By Mike Fulginiti
My father and I, like so many father and son duos, built our relationship over time around the thrill, sweat and challenge of competition. He coached all of my soccer teams throughout my youth and supported me during high school and college sports. At every step along the way, he challenged me to be faster, stronger, and smarter. He taught me to work harder than the guy next to me or the team we were up against that day. Those early lessons were not just things that he preached, but were a part of the way he lived and how he still lives today.
It wasn’t long ago that I returned to the Philadelphia area to work for my father at the insurance agency that he built. I returned from Florida with a new love for road running and triathlons and I convinced my dad to run the Broad Street 10 mile race. This turned into a challenge directed at his former running mates from Interboro High School. He convinced them to sign up for the run and we started spending a lot of time on the asphalt.
Every Wednesday, we ran with the Delaware County Road Runners and then did long jogs in Chestertown, Maryland on the weekends using our GPS watches to see who was logging more miles and bettering their times. After numerous 5ks and other races, we set our sights on the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. We completed that in 2011 while running alongside new and old running friends and families.
During this time, I was still competing in triathlons, some of which he spectated. My father wanted a new challenge, so I found myself alongside him swimming three days a week at 6:00 in the morning as he attempted to reach his next goal. We raced together with great success over the next two years before he faced the new challenge of ALS. Today we face a different competitor, but we handle it much the same…together, as a family.
Instead of pushing each other through the burning legs at mile 18 during the Marine Corps Marathon, or passing each other during the bike legs of a triathlon, or during the extra laps in the pool during a training session, we now fight the consistent challenges of ALS one day at a time. I’ve seen what my father could do on his own and I see what we do together, and neither of us can be stopped very easily.
Go ahead, tell my father that he can’t swing a hammer. When you do, he rebuilds his kitchen! He remodeled the kitchen into something you would see in a new home magazine and this fully remodeled kitchen was completed by Christmas 2015, two years after his symptoms first started. His hands may look weak and powerless, but there is so much fight left in his heart that he constantly conquers that challenge. For my dad and our family, there is no such thing as “quit.” There are no limitations, only a new way to successfully overcome the next set of challenges.
When we noticed that The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter organized a Ride to Defeat ALS, there was no question or hesitation from our family. I signed up with my long time friend Kevin and we went for it. We have been blessed by the outpouring of support by family and friends deciding to challenge their limits and ride with us. I haven’t competed in over two years and I can honestly say that I have never ridden more than 30 miles at any one time, but this challenge to my body is nothing compared to the challenges that people with ALS face every single day.
We are happy to raise awareness of the ALS cause and do all that we can to support ALS research. Our family continues to remain focused on fighting to find a cure. We remain hopeful that it comes soon enough to save my father. Family Strong 4ALS is our newly adopted motto. We will be stronger than ever at the Ride to Defeat ALS on June 18. Join us, and let’s be strong together. Sign up today at www.als-express.org