Walk (Or Run) It Out

Baltimoreans ready to stretch their muscles for nonprofit fundraisers

By David Snyder

Remember when nonprofit organizations relied on phone-a-thons as their big yearly fundraisers? If not, don’t feel bad, it’s because they’ve long been replaced.

Said Greg Cantori, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, “They’ve gone the way of the dinosaur.”

Instead, nonprofits, particularly in the last 10 to 15 years, have latched onto a trend that continues to grow: a walk, run or biking event. Not only are more organizations utilizing charity walk-type events, they also are experiencing a spike in both attendance and income. [Read more…]

Big On Perspective

Matthew Jeffers admits that being unable to fall back to sleep early some mornings, he has instead contemplated his prospective plans for the day, only to let them all eventually fall by the wayside.

We’ve all been there.

However, a few weeks ago, Jeffers, a senior at Towson University, was awake at 6:30 a.m. and restless. The acting major had certain ideas pulsating through his head, and he knew he could not fall back asleep until he expressed them.

His beloved Ravens were a few days removed from losing their third consecutive game. Fans were growing irritated, the local media was becoming confrontational, and players and coaches were visibly frustrated.

Seeking to offer much-needed perspective, Jeffers rolled out of bed and logged on to the Ravens’ official website and clicked the “Contact Us” link to send an email to the team.

Clearly, his viewpoint was appreciated. Less than two weeks after writing his 504-word note, Jeffers found himself inside the Ravens’ Owings Mills headquarters, sitting across the office desk of head coach John Harbaugh. Later, he stood in surreal amazement as all 53 Ravens players waited in line for the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand.

What in the world did Jeffers write?

Jeffers saw the Ravens facing adversity and wanted to share his life’s challenges with the team. Diagnosed as a child with an uncommon form of dwarfism — he is 4 feet, 2 inches tall, although his limbs are proportionate to his body — Jeffers told how he has undergone more than 20 surgeries, some routine, others life threatening. Doctors performed a tracheotomy  to repair a closed airway when he was 5 months old, and he’s endured multiple summers in a hip spica cast — an excruciatingly limiting apparatus.

Although Jeffers has been surgery free since 2003, his mother, Marcie, was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor in February 2011, a battle she continues to wage, thanks to a positive approach.

“So, you tell me, is life fair?” Jeffers wrote in the email.

“When you give every ounce you have, and all you have to show for it is a loss in overtime, is that fair? When families in Newtown, Conn., go into their child’s room but have no child to kiss goodnight, is that fair? We live in a painful world, no doubt about it. But let me tell you this: The ONLY disability in life is a bad attitude. A positive attitude is the most powerful combatant to life’s misfortune.”

Jeffers anticipated that maybe a secretary would read his message and send back a  “thank you.” Instead, his email made it to Pam Lund, the executive assistant of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Lund forwarded the message to Harbaugh, who passed Jeffers’ words to each and every Ravens player and responded directly to Jeffers.

“[His email] was really moving and just so spot-on and to the point for anybody, whether you’re playing football or just in life,” said Harbaugh, who cracked a wide smile when asked about Jeffers during a press conference before the team’s upcoming playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“He was talking about attitude and how you approach adversity in life. It really resonated in me and with our coaches and with our players. Our guys were excited to meet him when he came up last week. Great guy, great talent, just a real good person.”

After being contacted personally by Harbaugh, Jeffers figured that would be the end of it. “I appreciated John’s response and thought that was it.” Jeffers said. “And then, the next day, that’s when Kevin Byrne contacted me and the whole thing started.”

Byrne, the Ravens’ senior vice president of public and community relations, invited Jeffers and his father, Michael, to the complex on Dec. 28. There, Jeffers said, the Ravens “treated me like a celebrity.” He thought he was going to get a quick handshake from the coach. Instead, he sat down with him for a lengthy conversation, met the entire team and went on a tour of the spacious facility.

Several players and coaches told Jeffers how his message touched them emotionally. That accomplishment, Jeffers said, is something he’s still trying to wrap his head around, but it’s a feeling he will never forget.

“These guys are so famous … and to have little old me have an impact, it feels very weird. That’s the only thing I can say,” said Jeffers, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate.

When Harbaugh sent out his mass email to the team with Jeffers’ message, Ravens safety Sean Considine was sitting on his couch watching football. Upon reading it, he immediately wrote back to Harbaugh, thanking him for sharing it.

“It just opened my eyes. Everyone was upset about losing and felt down, but there are a lot worse things going on out there,” Considine said. “People are struggling through some serious things and still going about their lives and maintaining a positive attitude and getting better from it. I think it was a great message for us because we could do the same thing.” After reading Jeffers’ words and regrouping the following week, the team dismantled the New York Giants, 33-14, to earn a playoff berth.

Jeffers explained that because the Ravens have experienced so much success and played at such a high level in recent years, it was understandable for them to respond poorly to a losing streak. After defeating the Colts last weekend, he said it’s clear the team is in a good place heading into this Saturday’s playoff game against the Denver Broncos.

“It’s all about perspective,” Jeffers said. “You come across a roadblock and forget what it feels like to have your feet in the mud. You forget what it feels like to have an obstacle in front of you instead of an open road. It’s not always about going down that open road that brings out the most enriching things in life. It’s about the hurdles that you have to overcome, and when you overcome them, that’s when true glory presents itself.”

Fitness Faux Pas

Walking into the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center fitness center this week, I saw a few somewhat familiar faces. “Hmm,” I thought, “How do I know these people?”

Then I remembered, these were folks I had seen in the gym for appr-oximately the first two weeks of January last year.

I call them “resolutioners.” People who tell themselves they’re going to commit to the gym heading into the New Year, but by the time Martin Luther King Day rolls around, they are nowhere to be found — that is, until next year.

All their presence does is create a bottleneck in the gym and make it harder for routine gym-goers to use the equipment they want.

The one redeeming quality of resolutioners is that you only have to deal with them about 10 days per year. The same cannot be said for some of the other obnoxious personalities that I think every gym can do without:

The Grunter: This guy is lifting a whole lot of weight — and he wants to make sure that you to know it. The grunter is usually the same guy who wears a ripped up T-shirt and brings a water jug the size of a carry-on suitcase. He’s toning his muscles today, but that post-lift burn won’t be same unless you acknowledge his presence. Grunters also commonly slam weights on the floor or let machine cables go too rapidly to ensure that the most possible noise is made.

The Socializer: Every gym has at least one. This person hangs around all the different areas of the gym, only they’re never actually working out — unless they count repeatedly opening their mouths as cardio. To them, the fit-ness center functions as a high school reunion, where it’s all about catching up or talking about pressing matters, like, the weather. Not only do the socializers not do an ounce of lifting or running, they impede your workout.

The Singer: I support bringing your iPod/Pad/Phone and listening to music if it helps you get in the zone. The minute you start actually performing the vocals to whatever you’re listening to is when you’ve officially crossed the line. Maybe it’s accidental and you don’t realize you’re doing it — I don’t care. No part of me wants to hear “Eye of the Tiger” sung three octaves too high when I’m running next to you on the elliptical.

The Model: This exists in two forms. For men, it’s the guy who literally spends 5 to 10 minutes flexing his biceps in the gym mirror, completely oblivious to anything going on around him. For women, it’s the person who spends more time getting ready  for her workout with color-coordinated, name-brand outfits and extensive make-up application than she doesactually in the gym itself. People, it’s not a beauty contest. Go in, get your work done, get on with your day.

The Unassuming Waterfall: Most gyms are essentially rainforests. It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s uncomfortable, and you are going to sweat. There’s no avoiding it. However, compounding this environmental reality is the person who drips all over the place and doesn’t wipe down a single machine or mat. Paper towels and anti-bacterial sprays are available, so please, please, make use of them. There’s nothing worse than lying down to stretch only to find that you’re sitting in a small puddle of someone else’s bodily juices.