“The Lucky Runner” was my favorite book when we were kids.
A young boy depends on his striped socks to win races. My siblings and I would hang onto every word as Mom would read to us at night, especially the ending: “You never needed lucky socks to win races. You win because you practice hard, you want to win — and because you are a champion.”
We created Team Jewish Home as a fun way to build camaraderie and promote fitness for our staff. We believe that a healthy, happy staff makes for a healthy happy, home — and for a happy Jewish Home Family. (The Jewish Home Family is the organization that includes the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, the Jewish Home @ Home, and the Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey.) We try all sorts of ways to promote staff happiness — we’ve had a lip sync battle, Purim costume contests, educational opportunities, and simply supporting each other in difficult times. Wellness is a key component of happiness.
Using money from the Seid Memorial Fund (generously donated by Ronnie Aroesty and his family specifically for staff fitness), we bought neon yellow shirts as a way to help us find each other in a crowd. Team Jewish Home members wore their shirts throughout the building before the run to recruit participants and build enthusiasm. Since we have a Rubin Unit at the home, it was most apropos that our first event would be the 2016 Mother’s Day Rubin Run at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.
In the days before the run, we emailed tips to our team: Runkeeper is a great free app to pace you. Get a good night’s sleep. Carry as little as possible. And most important, go to the bathroom before the race. After all, there are no porta-potties along the way.
The morning of the run was grey and pouring. I received texts from our team members asking if the run was on and I texted back: “I’m here. See you soon.” A year ago I had biked to work while practicing for my first triathlon. That day, Chris Pableo, our nursing admin assistant, said to me, “Next year, I’ll race with you.” So Sunday morning, I said to Chris, as it drizzled on us, “Come on, co-captain. Let’s do this together.”
The 10K started promptly at 8:15, and we shot down the JCC driveway. We ran so fast that after awhile I felt myself hydroplaning. Along the way I sang aloud, and I thought, “Rain can’t stop me — the sun is out.” I despise litter, but there is something invigorating about sipping and then throwing the cup of water across to the side while not skipping a beat — of course also making sure the flying water doesn’t hit other runners.
As we made a turn, Beryl, the JCC lifeguard, was motioning the runners on. I gave her a kiss and resumed running. Other runners did the same. We waved to the staff, volunteers and police who helped direct us through the route and gave them thumbs up along the way.
At one point, I turned to my left, and the gentleman running beside me, who I did not know, said, “You’ve been carrying me.” At that point, we were all team members.
By mile 5.5, Chris started faltering. I said to him, “Come on. You can do this. This is your race!” I pulled the earphones from my iPhone and blasted the last song that guided us through to the end out loud. The 1997 UK rock favorite, Tubthumping by Chumbawamba — “I get knocked down, but I get up again, You’re never gonna keep me down” — played over and over out loud.
After 64 minutes, side by side with Chris, I stopped right before the finish line, jumped over it, and then stumbled forward, right into JCC CEO Jordan Shenker. “Wow, that was the most enthusiastic finish I’ve seen,” he said.
We walked further. More than a dozen other members of Team Jewish Home were waiting at the finish line of the 10K for the 5K to start. Even though it started out as a stormy day, our team showed up. We high-fived each other, took selfies, and danced through the mist of the morning.
The most fun part of the day for me was cheering on the 5K runners as they came back up the JCC driveway to end their run. “You can do it! Great job!” The kids, huffing and puffing and showing pride on their faces. The man who called out “I’m 87.” My neighbor Courtney, the famous Teaneck Turkey Lady, with her sweet son Jacob. The lovely ladies, Elle Rubach and Dana Post Adler. Danny Rubin with his arms stretched out.
And then there was our team of lucky runners, proudly wearing their bright neon yellow Team Jewish Home shirts. There was our CEO and our directors of nursing, PR, recreation, rehab, and social work, our amazing staff and their family members, arm in arm, proudly smiling from ear to ear.
Everyone at the Rubin Run was a Lucky Runner. Our wet socks weren’t what made us finish. Despite the rain — it was drive. Determination. Unity in community.
Look for the Team Jewish Home shirts at the JFS Wheels for Meals and other future events.
Sunni S. Herman of Teaneck is the executive vice president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and a co-captain to Team Jewish Home.