Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Best Day Ever

This will be my shortest post ever and my first that has nothing to do with running. It really came out of nowhere which is the mark of a special moment. I think it started this morning. I was looking at quotes as I always do.....trying to find one that I think might make an impact on people. Instead, I found a poem that had an impact on me.

If tears could build a stairway,
And memories a lane,
I'd walk right up to Heaven
And bring you home again.
-Author Unknown

In case you made it here without the back story......I lost my Dad to leukemia and while he was fighting I lost my daughter Isabella. In between and years after, my wife was diagnosed with cancer two times.....twice she was the victor. Anyway, this poem brought me to Isabella. I have been thinking of her a lot recently. Don't get me wrong, there is not a day that goes by without me thinking of my Dad but lately it is Isabella that has been on my mind. I think it is all the Holiday shopping. It is seeing all the kids, mine included, so excited for the holidays. It is spending hours in the Disney store and the Sanrio store and looking at pink outfits for my amazing 2 year old daughter Thalia. All good times that happen to remind me there is something laugh that cannot be heard.

Move forward a few wife, Crea, and I take the entire family to see Tangled. With a 2 and a 6 year old........9 out of 10 movies we watch involve cartoon characters. There is one scene in the movie showing Rapunzel's father on the night of her birthday with a tear streaming down his face as he missed his daughter that had been taken. Again, this scene took me to Isabella. Just a hint of sadness for me. Just a reminder that one seat was empty.

Jump forward one hour. It has been raining in Los Angeles for a few days now. It is supposed to rain for another few days. One week of rain in LA is unheard of. I live for these times because one of my favorite things to do is run in the rain. One problem........I have a stress fracture. No running for me so this opportunity is passing me by and it will probably be another 10 years before it rains 7 straight days. On the way home from the movie I decided that while I could not run, there was nothing stopping me from going for a walk and stomping in a few puddles. I got home, put on some shorts and sandals and was ready to go. Before heading out, I decided to see if my son, Jaden, wanted to join me. He seemed a little unsure which lead me to believe he really needed to go for a walk in the rain. He has missed the joy of jumping in a big puddle having spent his entire 6 year life in Southern California. Off we go.

Jaden seems very timid at first. He is all bundled up in a rain jacket......I am dressed to get soaked. I make sure to let him know this is truly one of my favorite things and that I am happy to have him join me. "Why do you like it so much Dad" Jaden asks.

Good question.

I never really stopped to put a lot of thought to why I liked it so much but the answer came fairly easy. I like it because I feel at one with the world. I like it because I feel closer to God. I like it because everyday there are rules to follow and boundaries put upon us but there are no rules when you run in the rain. Instead of avoiding obstacles, a run in the rain is all about heading straight for the biggest puddle. No umbrella to shield you. Just bring it on and get as wet as you can.

I doubt at six, he understood what I was saying but I know the smallest moments can make a lasting impression. I hope somewhere down the road it all makes sense. For now, to solidify the message, I pointed to an enormous puddle and told him to jump in. He looked at me thinking it must be some trick. I assured him it was not. There would be no time out. There would be no penalty for getting wet. The shoes will dry and so will you. Jump in my friend and you will know what I am talking about. Jump in is exactly what he did and his laughter could be heard for blocks. It was amazing. We spent another 45 minutes out in the rain. I took him to all the places I knew the water built up into nice big tide pools. We were not on the sidewalk. We were in the street. People were looking at us funny......maybe they were looking at me thinking I am some horrible parent but I could care less. We were kicking water on each other and having a blast. A block from our house, a new park opened........I thought it might be a good idea to play in the park in the rain. It was only us. It was dark. It was open. We were among the first to experience the park and it was incredible. We did everything there was to do.......note: slides are insanely fast when new and wet. We went down many fast that there was no landing on the feet. There was only landing on our back side but there was no pain, only laughter. After a while there, we headed home in a new direction to see if there were bigger and better puddles to conquer. On the way, we came to one of the few trees near my house that was actually losing its leaves. I taught my son about how amazing it is back east when all the leaves change color and how amazing it is to build an enormous pile of leaves and dive in. This tree had dumped so many on the ground that I was able to grab a large pile and toss them in my son's face. Again, nothing but laughter......and retaliation. We had a leaf fight for a few minutes and then continued home. He
asked why there were not more leaves on the ground all the time. I told him that the gardener's come and pick them up to keep the sidewalks clean. His response was priceless:

"When I grow up I want to be a gardener's boss and when I am, I will fire all of them so the kids can play in the leaves"

I think he was getting the point of our journey. In our last few minutes in the rain Jaden stopped me to ask if he could tell me something. "Sure thing buddy!". What he wanted to tell me was that this was "the best day ever!!!" which are words every parent wants to hear. Anyway, we made it home. Out of nowhere came this special moment with my son that seemed to bring my day full circle to the quote I posted on Twitter this morning:

"The pain passes, but the beauty remains" Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Yes I wish I could play in the rain with Isabella. One day I will. Today, the beauty of this moment will remain.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Am Thankful For.....

I just finished a 4.5 mile run on Thanksgiving Day. I did not wear a watch. I just ran and thought about some of the things I am thankful for. Some random thoughts from my run:

I am thankful:
-for my job
-for amazing parents that taught me to be the person I am today
-for my amazing cancer free wife
-for my amazing 3 kids who light up every day
-for my Dad who taught me through his action the benefit of giving everything you have to something
-for my Mom was able to make it to California and spend some good time with her grandkids for Thanksgiving
-for Twitter where I have met incredible people....funny ones, charitable ones, amazing Dads, amazing Moms, amazing athletes, new athletes, life changers, etc, etc.
-for my fellow Team in Training, ACS DetermiNation and Livestrong peeps that fight cancer every day. There are a long list of people fighting cancer that are not associated with this groups. I am thankful for everyone.
-for people like @operationjack that test the limits of who they are to show their children how much they care and make a difference for others
-for Texas, for while it is full of rednecks, I have come to know a lot of people from there and I must say they are remarkable.
-for crepes and bacon
-for, through my Dad's passing, being introduced to running again.
-for the fact that running led me to a life where I am in a position to help people change their lives and make a difference.
-for all the military risking their lives so that I can wake up and go for a run without fear.
-for @sarahstanley for I know someday I will get a sushi dinner
-for the love and support shown to my Team in Training efforts by friends, family and a ton of people that don't even know me in real life
-for NipGuards for I am a sensitive guy.

It was only 4 miles......those were some of my thoughts. Right now I am thankful for the sound of Thalia waking behind me and the smell of bacon and pancake batter coming from downstairs so I better go take a shower.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope the Turkey Trots are safe, fast and/or fun and that this day is filled with some amazing memories for all of you

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cancer Is Losing the Battle

November 6th was the day my wife, Crea, would run her first marathon at the Santa Barbara International Marathon. This was a big day for my family. The story that lead me back to running and to Team in Training and to charity and to endurance sports is long but for this day, it was all tied to Crea battling cancer twice...............and on both occasions winning the battle. Marathon Day is always a big day but this one held some special meaning. I had
built Crea's training plan.....she stuck to it perfectly. It was not designed for a BQ. It was designed to keep Crea healthy and get her across the finish line. Crea had trained on her own and, consistent with what I preach, she wanted to run the first 15-20 miles on her own so I was going to run about that far.....stop.....and wait for my wife. The plan was set, the day arrived but quickly things unraveled. My 2 year old was very sick we decided that I would not start this race but instead take Thalia to the ER. The 3 of us hopped in the car and headed to the finish line of the race where I would drop Crea off to be bussed to the start of this point to point race. After this drop off, I was fairly sure I would not only miss the start of the race but also the finish. The fact that Thalia was so ill, combined with a mess of closed roads and the fact that I had spent the entire week barely able to walk did not bode well for me physically being any part of this race. To say I was sad would be a tremendous understatement but our baby needed one of us and Crea needed to do this race. After dropping off Crea, the rest of the day was a lesson for me......of things I need to learn, reminders of things I had learned and since forgotten and an exclamation point on why I do what I do. The topics are simple but the day was profound.

For the lessons to make sense I will give some quick bullets as to how the day went from the time I dropped of Crea.
  • I took Thalia to Cottage Hospital. We walked right in and were in a room within minutes. Thalia was not feeling well at all and she clung to me like I was her favorite security blanket. While the circumstances were not a Dad, I have learned to savor every moment that my kids want nothing more than to be with me.
  • While sitting at the hospital, Crea and I kept talking before she dropped of her gear, and thus her phone. For whatever reason, the start time got pushed back two times. Instead of starting at 6:30 am, the gun did not fire until 7:00 am. This 30 minutes would come to be a blessing.
  • I had sent a text to Crea's Dad that I was not in the race but was instead at the hospital with Thalia. It was very early in the morning but he showed up at Cottage to see that Thalia was okay.
  • After a few hours and some x-rays of Thalia's lungs, we were given the okay to leave. Thalia's colorful personality was starting to shine through and I could tell she was feeling a little better. Two days from now it would all get worse and Thalia would be diagnosed with pneumonia but for now, things were okay.
  • We went down the street to Crea's Dad's house. Thalia was happy to see her grandparents and was doing well. I could tell she was very tired from being up all night so I laid her down and rubbed her head until she fell asleep. This did not take long and I was encouraged that she was breathing okay so I went to hang out with Chuck, Crea's Dad.
  • Chuck and I hung out for a while and had some good conversation. At around 9am, I began thinking I might have a shot at getting to the finish line. A quick reminder here.....I could barely walk all week from an ankle injury I have been unable to figure out.
  • At 9:30am, Thalia is still asleep, Chuck and Wendy offer to keep watching her, so I get dressed to give my ankle an attempt at a run. That attempt was short lived. A few steps in and I knew any run would hurt. A few steps in and I knew this test didn't matter..... I was going to run to the finish line anyway...about 4.5 miles away.
  • I begin my run and I am noticeably limping. I push through the pain as best as possible. As I often do while running, I talk to Isabella and my Dad (in case you dont know my story, both passed away. Isabella is my daughter) and ask them to go find Crea on the course and keep her safe and strong. In addition to getting to Crea, for whatever reason, I ask Isabella for a put in a good word and find some way to heal my ankle enough to allow me to keep running......just get me to Crea.
  • Shortly after this talk with my angel companions, I am running completely pain free. Not limited pain......pain free!! I would not experience any ankle pain the rest of this day. I am keeping a 7:30-7:45 pace and I get to the finish line in no time. I decide to start running the course backwards hoping to get to mile 20 before Crea. Backwards entailed a lot of uphill but I kept my pace. I was so happy to be running knowing I was headed to see my wife.....something a few hours prior I didn't think would be possible. I got to mile 20. I started walking toward 19 but only made it a few minutes because there was Crea waving her arms so that I would see her. I had made it.......right were I had hoped to find her. I was 10.5 miles in. 6.2 to go and my wife would cross the finish line.
  • We worked our way to the finish line. At mile 23, Tiana, my oldest daughter, was waiting for us. She stayed with us for almost a mile and then we were off on our own. Crea was hurting but kept pushing forward. She does not have the best knees for running but she is very very strong willed and capable of pushing through pain. It was not until mile 25.5 or so that I knew exactly how much Crea was hurting. We were on a steep downhill.....death for bad knees. Crea started to cry and hyperventilate. For this to happen meant big pain. I knew a lot of the tears were tied to the pain but I also felt part of it had to do with the journey that makes the marathon so meaningful. From week 1 of a training program at Team in Training, I begin to preach about the journey. It is this journey that makes race day so meaningful.....all the memories of the path that lead you to the start line. For my wife, this path was the loss of our daughter and two battles with cancer.
  • Just before mile 26 and we make it to Coby, Crea's brother. It was very cool for him to come down and cheer in his sister. I had been texting him at each mile marker so he would know we were making progress. I know his big smile of pride helped bring Crea home.
  • Mile 26 and we are on the track at Santa Barbara City College. The school where Crea had started her post high school education would end this day. An amazing day. To this very minute, I do not know Crea's time. To this very minute, I do not care.
That is the day. Now to the lessons:

Go With The Flow

I am certainly capable of being in college when I would spontaneously end up at a club instead of studying for a midterm.......but for big events, I can get thrown off when things dont go according to plan. Today would teach me differently. The day certainly did not start as planned but ended up being more than I could have ever scripted. November 6th could have solely consisted of the marathon which would have been amazing. Instead it included some quality time with both of my girls, Crea and Thalia. I was able to be a good Dad and take care of my baby while still being able to be with my wife for the last 6.2 miles of her marathon. I was able to hang out with Crea's Dad........someone who actually means a lot to me....and her entire family. If you go back and read the post for Isabella's Day and read the speech I gave at her Memorial Service, I talk of family and realizing through hardship that Crea's family was my own. For whatever reason over the years to follow I let that realization go blurry but today helped bring it back into focus. After my Dad passed away, Chuck stepped in and was like a father to me. I vow to never lose sight of this again and am grateful for the reminder. I mentioned at mile 23 getting to spend some time with Tiana. She is my oldest daughter (19)....technically my step daughter....but we have been together since she was 5. I try to live life without regrets but if I were to allow myself one, it would be to go back to when she was 5 and be a better Dad. I went from a bachelor living alone in a 3 bedroom condo to having a child and I had no idea what I was doing. Over the years, we have not been as close as I would like due to many circumstances but I do Love her very much. To share a mile with her today meant more to me than she probably knows. I guess if you really get in and dissect this day, it is support for my biggest belief......that blessings come from every situation. There was a very long build up to this day. It did not start out so well but so many amazing things resulted from the turn of events.

Time Does Not Always Matter

I said it above but will repeat it here. I have no idea what the clock read when Crea crossed the finish line. I have not gone back to see what the time was. I do not know what the stats were....where she ranked among females and in her age group. There are times when these details are important.....there are times when they are not. Today was about overcoming a lot of obstacles. Today was about winning because you were able to toe the start line. A wise man, Colin Cooley (@runwicked) always says he cares more about the story than the time. Today's story read, Crea Wilno Beats Cancer Twice and Returns To Show That 26.2 Miles Are No Match For Her. (Please don't get me wrong here.....Crea did great. She is a great athlete and if she decides to run another race and time is important, she will crush it!)

Cancer is Losing the Battle

Cancer knocked on my Dad's door. Cancer won that battle. While winning the battle, it dragged me into the war. That was a big mistake on the part of I am sure it regrets. Along the way, Cancer has won many other battles and, in doing so, has brought a lot of people like me into the battle to end the horrible disease.

Cancer knocked on my wife's door twice. Twice! Two cage matches between my wife and the disease who should not be named (yes I am a Harry Potter fan). Crea's current record is 2-0. During the tenure of her battles, I have raised $80,000 in the fight against cancer. I have been on teams with Team in a participant, mentor or coach that have collectively raised millions. Other organizations like the American Cancer Society's DetermiNation are seeing similar results.......people raising a lot of money in an all out war and race to find a cure. Watching my wife out on the streets of Santa Barbara wearing a huge smile reminded me that cancer is losing it's grip. It is losing the battle. We are closer to a cure today than we were 10 years ago. Gleevac was the last miracle drug.........what will the next one be. It is out there. Do you hear it coming cancer? Be scared. You will go down and I will be there to join in the celebration when you have gasped your last breath.

Thanks for reading. I am incapable of being short winded. If you would like to join me in the battle against cancer by making a donation, there is a link to my fundraising site at the top of this page. If you would prefer to help in other ways, you can sign up for Team in Training. If you live in So Cal you can come spend 18 weeks being coached by me for the Summer 2011 season. I have also mentioned ACS DetermiNation.....another great organization. If you want more information on them you can reach out to David Pittman (@DP_Turtle) on Twitter. Thanks again for your time!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Running for a Cause

This will be a quick post primarily because the message is communicated very clearly in the email I will include below. For those that know me, you are aware I am a Team in Training marathon coach, you are aware I am passionate about finding a cure for cancer (which stems from the fact it took my father, attacked my wife and runs rampant through the lives of my friends) and you are aware of my belief that the journey to completing a marathon can change your life. I also have been known, on many occasions, to communicate my belief that blessings come from even the worst of times. Yesterday, an email from a past TNT participant and dear friend arrived that served as a reminder and confirmation that all of these beliefs are with merit.
Why am I posting this email? After reading it and sharing a quick tear of sadness and pride, I realized this email might make a difference to those out there contemplating whether or not they should sign up for Team in Training or, for that matter any training program that is attached to a worthy cause. I was drafted to Team in Training because leukemia attacked my father but there are some incredible organizations out there doing amazing things to fight cancer, aids, hunger, MS, Autism and Crohn's disease to name a few (many amazing people participate in these other organizations...ACS DetermiNation, Operation Jack, etc.). Running a marathon certainly will change your life. Running a marathon and completing it for others will forever change you........will make you a stronger person all the while making a difference in the lives of others and changing the world. I always tell my participants they are affecting the lives of people they will never come to know and they are pushing cancer towards the history books where our kids or our kid's kids will not know such horrible diseases but instead will have to turn to page 287 and read about them. To be a part of that effort all the while teaching yourself to push past fears, push past doubts and teach yourself what you are capable of........ it is an amazing journey. If you are thinking about signing up for Team in Training or any other organization but are afraid of the commitment, I would say that is exactly why you SHOULD sign up. Exercise some faith and I promise you will be rewarded beyond your wildest personal guarantee. Here is the email (please know I was given the permission to share this but I have taken out the names):

Hi Coach,
Just wanted to touch base with you... been a while since Cool Breeze. Hope you, Crea and the kids are well.

I was supposed to be going to the Nike Women's Half Marathon this coming weekend, but I won't be able to attend in the end. Also, I am off Facebook, it was too public and complicated for my crazy life, so I am writing you here.

Since January, D has been fighting a recurring ear infection. Ten days ago we found out it wasn't an ear infection. He was leaking cerebral spinal fluid through his eustachean tube and it was wreaking havoc and becoming an antibiotic resistant infection. Monday he underwent a second major surgery at UCLA. I am the one taking care of him, and I've spent the past three days at the hospital. When I'm not there, I'm home, taking care of S.

Every day I wear my TNT jacket. I don't even know why. It's not blood cancer. It's not even cancer. But it makes me feel strong, it reminds me of what I can (and did) accomplish. It reminds me who I am.

And today, when I was leaving the hospital and I walked out into the sun, I thought of you and the other coaches and mentors and teammates I've met in the past two years and how grateful I am that you were the one who was there that night at the library in West Hollywood. Because you shared a little of yourself that night, I knew I wanted to be a part of what you were doing. And it has made all the difference in my life.

So I just wanted to touch base with you, tell you what's going on, and thank you. You were right. It changed my life. And even now, when my head has doubts, my heart jumps in and sets me on the right path. And I smile and thank you. Even now.

Much love to you and your precious family, as always, E

Martin Luther King said "Faith is taking the first step even when you dont see the whole staircase". Take that first step. You won't regret it.

A quick comment to my fellow coaches, mentors and volunteers. When you tell others about your organization, speak from the heart. This friend of mine, despite a very personal story, came to an information meeting unsure of whether she would sign up. Because I spoke about the program at a very personal level, she joined our team and went on to raise over $100,000 for one race. In total she has raised $147,000 to date. We changed her life. She changed mine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Road to Ironman Wisconsin 2011 Begins

It is a few days since I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin and my head has been swimming with thoughts about the journey ahead. I have known since I crossed the finish line at Ironman Florida in 2008 that I wanted to compete in another event. I tried very hard to keep that desire buried deep inside because I had made a promise to my wife that my next Ironman would only come once she was retired (this promise only tied to the toll it puts on the family). I had made this promise once before..... after completing my first Ironman in 2006 but she granted me a pass so that I could be with my friends in Florida. This time, I needed to make the promise stick. I tried, I really tried.

Since 2008, I have stood on the sidelines of Ironman. I have been a proud spectator and watched many friends complete amazing journey's to complete 140.6 miles. I was lucky
enough to be in Kona in 2009 to watch my friend, Kyle Garlett (2nd from the left in the photo at right), attempt to complete an Ironman after fending off cancer 4 times and dealing with all the scars those battles left of them a weakened heart that ultimately led to a heart transplant. Kyle was unsuccessful in 2009 but is back for 2010 and I am so excited to head back to Kona (with Crea) and be witness to what I am certain will be a successful 2nd attempt.

I was proud to be at IM CDA 2010 where my good friend Emily Conlon (@goingforgoofy) was completing her first IM journey. I had many other friends also competing in this race and was also able to meet some amazing new friends that prior to CDA I had only known in the virtual world (@NYCE, @punkrockrunner and @goSonja). At this event, I witnessed some incredible performances. Emily had an amazing race which saw her carry a huge smile start to finish. I saw Eissa have a rough start due to the very cold water but go on to finish strong. I saw Ron Harvey take full advantage of the Ironman finisher's chute and I saw Sonja qualify for Kona. I saw many friends on the course......most crossing the finish line........a few did not but, in time, another day will come that will see them successfully finish the journey.

While being a spectator was certainly rewarding, deep down I was longing to be in the race. The true intensity of this desire has struck me at times over the past year and a half but never as much as on Monday, September 13th. This was the day the star
s aligned to allow me to sign up for my third Ironman journey......the day after Ironman Wisconsin 2010 wascompleted....12:00pm local race site time which would be 10:00 am here in Los Angeles. I was at home. I had just spent time dropping off my son Jaden for his first day of First Grade. I knew time was of the essence when the clock struck 10am so I didn't even want to risk losing my wireless connection. I set up my computer in the kids room at the kids desk so I could connect with a LAN line. Crea was actually in the other room on her computer and we both kept refreshing the registration screen for the race. In the past the registration page has loaded early so I started this process about 15 minutes before the site was supposed to go live. This time registration would not begin early. It went live at exactly 10am. I immediately started entering my information. Things were going smoothly....albeit slowly.....until I got to the page to make my payment. The page flashed a 'gateway timeout' error and I could not get back in. Instead of being an officially registered athlete, I found myself back at the beginning of the process. I was never able to get in over the next 45 minutes. I cannot believe I kept trying but I was exchanging texts with my friend and fellow TNT coach, Pete Brzycki, and it seemed like everyone was still trying. After seeing messages that Registration Was Closed, I gave up. It is in this hour of trying to get into IM Wisconsin that I learned how much I needed to do another Ironman. The sadness I felt each time my attempt to get to the registration page failed was overwhelming. By the time I gave up, I was deflated. I felt like something was missing. I tried to focus on the fact that Pete told me only 4 of the 30 of us trying to get in was successful. I had to have hope that something went wrong here and, as it turns out, that was the case. Around the time I pulled into the office at work, Pete called me to tell me the site had posted a message that due to technical difficulties, the registration process was shut down. I literally wanted to scream. Hope was alive which seems appropriate as I write this statement here at the HOPE NEXT EXIT blog. My chance to register would come again. It came two days later. My first attempt failed at the exact same the payment page. Instead of getting a technical error, the page just loaded blank. My coworker was there shielding my office from disturbances. He told me to calm down and hit refresh. GENIUS. That is what I did and the page came back. My next attempt was successful and soon thereafter I was printing my waivers and receipt. I was 12 months away from competing in another Ironman.

It is now Saturday. I have been excited all week. I reached out to my coach, Coach Gareth. I pulled out all of my training books....some from the past....some newly purchased.....Going Long, Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, Start to Finish, Strength Training for Triathletes. The funny thing is I do not have any time to read any of them. What I did make some time for was to open the book Running on Faith by Jason Lester. I had just met Jason at Triathlon Lab in Redondo Beach this past Monday. He has won the ESPY for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. He was hit by car when he was twelve which rendered his right arm paralyzed. He has an amazing story.....went on to compete in High School Sports, complete an Ironman, and even an Ultraman which entails a 6.2 mile swim, 261.4 mile bike and 52.4 mile run. Completing any of these races would be amazing for any person. Completing them without the use of your right arm is inspiring. Hell, toeing the start line of an Ultraman is inspiring to me.......doing it knowing you are jumping in the ocean for a 6 mile swim without the use of your right arm is unfathomable. Sitting beside my bed was his book...the one he signed to me inscribed with the phrase 'Never Stop'. I picked up the book to take a look and began to read the Foreward written by Dean Karnazes. It was a tribute to the inspiration Jason Lester is but a few pages in I found the words that I think were buried in me for the past 1.5 years....the reason I needed to be in this race. The following is an excerpt from Dean Karnazes' foreward:

In this book, Jason talks a lot about something else that I understand very well: the shared warrior connection that extreme endurance athletes have with one another. Jason has said that Ironman and Ultraman have become his family, which might not make sense to someone who sees us trying to bury one another on the course in each race. It's true that there's competition, but there's also tremendous camaraderie between the athletes. When we're all together for an event, we're among like-minded people who share the same core values. Most important, each of us knows what the others have sacrificed and how hard they've worked. Passion, in these circles, is universal.

This shared disregard for limitations and stubborn unwillingness to allow anything to stand in the way of dreams creates a unique bond and special kinship among all athletes, able-bodied and challenged. It doesn't matter if you see one another only once a year at an event, or only read about your comrades' exploits in the magazines. They become your family, because you can relate firsthand to the toils they face and the struggles they must endure to cross the finish line. Respect is earned and deep mutual admiration garnered, no matter how fiercely you might compete out on the race course. They are your fellow warriors, your blood (and sweat and tears) brothers and sisters.

These words struck me hard. I not only read them. I felt them. This passage explains why I love Ironman. At my first Ironman when the 100 degree heat saw me finish hours after my training would have predicted, I was with the group of people struggling. Cramps set in. I kept falling down as a result. Dehydration was so bad that I was having trouble hearing. I lost 16 pounds at this race.....I do not have 16 pounds to lose. Everyone around me was having a bad day too and we all bonded together to try and push each other to the finish line. If I mustered a little run, I yelled at everyone to come with me. If I passed someone, I told them to stare at my back and join me for the ride (I still do this in every race today). This passage to me also describes why the Ironman finish line is one of the most spectacular finish lines in the that everyone must experience......not necessarily at 8 hours and 30 minutes of the race when the
pro's cross (although that is amazing). I am talking 11pm with one hour to go before the official finisher cutoff. Do you think the pro's are off in bed? Do you think the crowds have disappeared? Absolutely not. The pro's are at the finish line cheering for everyone coming in, the music is blaring and the crowds are cheering louder than ever trying to bring every athlete home (there is a short video of the finish line in Kona in 2009 at the bottom of this post). It is amazing. There is such respect for the journey. There is such respect for everyone that completes the 140.6 miles regardless of the finishing time. I would also add that there is a tremendous amount of respect for those that fall short of the 17 hour time limit. The Ironman is a tough race and every day will not prove successful for even the most amazing of athletes.

It is all of this that has me wanting to compete again. It has nothing to so with completing 140.6 miles with a new PR. I really could care less. For me, with working 55-80 hours a week, with all the charity work I do for the amazing organization Team in Training and most importantly with an amazing wife and some amazing kids, my training is squeezed in where it will fit. Don't get me wrong, I train....what i do NOT do is sleep. My midweek trainer rides take place at 4:30am. My midweek runs take place at 11:30pm. My swims take place as the gym is closing (for my first IM, my swims took place at 2:00am at 24 Hour Fitness with drunk dudes racing on noodles. I eventually got tired of the large wafts of hair floating in the pool so I upgraded gyms). For my long rides, I sit at my garage waiting for the sun to rise just enough so that I can enter the streets of LA safely (well, more safely) and I am generally done while most are just getting underway. My long runs take place in the early Sunday hours before I head to coach TNT practice. I am not complaining. It is my journey and that is how it must be completed so that that the rest of the important parts of my life are disturbed as little as possible. If I trained during normal hours and was able to get more rest, I am sure my time would be much improved but, for me, I would lose too much elsewhere. For me, the journey has been and will be the experience. Crossing the finish line......which certainly will happen in Wisconsin on September 11, 2011......for me it is just the icing on one amazing cake.

A big thanks to my wife Crea for understanding my need to compete and for all the sacrifices she will make over the next 12 months leading up to the Ironman. Without her, IM Wisconsin would not be possible. Without her, I am sure it would not even mean as much.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hope Next Exit Raffle: Final Thanks and Winners

OK. It takes me a long time to make progress but I am finally at the post to announce all of the winners in one place. A week ago at the Cooley s'moree all of the winners were drawn out of a basket. I posted the winning #'s on Twitter but never really looked back to see the actual names of the winners. Emily Conlon (@goingforgoofy) was kind enough to look everything up and share the winners via Twitter but since she announced herself the grand prize winner.....I figured I better double check. As it turns out, she is an honest soul and a lucky soul for she did win the Gateway notebook. Below are all of the winners. I will be reaching out to everyone to get you your prize shortly but feel free to contact me as well via Facebook (Christopher Wilno) or Twitter (@run2savelives) or via email at

Before I list the winners, I wanted to thank everyone one last time. I am humbled by everyone's generosity that allowed me to sell all 250 tickets in a short period of time. After raising $70,000 to fight cancer over the last 6 years, I felt it would be tough to reach out for help one more time so I came up with the idea of this raffle. I bought some of the prizes and some folks really stepped up with key donations and the concept became reality. It only became a viable cancer fighting tool, though, when you all stepped up to buy tickets. Even more humbling is the news I have already shared......many of the tickets were purchased by either a)folks that have never met me outside of the virtual world b)folks that knew me in the virtual world but had only come to meet me in person in the prior few months or c)folks that did not know the live or virtual me (theoretically these two are the same). This statistic really blows my mind. Whether you knew me or not, the kindness and support you all showed to this raffle and, as such, to my family and I is greatly appreciated. My story is personal so every penny donated through me is personal. Thanks again. Congrats to all the winners!

1)Gateway Notebook - Emily Conlon
2)HP Media Smart Server - Kristen Brenner
3)Monster Miles Davis Tribute Headphones - Dave Blaszkowski
4)Acer Netbook - Lauren Franck (the only prize I have distributed thus far)
5)Kodak ZX1 Pocket Video Cam - Allison Burbage
6)Creative Vodo HD Pocket Video Cam - Melissa Borek
7)Deacon Jones Autographed Football - Ron (Punk Rock) Harvey
8)$75 Target Gift Card - Marie Schneider (is there a Target in France?)
9)$50 Starbucks Gift Card - Sonja Wieck
10)Call of Duty 4 Inessa Vitko

Special thanks to Jeff Webb for building the Raffle web page that allowed me to show you all the cool prizes!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hope Next Exit Raffle Ticket Raffle Drawing 08-29-10

OK. We will be pulling the Hope Next Exit Raffle tickets the evening of August 29th at the infamous Cooley smoree....much thanks to them for another invite. It is always a very fun night hanging with some very cool people. Below you will find a list of everyone that has raffle tickets. make sure your name appears on this list. Beside your name is a number that corresponds to a raffle ticket. I will only have the raffle tickets with numbers at the smoree and we will refer back to this list to see who the winners are. Good Luck everyone. I am so grateful for all the support shown to me and my family.

501 Alett Mekler
502 Allison Burbage
503 Allison Burbage
504 Allison Burbage
505 Allison Burbage
506 Allison Burbage
507 Allison Burbage
508 Allison Burbage
509 Allison Burbage
510 Allison Burbage
511 Allison Burbage
512 Allison Burbage
513 Allison Burbage
514 Allison Burbage
515 Allison Burbage
516 Allison Burbage
517 Allison Burbage
518 Allison Burbage
519 Allison Burbage
520 Andrea Emmons
521 Ashley Larkin
522 Ashley Larkin
523 Aubrey Walton
524 Bally Randhawa
525 Beckie Burns
526 Bob Frein
527 Brady Gervais
528 Brett Bogan
529 Brett Davis
530 Brett Davis
531 Brett Davis
532 Bryan Sloan
533 Caitlin Frazier
534 Candice Yee
535 Carlos Pineda
536 Christopher Wilno
537 Christopher Wilno
538 Christopher Wilno
539 Christopher Wilno
540 Christopher Wilno
541 Christopher Wilno
542 Christopher Wilno
543 Christopher Wilno
544 Christopher Wilno
545 Colin Cooley
546 Colin Cooley
547 Colin Cooley
548 Craig Barrett
549 Craig Barrett
550 Craig Barrett
551 Craig Harrison
552 Danielle Perkel
553 Dash Nash
554 Dash Nash
555 Dash Nash
556 Dave Blasz
557 Dave Blasz
558 Dave Blasz
559 Dave Blasz
560 Dave Blasz
561 Dave Blasz
562 Dave Blasz
563 Dave Blasz
564 Dave Blasz
565 David Pittman
566 David Winton
567 David Winton
568 David Winton
569 David Winton
570 David Winton
571 David Winton
572 Dean Sakihama
573 Dean Sakihama
574 Dean Sakihama
575 Dean Sakihama
576 Dean Sakihama
577 Dean Sakihama
578 Deanna Rodriguez
579 Donna DeWick
580 Donna DeWick
581 Donna DeWick
582 Emily Conlon
583 Emily Conlon
584 Emily Conlon
585 Emily Conlon
586 Emily Conlon
587 Emily Conlon
588 Emily Conlon
589 Emily Conlon
590 Emily Conlon
591 Emily Conlon
592 Emily Conlon
593 Emily Conlon
594 Emily Daigle
595 Emily Mooney
596 Eric Orvieto
597 Eric Orvieto
598 Eric Orvieto
599 Gaye Beckman
600 Geri Weinfeld
601 Geri Weinfeld
602 Geri Weinfeld
603 Gretchen Sweet
604 Gretchen Sweet
605 Gretchen Sweet
606 Inessa Vitko
607 Inessa Vitko
608 Inessa Vitko
609 Jason Ditri
610 Jason Ditri
611 Jason Ditri
612 Javier Rivera
613 Javier Rivera
614 Javier Rivera
615 Javier Rivera
616 Javier Rivera
617 Javier Rivera
618 Jennifer Blalock
619 Jennifer Hawley Price
620 Jennifer Hawley Price
621 Jennifer Hawley Price
622 Jennifer Whitter Adams
623 Jessica Nelson
624 Jessica Nelson
625 Jessica Nelson
626 Joe Pease
627 Joe Pease
628 Joe Pease
629 John Hogan
630 Jolene Young
631 Josh Spector
632 Josh Spector
633 Josh Spector
634 Julie Lewis
635 Julie Lewis
636 Julie Lewis
637 Karen Carrie
638 Karen Carrie
639 Karen Carrie
640 Karina Eastman
641 Kristen Brenner
642 Kristen Brenner
643 Kristen Brenner
644 Kristen Tabke
645 Kristen Tabke
646 Kristen Tabke
647 Lauren Franck
648 Lauren Franck
649 Libby Jones
650 Lilah McCarthy
651 Linda Vermeulen
652 Lisa Sanders
653 Lisa Vallejos
654 Lonnie Butler
655 Lonnie Overall
656 Lori Jomsky
657 Lori Jomsky
658 Lori Jomsky
659 Lori Jomsky
660 Lori Jomsky
661 Lori Jomsky
662 Louise Shrimpton
663 Louise Shrimpton
664 Louise Shrimpton
665 Maia Jasper
666 Marci Simms
667 Marci Simms
668 Marci Simms
669 Margarita Guzman
670 Marie Schneider
671 Marina Vargas
672 Marjorie Wilno
673 Marjorie Wilno
674 Marjorie Wilno
675 Marvin Tabangay
676 Marvin Tabangay
677 Marvin Tabangay
678 Marvin Tabangay
679 Marvin Tabangay
680 Marvin Tabangay
681 Marvin Tabangay
682 Marvin Tabangay
683 Marvin Tabangay
684 Matt Barnette
685 Matt Barnette
686 Matt Barnette
687 Maura McCartan
688 Melissa Anderson
689 Melissa Anderson
690 Melissa Anderson
691 Melissa Borek
692 Melissa Borek
693 Melissa Borek
694 Melissa Borek
695 Melissa Borek
696 Melissa Borek
697 Melissa Galyon
698 Melissa Galyon
699 Melissa Galyon
700 Melissa Galyon
701 Melissa Galyon
702 Melissa Galyon
703 Melissa Galyon
704 Melissa Galyon
705 Melissa Galyon
706 Michael Miller
707 Michael Miller
708 Michael Miller
709 Michelle Sedas
710 Neal Gorman
711 Nina Jack
712 Nina Jack
713 Nina Jack
714 Peter Rabover
715 Peter Vu
716 Peter Vu
717 Petty Goodman
718 Petty Goodman
719 Petty Goodman
720 Rachel Chai
721 Renee Guirguis
722 Renee Guirguis
723 Renee Guirguis
724 Rich Cruse
725 Rommell Calderon
726 Ron Harvey
727 Ron Harvey
728 Ron Harvey
729 Ron Harvey
730 Ron Harvey
731 Ron Harvey
732 Ron Harvey
733 Ron Harvey
734 Samantha Marangell
735 Sara Schroer
736 Sara Schroer
737 Sara Schroer
738 Sara Schroer
739 Sara Schroer
740 Sara Schroer
741 Scott Burns
742 Scott Burns
743 Scott Burns
744 Scott Clausen
745 Sonja Wieck
746 Sonja Wieck
747 Sonja Wieck
748 Tony Alexander
749 Vincent Matteo
750 Vincent Matteo
751 Vincent Matteo

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hope Next Exit Raffle

RAFFLE SOLD OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I know this goes back in time a while but I started a raffle tied to the Hope Next Exit Party. The raffle tickets are 1 for $20 or 3 for $50. Prizes include some cool stuff: HP Media Smart Server, Acer netbook, Gateway 15.6" notebook with Blu Ray, Kodak ZX1 pocket video recorder, etc, etc. Total value of prizes is $2,000 at this point with hopefully more to come. Some were donated and some I purchased to raise money to fight cancer. I am selling $5,000 worth of tickets. I will use this blog entry to track the number of tickets sold and the names of the ticket holders. You can use this blog entry to make sure that, if you purchased tickets, your name is in the hat. Once all of the tickets are sold, I will announce the date of the raffle and will probably video tape the drawing so that folks know it is legit.


As of now, ticket holders I am aware of are as follows:

Peter Vu 2
Cowhateration 1
Melissa Borek 3
Frenchie 1
Tony Alexander 1
Maia Jasper 1
Bally Randhawa 1
Aubrey Walton 1
Geri Weinfeld 3
Lauren Franck 2
Ashley Larkin 2
Samantha Marangell 1
Dean Sakihama 6
Karina Eastman 1
Daniele Perkel 1
Rommell Calderon 1
Craig Harrison 1
Colin Cooley 3
Ron Harvey 8
Emily Conlon 12
Melissa Galyon 9
Renee Guirguis 3
Brett Bogan 1
Marvin Tabangay 9
Sara Schroer 6
Josh Spector 3
Maura McCartan 1
Louise Shrimpton 3
Libby Jones 1
Jolene Young 1
Javier Rivera 6
Eric Orvieto 3
Lonnie Butler 1
Marina Vargas 1
Lisa Vallejos 1
Dash Nash 3
Michael Miller 3
Jennifer Blalock 1
Petty Goodman 3
Bryan Sloan 1
Carlos Pineda 1
Emily Daigle 1
John Hogan 1
Kristen Tabke 3
Gretchen Sweet 3
Lori Jomsky 6
Scott Clausen 1
Christopher Wilno 9
Brady Gervais 1
Linda Vermeulen 1
Jennifer Whitter Adams 1
Andrea Emmons 1
Nina Jack 3
Emily Mooney 1
Kristen Brenner 3
Lilah McCarthy 1
Jennifer Hawley Price 3
Deanna Rodriguez 1
Bob Frein 1
Craig Barrett 3
David Winton 6
Rich Cruse 1
Karen Carrie 3
Lisa Sanders 1
Donna DeWick 3
Caitlin Frazier 1
Marjorie Wilno 3
Melissa Borek 3
Melissa Anderson 3
Matt Barnette 3
Joe Pease 3
Neal Gorman 1
Beckie Burns 1
David Pittman 1
Brett Davis 3
Marci Sims 3
Margarita Guzman 1
Jessica Nelson 3
Dave Blasz 9
Scott Burns 3
Allison Burbage 18
Alett Mekler 1
Peter Rabover 1
Rachel Chai 1
Julie Lewis 3
Inessa Vitko 3
Jason Ditri 3
Sonja Wieck 3
Lonnie Overall 1
Gaye Beckman 1
Michelle Sedas 1
Vincent Matteo 3

Monday, July 12, 2010

Isabella's Day - The Beginning of Me

I really wanted to avoid a preface to this post but the more I have thought about it the more I think it is necessary. I always assume people know my story by now but learn consistently that even the folks I chat with often on Twitter are not aware. It makes sense really. I do not talk about my story that often and, although, it is the story that made me who I am today.....made me believe in my Twitter bio that reads 'I believe blessings come from every situation' can I expect anyone to really know that. It also makes sense because most folks on Twitter follow a lot of people so, even when I was tweeting about my wife's surgery for her second bout with cancer, my tweets could easily get lost in the masses. I too often find myself behind on the happenings of Twitter friends because their tweet did not make it into the list of recent posts that fit on my phone. I guess there are many other reasons......not to mention the timing of when I synced up with people or the fact that I really do not want to be known/liked/followed/respected because of my story. It just is. Because so many people are unaware though, I feel a preface is warranted and these are my disclaimers:

1)If you do not know my whole story, this will be a tough first read for you and may not give the right impression. I highly suggest you read the first entry in this blog as it will reveal a little more about my attitude towards the events that touched my life over a short period of of them addressed in this entry. You do not have to go back far to get to the first entry. Sadly there are not that many for, while I believe I have a lot to say, my life does not afford me the time I would like to put pen to paper...or in this case fingers to keyboard.

2)I did NOT bring you to this blog entry for a financial donation to Team in Training. This blog was created in November 2009 to document the events surrounding my wife's second diagnosis with cancer. To honor her fight, I signed up for my 8th Team in Training event and fundraised to fight back against such a horrible disease that has affected most people in one way or another. Because I am so active with Team in Training, I am always fundraising so there is still a link at the top of this blog. Again, that link is not why I am writing this post.

3)In conjunction with the second item, while I do not have a financial request, every year I do ask a favor of friends and family on Isabella's Day. In today's virtual world, I have come to consider as friends people whom I have never met in person so if we are connected on Twitter, I will ask the same favor of you. It is a simple one. It is an important one to me. I will share it with you at the end of this entry.

4)Lastly, I cannot really tell you why I am writing this post or which direction it will head. It may go somewhere, it may not. It is my way of remembering and keeping Isabella alive. For someone that never spoke a word, I would argue she has made a huge impact on me and, because of the impact on me, an impact on the many people I have been able to impact over the years. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a part of this entry is selfish........a way to cope with the silence I find deafening around this time of year. My reaction to the silence is to raise my voice and fight harder to make a difference. In that sense, I must share my thoughts for even if they impact only one was worth laying my feelings on the line.

On to my thoughts.............

As I sit at my desk, it is mid July 2010. It is the seventh July since my daughter Isabella passed away at birth. Every July gets a little better. Every July finds me a little stronger. Every July also finds me very much the same though... as I don't think you ever fully recover after the loss of a child. Isabella Soleil Wilno passed away on August 1, 2003. She never spoke a word. As I wrote in an email to all my friends and colleagues days after her passing, Isabella spent 9 months with the warmth, comfort and security of my wife and then passed straight to the hands of the Lord. It is tough not to think of that as a blessed life. It is this view of the world that I believe has me writing this post. A very sad that can bring me instantly to tears if I allow my mind to take me back there........ultimately helped to define me. Did it all start with this email...I am not certain. I am sure folks would have understood a somber email speaking of the injustice of it all.......that is not what they received.

It was the afternoon of July 31st which also happened to be my wedding anniversary. I had been out of town a lot because 3,000 miles away my father was fighting for the life cancer was trying to take and ultimately took from him. I was at work where just a few days earlier, my wife Crea had visited the office where we shared many friends. I remember making jokes about how large her belly was. As I would walk nearby her, I would pretend to be sucked into orbit and start circling her. Dumb humor....I know...but it made me laugh and I am my biggest fan. Days passed and now we were 2 days from the official due date. This night would be a celebration of 4 years of marriage and in a few days we would celebrate the birth of our new little girl, Isabella Soleil Wilno.

I was feeling on top of the world.

Then the phone rang. Crea's name appeared on the screen of my cellphone and I anxiously answered it. With only a few days to go until the due date, any call could be 'THE' call to rush to the hospital. I picked up the phone. I remember Crea being very calm. I also remember Crea telling me she was going to head over to the hospital. I was very confused. Why was she going to the hospital directly instead of coming home to get everything we would need for the trip? At this point, I thought it was 'THE' call but something did not feel right. I asked Crea again and she explained that something felt wrong to her.........she could not feel the baby kicking any more. As fast as I have run in my life........I am sure I never ran faster than on this day to my car. I remember my tires screeching out of the parking lot as I passed a coworker with a look of terror on her face. Everything seemed to be crumbling around me.

A little while later, Crea and I were in Santa Monica sitting in a hospital room. Same drill that we had gone through many times over the last few months. An ultrasound machine was wheeled over. Crea pulled up her shirt. Squeeze some fluid onto her stomach......Doc says "this might be a little cold"......shortly thereafter we see a beating heart on the screen. Today went exactly that way except attempt after attempt after attempt revealed no beating heart. I cannot remember if I was crying or not. It was all so surreal. How did we go from this amazing place of joy to such a place of desperation hoping Isabella was just on her side? "Please baby, be okay, please God, let everything be okay" I remember screaming this in my head but after many futile attempts, the conclusion was that Isabella was no longer with us. Her body was still present but that little spirit had already moved on. It was the worst moment of my entire life. It was the lowest point of my entire life.

The next few hours are a blur for me. I was the one that had to make all the phone calls to family. I do not remember most of them. All I remember was when someone picked up the phone there was positive anticipation expecting to hear good news. I was the one that had to shatter the joy........shatter the hope of a sister, a niece, a granddaughter. The toughest call was, of course, to my Dad. He was fighting for his life. I always thanked him for fighting back and not giving up. He always said he had a lot of reasons to fight. Certainly one of those reasons to fight was me.........we were best friends...........but Isabella most definitely was high on the list. He could not wait to hold her. I now had to call him and tell him that was not going to least not here in this world. To most, he would have appeared to take it very me, I could hear his heart break like someone had blown off a cannon inches from my face. Not taking it so well was my Mom. My parents were living out of a hotel room near the University of South Carolina where my father was being treated. She was screaming so loudly that hotel staff came running to her to try and ease her pain. Not a good day.

Hours later, my amazing wife was induced into labor. While this makes sense medically it struck me as so unfair at the time. How could one still have to go through labor knowing the outcome was so unpleasant. The rest of our anniversary night was spent waiting. As midnight neared, things were definitely moving forward and pushing was upon us. This part I have shared before but it is at this point when pushing was the instinct that my wife fought back. She fought NOT to push. She used all she had inside of her to hold off until after the clock struck midnight. It was our anniversary. Isabella would not be born...........and as such, officially pronounced dead on this day. Once the clock struck midnight, Crea let nature take its course and shortly thereafter, the doctor was holding Isabella. No screaming baby. Silence except for the sounds of sadness coming from my wife and me. It was such an empty moment.

A little while later our little girl was handed to us and we were left alone. She was so beautiful. So very beautiful. We spent as much time with her as we were allowed. We have pictures of her that I will never ever share. The only one I ever shared is the one you see here with the hands of Mother, Father and Daughter. Crea's family all made it to the hospital. Everyone held Isabella taking their turns at saying both hello and goodbye. Ultimately everyone left except for me. I never left Crea's side. I stayed with Crea the entire time until she was released from the hospital. I do not recall much from those days. Friends and family came and left. I remember going in and out of our room dozens of times and seeing a dove that had been placed on the door. It was the way to let folks know things had not gone so well. I remember calling hotels because we really were not ready to go home. We needed to be somewhere else because the silence in the house would be too much to take. We ultimately found ourselves at a Residence Inn near Manhattan Beach. I had shared our story with them and they naturally put us in their biggest and best room. That was our home base for a while. Home base to plan the memorial service. Home base to figure out how to step forward.

Isabella had passed. I was born.

During our time in the hospital, there were many tears shed but there was a great sense of strength that overcame me. A big part was trying to be strong for Crea. The rest I think ties to being strong for everyone else. The feeling in the air was great sadness........understandably.........but I really felt I had the ability to make it better. I cannot explain it any better than that. I went to work. People were shocked to see me. They did not know what to say. I could see the intense struggle within people so I sat down to write the email I mention above. I tried to find words to make things better. I searched for the positive.

"Strength is born in the deep silence of long-suffering hearts; not amid joy"

Arthur Helps

After sending the email, I was off to be with Crea again. We had to handle all the details that accompany death. We found ourselves at Forest Lawn picking out Urns and at the church planning the memorial service. These were the tasks that filled our days. In mapping out the service, I really felt like I needed to say something. Isabella was my daughter. I needed to speak on her behalf. I needed to make things okay. So, while Crea would hang out at the Residence Inn recovering from the effects of having a baby, I would go to a park in Manhattan Beach with pen and paper and try to find the words to do justice to my precious little angel. We always say about those that passed that they would not want us here suffering. I certainly felt the same about Isabella. She was, after all, just a little girl. She did not know ANY sadness. I always pictured her laughing and playing. I know she was a baby but I never pictured her in Heaven that way. I think Heaven has to afford the luxury of no dirty diapers. Anyway, the words came fairly quickly for me. This memorial service would be all about the blessings that Isabella, in her short time with us, bestowed upon us. I went home, I read the speech to Crea to make sure she was okay with the message. Her tears let me know I was on the right path.

I kept returning to the park only this time I did not need a pen. I just kept saying my speech time and time and time again. My theory on speeches stands very firmly on not using any notes. I say the speech so many times that it is committed to memory and in doing so, I am able to just talk. The speech will come out different every time but the message will always be the same. I am not joking......I must have said this speech 100 times just to make sure I was ready. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I didn't. For my very last self rehearsal before heading out to the church, I was walking on Pacific Coast Highway. I had just turned into a parking lot and probably appeared insane as I was saying the speech outloud and gave the appearance I was talking to myself. At that point, I looked up and out of the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle I found myself came this amazing white rabbit. It came out of nowhere. It came right up to me. It did not run away. It did not belong. It did not fit. It felt right, though. It just stared at me from a foot away. For all I know, a mile down the road was a panicked family madly searching for their loving pet that had escaped. For me, it was a moment. I was ready.

Well, the rest is history. Crea and I want to the church. We hovered in the back until the Memorial Service was to start. I remember walking out in amazement. So many people had made the journey to join us. It was incredible. The service went on. 'Tears of Heaven' by Eric Clapton played. Seemed appropriate. I gave my speech. No notes of course. Afterward we stood as a procession of friends and family passed by us to offer some words. The consistent theme was twofold. One, of course, was condolences. The other was gratitude for the words I had shared. People had come wanting to help us but, instead, it was the words I spoke that helped to ease their pain. One good friend of mine shared through tears that he could feel Isabella in the room as I was talking. I, of course, knew she was there and maybe it was her that was giving me the strength to hold everyone on my shoulders during this time.

That is my story. I apologize if it brought any sadness to you. That is not my intent. I read before that there is a big difference between 'dead' and 'passed on'. Isabella most certainly lives on in Crea and I. She also lives on in others. I know this for a fact. She has changed lives. Someone who never took one step on this planet changed lives. What should that tell you? I would argue it should tell you that you can make a difference. Everyone has the ability to make a difference, to affect lives, to affect the world. Every event that touches your it the happiest moment one can imagine or the loss of your child........has value. In that sense, even the darkest time of your life can be your best time. I am now going to share the speech I gave for Isabella. Read it if you want. Skip it if you want. I questioned for years whether I should share this or not. This year, 7 years later I have decided to put it out there. If you choose to read it, please know this was just the outline I used to speak to. I did not read these words exactly as they appear on the page................I just talked. Secondly, this will certainly not be the best speech you every read. That is not remotely close to my claim. Please remember it is important to my family and I so please treat it as such.

For Isabella

Good afternoon everyone. It is wonderful to see so many loving faces here today and I only wish it were for a much happier occasion than this. Crea and I know that it is not only ourselves and Tiana that need to heal from the loss of our beautiful Isabella but that all of our friends, our family and even some strangers we shared tears with this week that need to heal. We thank you very much for being here.

I have been concerned all week about standing up here and speaking with such a heavy heart. I have not only worried about crying my eyes out but of not crying my eyes out so if I do break down, I know you understand and please bear with me as I will do my best to recover. If, on the contrary I do not break down, please know it is not a sign I have built up a wall to all of this. I have cried my eyes out with Crea for the past week but I have also seen God give me a great amount of strength to help me endure some very tough situations over that same time period.

When Crea and I got married almost exactly 4 years ago, my father was the best man and preceding his toast, he mentioned through crying eyes that asking a parent to give a speech on such an emotional day was asking quite a difficult task. As I stand before you today, I can assure you my father was correct. My wife, Crea, and I come here after a week of tears and for someone that has little difficulty with words, I find words very hard to come by or at least they come very heavy to me. After this week of tears though.....of thought....of reflection....and of prayer, I do come here with something to say for Isabella, though not physically with us anymore has touched my life, has touched Crea's life...has touched all of our lives to the point where I know.......without question, she is a Miracle from God.

I first want to touch on a few things....a few ways Isabella has touched the lives of Crea and I as well as other lives around us. First of all, Isabella...through pregnancy, birth and her passing on to the Lord melded one amazing group of people into what I would now with great pride, great appreciation and great Love call my family. Over the last nine months, and especially shining over the last sorrowful week, everyone has shown Crea and I so much love and caring and compassion through words, through visits.....through a wide array of means for which our gratitude would be difficult to express in words. Seeing people...friends, family and, again, complete strangers that have heard our story...come together as one has truly been a blessing.

From a personal perspective, these types of situations are very difficult for me as all of my blood relatives are on the East coast and being unable to share this loss face to face is quite difficult...especially as it pertains to my mother and father whom I Love and miss terribly. Many of you know my father has been fighting with all the strength God has given him to beat Leukemia and I ask that you keep him in your prayers that God be with him and heal him and give him the strength to keep fighting as there will most definitely be a new grandchild to hold one day soon. Anyway, it is easy when two people come together in marriage to think of my parents versus his or her parents and, to be honest, I may have been victim to that same thought process. I think it is human but Isabella has changed all of that and as I stand here I truly feel I no longer have a mother and father in law or brothers and sisters in law but that I have true family on both sides of the country. I want to thank all of Crea's family and her great friends for taking me in their arms over the past week and making me feel like I do today.

Another blessing that Isabella has provided is that she did give my father another reason to keep fighting through his pain. My Dad could not make it here today but he is here with us and Crea and I are going see my parents in a month and my Dad will see the tape of this service and that is truly a great blessing for me.

I have another daughter that you all know. Her name is Tiana. I have always loved her and I have always considered her my own daughter. Through Isabella, however, my Love and my admiration for Tiana has grown more than I could have thought possible. Over the past week, Crea and I have seen an eleven year old girl put on an amazing show of strength and courage. Crea and I are so proud of you Tiana and please know that Isabella would have Loved you so much as a big sister.

Another blessing over the last week has been Crea and I learning that our relationship with God...our trust in God...our Faith in God is far stronger than either one of us realized. Isabella's many ways...could have pushed us away from God. We could have cried out in anger at God but we didn't choose that path. We know that God has Isabella in His hands and we know that Isabella is safe and very well Loved. I do not claim that I understand any of this and we so very much wish we were at home with Isabella right now but we know that Isabella...our beautiful HOME with God and take comfort in that fact.

There are many more blessings that Isabella has bestowed upon us but I only want to mention one more at this time and it is a very important one at that. Isabella....from just the very thought and possibility of her, without question, saved, or at the very least rejuvenated the marriage of Crea and I. Without getting into great detail, there was a time when Crea and I were not looking like our marriage would survive but less than a year ago, God came back into my of working things out began.....thoughts of having a child developed and we stand here today very much in Love and very much needing each other. God, of course, was a great catalyst to all of this but the Hope of Isabella really brought us together. Those of you that made it by the hospital this past week were witness to what I am saying and could see how close Crea and I have become. We shared a bed the entire time in the hospital and were pretty much inseparable. We could have been angry with each other...we could have pushed each other away but we chose each other and I thank our little Angel in Heaven for that.

As for Isabella herself.......she was and is such a beautiful little girl. She was so amazing to hold. She had beautiful little hands and beautiful little feet. She had a perfect nose, tiny rosebud lips and a little cleft like mine in her chin. Her heart stopped beating but I know it was a big heart....a Godly heart and I know she would have been an amazing person to know and I am sorry I will not get to see her grow up. Her earthly measurements were 5 lbs 9 ounces and 19 inches long but her Godly measurements go far beyond that. As one great friend wrote to me in an email this week:

"It never hurts to think about having your own little saint already in heaven who intervenes directly with God on your behalf. In that sense, you have truly been blessed in a special way!"

This is how Crea and I choose to look at what has happened and we hope you all do too. In closing, I would like to quote myself from a poem I wrote long ago. Those of you at our wedding heard this verse. It reads:

"I will hold you in my arms on the day our lives cross like I have held you in my heart for as long as I can remember."

Isabella, I have held you in my heart my whole life. I dreamed of you my little baby girl. I will never ever forget you and I will see you in Heaven.

Christopher D Wilno

Now two more things:

First, I would like to offer some words to those that may find themselves in a place of despair....financially, physically, emotionally or all of the above.

"You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give" Eleanor Roosevelt

I believe we all go through things for a reason and, for that to be true, we have to accept we are where we are meant to be. If you can read this post, you are breathing and that means you have more to accomplish with your time here. I truly believe.....with all that I am......that blessings come from even the darkest of events and most trying of times. Open your eyes. The blessings may be in front of you. They may be around the corner. They may reveal themselves immediately or they may be hidden for years. I am certain of one thing, though, and that is the blessings are there. Live your life with passion and out of your darkness will come amazing things.

"It's not what they take away from you that counts, it's what you do with what you have left that counts" Hubert H. Humphrey

I lost a father. I lost a daughter. I watched my wife fight cancer twice. Dark times...perhaps....but I gained the understanding my Dad and Isabella are still with me. I gained the understanding I will see them again. I gained a wife. I gained some amazing friends. I gained an organization in Team in Training that allows me to fight back. I gained the ability to help others. I gained the knowledge I can make a difference. I gained the knowledge anyone can make a difference. I gained the knowledge any one person has the ability to change the world. I gained a son, Jaden. I gained a daughter, Thalia. I gained running. I gained triathlon. I gained a life of giving back and for that I could never have regrets.

My favor

Lastly for this post is the favor I request of you. It is a simple one. On August 1st, I would be honored at some point in the day if you would raise a glass in Isabella's name. A simple toast to her. It can be a beer, a shot, a glass of water or a triple shot does not matter to me. Just help me remember the little girl I miss so much, the little girl I carry in my heart.....the little girl that made me who I am. To Isabella.