetes care. As part of this team, he competes in Triathlons and recently ran in the Boston Marathon. “We want to inspire, educate and empower people who are affected with diabetes. It’s not just me, there are 100 other athletes on our team who are doing this so people can see it’s not impossible. We’re not telling people to run a marathon, we want them to find something they really like and then do it. Whether it’s dancing, biking running or swimming — the more passionate you are about something the less it’s going to feel like a job!”
When it comes to eating Benny’s not a saint. “There’s nothing I stay away from completely,” he said. I’m careful about the size of my portions. If I have a piece of birthday cake, it’s never going to be a big slice. Just enough to get the taste buds done.” Benny reads as much as he can about diabetes and how to live a healthy life. “When I see what other successful people with diabetes are doing, I know that I can too,” he said. “I want to keep doing what I love to do. I don’t ever plan on stopping.”
I am a type 2 diabetic and meeting someone like Benny has inspired me all the more and I feel even better when I can help spread his message and story to others. Like him, diabetes has changed me for the better. I am far more diligent and thoughtful about what I eat and drink and how I live my life. I am more fit and far healthier at age 59 than I was at 50.
Benny and I spoke at length about the importance of spreading the word to other diabetics. His best advice for me: “The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of others.”
Benny’s go to website for diabetes is: https://www.cornerstones4care.com/
Most of us have a story about September 11, 2001 and John O’Connor is no different. “It was a life altering day,” said O’Connor. “I was sitting at my desk at J.P. Morgan on Sixth Avenue and we had a direct southern view of the towers when it happened. Not only did I lose friends, but I was serving on the lay board of St. Patrick’s and saw the sacrifices made by too many police and firefighters at their memorial services.” Mr. O’Connor reached out to then Secretary Rumsfeld and asked how he could help.
O’Connor served on numerous advisory boards, panels and commissions, and in November 2014 he was selected by Secretary of the Army John McHugh as the CASA (Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army) for New York, representing the southern areas, including New York City, West Point and as far north as Albany. The Army has appointed CASA’s in every state to provide a link between the military and the public to promote good relations.
Military bases have become self-contained communities with their own schools, stores and other facilities and as a result civilians and military personnel have less and less interaction. “People don’t understand who their military is, what they do or how they’re governed and organized,” said O’Connor. His goal is to visit all the camps, posts, bases and various military installations under his jurisdiction. “Military bases are centers of economic activity, and they’re very important politically, but they are losing their connection socially. An important issue for me is to close this gap,” said O’Connor.
Another objective for O’Connor is to focus on unemployment faced by veterans. “Our enlisted veterans have twice the unemployment rate as their civilian counterparts and that doesn’t make sense to me. These are people who have been positively selected going into the armed forces – the US government invests hundreds of thousands of dollars into their training and helps them develop skills and yet they have twice the unemployment rate.”
O’Connor attributes this to the fact that civilian society has been kept at distance from the military and doesn’t understand or appreciate the skills and experience that veterans have gained. He plans on changing this through “shoe leather and kitchen table interaction.”
One of the positive changes in our country is that it’s finally acceptable to support the military — Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen both participated in Concert for Valor in 2014 — yet more than ever, we seem to know less about our soldiers and what they do. We have an army base – Fort Hamilton – in Brooklyn, yet most people who live in the five boroughs have no idea it exists. John O’Connor is helping to change that. “I feel privileged to be a part of this,” he said.
John O’Connor is chairman of J.H. Whitney Investment Management, LLC; previously served as chairman of JP Morgan Alternative Asset Management, Inc.; and as an executive partner of JP Morgan Partners.
My Huffington Post piece about how I live with and manage diabetes:
TRIPLE CROWN TRASH TALK
Like so many others, I’ve been inspired by the story of California Chrome. So much in fact, that despite not being a fan of horse racing, I decided to make the pilgrimage to Belmont Park at the urging of my friend, John, who sits in an area at the track reserved for horsemen — people who own, breed, train, or tend horses. (I looked it up)
My last experience with horseracing was nearly 40 years ago, during my college years, when I used to watch the trotters at the Meadowlands. I will never forget meeting Mickey Rivers (Yankees All-Star outfielder) at the track and he promptly asked to “borrow” some money. I was 20 years old and star struck so I gave him 15 dollars.
I didn’t meet any baseball players, but Penn Station was unusually crowded, and the LIRR added trains to help accommodate the nearly 120,000 people who attended the Belmont Stakes. I’ve never seen so many people at a sporting event, and much of the excitement was focused on the owners of California Chrome – Steve Coburn and Perry Martin – a pair of jesters in the Sport of Kings. They greeted everyone warmly in the horsemen boxes and posed for pictures tirelessly. I snapped a quick shot of them together and Coburn quipped, “We don’t even like each other!”
There was plenty to like about being at Belmont and after leaving Coburn and Martin I met James Pippo, owner of the Whitehall Stable in Albany NY, who invited me to sit with him and his friends. I explained to Pippo that I knew more about the hats and dresses worn by the women in the crowd than horses, so he gave me a quick tutorial.
Pippo clearly loves what he does and told me that owning a horse is “highly speculative, although just one horse can change your life.” “But if you’re in this for the money,” he added, “then you shouldn’t be in it. I’m here because horse racing’s in my blood.” We talked a bit more about college football and I moved on to mingle with the crowd, which was enormous. There was such a bizarre mix of fashionable women, passionate racing fans and wildly annoying drunken frat boys that I’m certain a new reality show is in the works.
I made a few bets (and lost) but California Chrome was the reason I came, and as the horse came onto the track my mouth got dry and my hands became sweaty. With so much anticipation and buildup, it’s hard to reach any kind of happy outcome without a victory, and the entire crowd seemed disappointed. Nonetheless, it was a memorable day and I’m glad I made the trip.
As for Steve Coburn’s post-race comments, I am not surprised by what he said. Coburn is certainly aware of the rules, so they shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him, but he’s not a typical horseman and probably doesn’t have a media consultant, so he spoke his mind at an emotional moment, as his 15 minutes of fame came to an end.
There’s a first time for everything, even trash talking at Belmont Park.
(USS Cole VLS covers)
ADMIRING OUR CURRENT HEROES
My father, Jesse Taub, served in WWII and took Memorial Day very seriously, but never explained to me why it was celebrated. Every year he made me wear my Boy Scout uniform and march in parades. Sometimes I had to sing songs. I hated it.
As I got older I came to learn that Memorial Day is observed to remember our fallen soldiers and since my father passed away a few years ago it’s become a very important holiday for me. My father served as an Assistant Pharmacist’s Mate on the Battleship New Jersey and was an original crew member or “plank owner,” as he liked to call himself. He was incredibly proud of his military service, but seldom spoke of it.
Yesterday, my family and I had the privilege of touring the USS Cole, a guided missile Destroyer which was docked in Staten Island for Fleet Week. I was born in Staten Island, and my father lived there when he joined the Navy, so it was a good homecoming for us.
The USS Cole is an impressive vessel (approximate crew is 283) and there was a huge turnout of people to tour the ship. Our guide, Lt. JG Douglas Kroh, was knowledgeable, polite and extremely patient. As he took us through the Cole, we met a variety of specialists, who immediately made it clear why the ship is called a Destroyer.
I’ve always loved military acronyms, and the sailors on the Cole had plenty of them. The tour began with the VLS (Vertical Launching System) a rather inconspicuous group of steel plates that I wouldn’t have paid much notice had I not been informed that when opened they launch tomahawk missiles and torpedoes. Close by was what action movies call Fast Boats, but Ensign Hannah Taylor explained it was a RHIB, or Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat. I also found that the Navy has a sense of humor, when I pointed out that a 20mm machine gun (four thousand rounds per minute) looked like R2D2 from Star Wars I was told that’s what they call it.
My father’s explanation for choosing the Navy was he wanted to know he’d a have “a decent place to sleep and three square meals a day.” The Cole’s mess hall is hip, comfortable and popular with the crew and probably wouldn’t be out of place on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The hallway directly outside takes on a more somber tone and is known as the Hall of Heroes, dedicated to the 17 sailors who lost their lives when the Cole was attacked by terrorists on October 12, 2000. There are also 17 brass stars embedded in the floor, and every time a sailor walks down the hall, they remove their hat for the brief journey.
I’ve toured many Navy vessels and my favorite area is usually the bridge. I’d describe the Cole’s bridge as old school, save for one piece of equipment that looks like a Nintendo control. It was explained to me that it’s a remote control device for a 25mm chain gun, so perhaps not every future soldier or sailor will need to look like Mark Wahlberg to fight the enemy.
A tour of the Cole would not have been complete without meeting the Commanding Officer, Captain Dennis L. Farrell, an Annapolis graduate with 24 years of service. The Captain is a self-described “ship driver” who reminded me of the coach or boss that you only hear or read about, but very few of us are actually lucky enough to encounter. Captain Farrell greeted me warmly and said, “Welcome to the best ship in the Navy!” He told us about the preparation and “the unbelievable amount of training” the crew goes through prior to being deployed and I was wowed by the dedication of these young men and women who are responsible for millions of dollars’ worth of equipment, which they operate with great proficiency to defend our country.
The Cole is indeed impressive, and the technology on today’s military equipment is astounding, but they are nothing but bells and whistles without an outstanding crew to oversee them. I write about all sorts of topics and meet a wide range of people from many walks of life, but the intense honor and devotion I saw in every sailor on the Cole was truly inspiring. The crew seemed to take unique pride in what’s called “connected replenishment,” which is one ship resupplying another via a connection called a padeye while both vessels are moving, and clearly no easy task. I had trouble passing a baton on a relay team and handing off a beer from one moving car to another so two ships at sea is definitely out of my wheelhouse.
As Captain Farrell walked away from us he said, “It’s awesome being in New York!”
It was awesome having you here, Sir.
My Las Vegas Sun story about Anthony Scaramucci’s SALT Conference saving the Las Vegas strip
Manziel’s Magnificent Moxie
“You’ve got to have an imagination to coach Johnny Football,” said ESPN’s John Gruden on early morning television today.
Most of us have vivid imaginations that help fuel our hopes and dreams, yet we are too often told by friends, relatives, teachers and yes, even strangers, what we can’t achieve.
Johnny Manziel gives me hope. He makes me want to run – at 58 years old — another 10 K race, or to travel out west this summer and paddle through white water. I know other people feel the same way because I’ve discussed it at length with friends, as well as fans I’ve met in the gym, on the bus and at sporting events. He is our David, who battles and defeats the many Goliaths of the sporting world.
There have been endless discussions about whether Manziel can make it in the NFL and I have devoured all of the data from both sides. Despite the impressive arguments posed by Manziel’s naysayers, they always ignore the intangibles, like heart, or what my mother used to call moxie. Moxie is defined as force of character, determination, or nerve, and Manziel has plenty of all three.
So many of us want Manziel to succeed, because then we will too.
Please, Johnny – be good.
THE MASTERS: SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS
Most of the small cities and suburban towns in America have a street similar to Washington Road. They are all populated by an endless number of strip malls, motel chains, and every fast food franchise imaginable, except that in Augusta, GA, 2604 Washington Road is the address of the Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts the historic Masters Golf Tournament.
Augusta National is one of the world’s most exclusive (and restrictive) golf clubs, yet walking distance from Hooters and directly across the street from a CVS Pharmacy, so I was able to purchase sunscreen before I transcended being a mere golf fan or tournament attendee into a Masters “patron.”
Until now, television was the closest I’d come to seeing the Masters and although many friends had told me about the tournament, nothing prepared me for the perfection that is the Augusta National Golf Club. The bright green grass looks as if it’s washed and buffed daily, while the white sand in the bunkers belongs in an hourglass and the trees are surrounded by lush deep brown pine needles so pristine that compared to Augusta, Disneyworld looks sloppy.
The club does not announce gate figures, but it’s estimated that 35,000 people attend the Masters and rather than engaging in any additional research, I spoke with Jon Ehrlich, a New York attorney known to friends and associates as the Masters Maven.
Ehrlich took up golf at age 10 and immediately fell in love with the game. His hero at the time was Arnold Palmer, who won his fourth Masters championship in eight years by 1964, forever instilling in Ehrlich a sense that Augusta was a magical place where dreams are brought to life. “Augusta is a horticultural masterpiece,” said Ehrlich. “It’s an oasis of aesthetic design.” Ehrlich and I also discussed how despite Augusta’s elite membership rules, the Masters is remarkably egalitarian. “It’s not unique to golfing events but given the history of this tournament and club, it offers a distinctive inclusivity – an ability to mingle that’s really striking.”
Other than a clubhouse for members and players there are no private boxes or guarded areas found at other sporting events. During Wednesday’s practice round, I walked up the fairway directly alongside VJ Singh separated only by a thin rope. All of the other patrons I encountered were friendly and engaging, especially a group from Australia who flew in especially for the tournament. I found them literally genuflecting over the spot where Bubba Watson hit his famous hook shot out of the woods in 2012, and they insisted I join them, which I did. If this seems odd, Ehrlich has the answer. “The majority of people who follow professional sports are strictly spectators, while golf fans are unique because no matter what their age may be – from 8 to 80 – many of them regularly play the sport. This provides a unique insight and great respect for the remarkable talent and skill one needs to be a professional golfer.”
It’s not all about worshipping the golf idols. Augusta also has a sense of humor. Using the bathroom at The Masters is very entertaining, thanks to James Marshall, a men’s room attendant who colorfully announces the availability of urinals. “I got one on the back nine and three pulling out on the front five,” Marshall announced as I entered the immaculate lavatory. “Fill ‘em up!” he said repeatedly. Theatrics aside, the lines at bathrooms and concessions all move remarkably fast thanks to the helpful aides.
Outside of the club, everyone else on Washington Road is equally gracious, as my friend Andy and I learned from the staff at Denny’s, who treated us like visiting royalty. Yull Wohlmuth, the Regional VP was visiting from West Palm Beach and he gave us a ride to Wednesday’s practice round in the Denny’s car.
It was better than a limousine.