Black Lives Matter

This week at work I was asked for my input on the topic of Diversity & Inclusion. Yesterday, I saw the announcement of the June 12 Black Lives Matter Seattle and King County General Strike. Today I woke up with the urge to take action by making my own personal statement of support.

Like many SWL’s (suburban white liberals), I live in a bubble of happy contentment. I say I’m supportive of racial justice, and l feel solidarity with #BLM, I even tell my family I identify not as white, but as brown. But more public expression, and even more active support, feel like immediate needs.

In order to give honor to this moment in American history, I would like to tell you my family story, which informs my views on racial injustice. I’m not trying to co-opt this moment by making it “about me,” but more so, express my solidarity with those demanding their own freedom from fear and oppression.

My story is like many others. In 1938, just after Kristallnacht, my mother’s family left Germany for the US. My mother was an infant, the daughter of two successful German Jewish doctors. Each family member was allowed to leave with just $10 each. They spent the war and post-war years journeying from city to city trying to a) survive and b) fit into this new country. My mom had to live in a foster home when times got tough. Her father, despondent, committed suicide at age 50, feeling there was no future for his family. Luckily, my blessed grandmother Greta soldiered on and did create a future for herself, living until the age of 91. My mother met her next-door neighbor, the son of a Jewish doctor, and married him in 1960.

My dad’s family did not have to fear for their lives but were also victims of racial prejudice. My grandfather wanted to go to medical school in NY and was accepted. But the “Jewish quota” was already filled, so he was not allowed to matriculate. He found a school that would take him in Glasgow, Scotland, where he got his medical degree and happily met my grandmother. They came back to the US and my grandfather went on to become a successful doctor and hospital director in NY.

This history has taught me to give support to everyone seeking their own freedom from oppression. To stand with the oppressed rather than the oppressors. To question authority and demand equal and fair treatment in any public forum.

Those are my ideals, but the challenge of this moment is turning ideals into action.

This is a starting point for me, sharing my feelings, adding my voice to the voices of the oppressed, to learn how I can more actively help avoid and correct injustice, to seek to identify and eliminate racial injustice and help others find the freedom to enjoy the opportunities they choose to pursue — or just live free from fear.

This is all-important opportunity for transformation. Let me pose this question: Can anyone at this moment enjoy their own freedom and opportunity while so many people in our country feel their own freedoms are institutionally blocked? I believe the answer is simple.

Ride Report & Thank You: Obliteride 2017

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Obliteride #5 has come and gone. These 500 words are my way of saying Thank You to all my friends & family who donated to help fight cancer; to honor those who are fighting it themselves; and to remember too many who have lost the fight, but whose memories live on.

I struggle to sum up this event (it’s more than just a 2-day, 153.5 mile bike ride) in just a single theme. But there is one word that comes to mind: Grit. Not the gritty road dirt that builds up on your chain and in your pores, nor the gritty BC fire smoke that miraculously cleared the day before we set out. The grit I’m thinking of is the grit of determination to train, fundraise, and show up day after day, week after week; then push yourself for 18 hours up 10,000 feet of hills, through a crash, and all the way through to the finish line.

Why? Because by working this hard, we show just how hard we’re willing to work to make cancer go away.

Here are some favorite moments of the weekend:

  • Josh, who trained a total of 100 miles (that’s being generous), pushing the Siri button on his phone and saying, “Crispr, make me faster.”
  • Meeting a primatologist, turned real estate developer, who turned out to be an Issaquah neighbor.
  • Riding Mark’s comfy bike (Josh rode my Madone).
  • Giving Ellen, my favorite volunteer, a big hug in Gig Harbor.
  • Arriving in Burien, after the amazing ride through Normandy Park, and stopping for espresso with some other “Random Nerds.”
  • Sending pics and pleas from the ride to my last few donors to push my fundraising over the top.
  • Ben, my teammate from Fred Hutch, taking a break from ice cream and blackberries, to explain how gene therapy works, as we pushed to be the last team to cross the Day 1 finish line in Tacoma.
  • Feeling like a Rock Star: Free food, SWAG galore, massages, dudes who pump your tires and lube your chain (and watch your bike), and live music. Plus, not one, but two police escorts, to help us navigate Seattle and Tacoma.
  • Fingerling potatoes (Winner, Best Snack, Alki). Still dreaming of them!
  • Crossing the finish line with Gail, Eli, Jed and Sophia high-fiving me thru the chute (Josh, having finished 30 minutes before me, was also there :-0)

About the fundraising… This year was my best yet. Thanks to two amazing sponsors, Alex Kochis of FiveBy Solutions, and Larry Engel, who provided very generous matching donations, plus 30+ fantastic donors, I was able to clear $8,500, vs. Goal 1 of $1,000, Goal 2 of $3,000, and Goal 3 of $5,000. What a Team!

I know it’s meaningful, because Fred Hutch keeps thanking me, and sending me free stuff. Now I’m not just a “Pacesetter,” but also a member of the “High Five” club!

So thank you to everyone who helped, and sent their good wishes. Josh had just a minor, low-speed crash on some wet train tracks, and probably hurt the people he fell on more than he hurt himself!

Thank you, 2017 Random Nerds FC: Josh, Ben, and Justin (Honorary).

I hope next year we can keep up the momentum, and G-d willing, we can Cure Cancer Faster. Next year will be all about growing the team, so make a plan to join the Nerds for Obliteride #6.

In Loving Memory of: Dad, Marty, Julie.

Offseason Training: Not Just for Old Guys

[Ed. Note: I wrote this post for a Eli’s soccer club, the ISC Gunners FC]

Our kids work like crazy to build their soccer skills, drag us from Seattle to Spokane and back, and compete against the best players in their age brackets. Bumps and bruises are a daily occurrence, and trips to the chiropractor or urgent care, a regular fixture.

I recently expressed my frustration to Eddie Henderson, from our ISC Gunners coaching staff. Eddie, a former pro soccer player and All-American from UW, responded with an action-packed discussion about how to use off-season and off-field time to build strength and conditioning, and reduce the chances of injury. I was so inspired by Eddie’s ideas and enthusiasm that I wanted to share some of these ideas with you.

I’m an athlete myself, and as I’ve aged, I’ve learned the increasing value of off-season training – not doing the same thing all year round, but actively switching the routine, in order to target new muscle groups, strengthen problem areas, and keep myself fresh. The same ideas apply to kids’ soccer.

The Gunners, like other soccer clubs around the country, face a problem: Kids love soccer. They love soccer so much that they tend to overdo it. They become highly conditioned in some areas, running & shooting for example, and less so in others. The injuries that we’re seeing, ACL as an extreme example, are often the result of too much strength in the front of the leg, and not enough to compensate in the hamstrings in back. Eddie has noticed injuries tend to crop up early each season, when kids have been relatively idle during off-season breaks.

A movement is afoot nationally to provide off-season conditioning designed for growing bodies, to stabilize, strengthen and balance their musculature. Other sports have also discovered the huge benefit of this type of training. During college, while competing at UW, Eddie realized he’d never be the biggest player, but used cross-training to gain speed and agility. He went on to play 11 years of professional soccer. That’s how Eddie became a believer in this approach – and our Club’s official conditioning and training expert.

Some recommendations which might help:

  1. Ask your kid’s doctor, PT, or trainer for some basic exercises to target any problem areas during the holidays. We just got a recommendation for jumping rope as a great calf-strengthener.
  2. Talk to your kids about over-training, and about spending some downtime on another sport. My son likes skiing, racquetball, and rock-climbing, for example.
  3. Check out this site: http://www.force10performance.com. They have programs aimed at soccer clubs like ours, and Eddie is working on arranging some pilot programs for Gunners.

It would be great to get more parents involved in this conversation. Cross-training, even if it involves one more practice per week, can make sports much more enjoyable, and maybe even cut down on trips to the chiropractor!

Write back and let me know some of your favorite off-season change-ups.

My Obliteride Speech

Here is a copy of the speech I gave at the Obliteride starting line on Sunday, August 14th, in Tacoma.

Thank you, Steve. My name is David Lazar. I’m captain of Team RNFC, which stands for Random Nerds F*ck Cancer. This summer I’ve had the privilege to do some pretty amazing events: RAMROD, Obliteride, and if I survive today, I’ll be swimming 2.5 miles across Lake Washington on Wednesday morning.

The most important event of the summer, however, took place two Mondays ago, when, after having been diagnosed with glioblastoma 11 months prior, my Father, Brett Lazar, passed away.

The condolences came pouring in, and among them was a note from Amy, Obliteride’s Executive Director, asking if I was still planning to ride, whether it would be too soon. I told Amy I was ALL IN. I felt, and still feel, that Obliteride would be a chance to honor my Father, and that while it would be emotional, there would be nothing like being immersed in the caring community that Obliteride represents.

Amy agreed, and asked me to speak here today.

Photo Aug 13, 8 55 42 PMAs I rode our beautiful Kitsap Peninsula yesterday, I spent some time thinking about why I love to ride my bike, and why I’m here riding in my fourth Obliteride this weekend.

Maybe it’s these stylish outfits? Or not! Maybe it’s the fact that when we finish, we get to eat whatever the hell we damn well please!?!

More likely, it’s that feeling of invincibility we got when we crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or rode through the finisher’s chute, that there’s nothing that can hurt us.

Or the amazing feeling of riding with a guy like Ben, a Fred Hutch scientist, and having him explain over beers last night how Immunotherapy works. How cool is that?

But the strongest reasons I can think of are really these two. First, it’s the transformative power that we now have to go out and inspire people with the stories that we’ve heard, and the memories that we’ve made together, this weekend.

And finally, I think we ride because with each turn of the crank — and I calculated we will ALL turn the cranks on our bikes 40,000 times this weekend alone — with each turn, we get one step closer to PUTTING CANCER BEHIND US.

Now I’d like to finish with a short prayer, and while I read it, please think about the names of the people you are riding for today.

“In my left hand, I hold my grief; in my right, gratitude. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give.”

Thank you, and have a great Obliteride!

This Year’s Very Difficult Fundraising Appeal

 

Dad

Today I’m kicking off my fundraising for Obliteride, my fourth annual ride to benefit Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), and my annual request to friends to help support my favorite charity.

All the scientific reasons I listed last year for supporting Fred Hutch still apply. (Read that letter here.)

This year, my ride, and my ask, is a very personal one for me. In September, my Father, Brett, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, the same brain cancer that may have killed Beau Biden. My Dad is not as famous as Biden, but is a man who has shared many gifts with me, my family, our community, and the world. Dad was a dedicated Public Health doctor and spent his career educating people and building programs & institutions to promote good health. The fact that Dad contracted a deadly cancer after tirelessly advocating for health and well-being underscores how random and unfair cancer can be.

Fred Hutch is pioneering treatment methods and research into this rare, but deadly form of cancer, and while time seems very short for my Dad, new ideas and treatment possibilities are coming up literally every day.

Obliteride is August 13th & 14th this year. In addition to making my own donation, I’ll be riding 150 miles with my Random Nerds FC team, and 1500+ like-minded people, and I hope you’ll support my fundraising goal of $1500, with a small donation of your own. Here’s the link to make an online donation for me. Do it today and help me support Fred Hutch and help honor my Dad, Brett Lazar.

 

Book Review: Standing on the Edge, by Jerome Stewart

Disclosure: Jerome is an friend and biking buddy, so I may be biased, though I’d like to think I’m not!

Jerome’s voice and manner in Standing on the Edge: Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide, is buttery soft. He is a gentle soul, providing soulful reflection on some weighty matters of life and death.

On the surface, this is a book about suicide and its survivors. Jerome is somewhat unique in having known 4 suicide victims and their families, and shares his journey of exploration into what one might take away from the victims’ stories and survivors’ experiences.

However, I found something deeper as I was transported by Jerome’s distant memories of New Mexico, Washington State, and Maine. As Jerome traced the footsteps of his family members and friends, it felt to me like I’d departed present reality, and now was treading on sacred ground, as we went back in time to experience pivotal moments and distant memories of the departed. Do you know the feeling you get when you’re walking in a graveyard? You don’t want to speak too loudly or even step too firmly to avoid disturbing the spirits. This was the feeling I had.

Some key insights I took away were how important it is to respect the very personal nature of this type of tragedy, especially with the survivors, which I felt Jerome did with aplomb. Also, how rehearsing your own passing and that of your loved ones, far from being morbid or scary, is actually a key to showing your love, preparing for the inevitable and learning how to appreciate the moments we can share together in the here and now.

My favorite parts of the book were how Jerome weaved these special places and his quiet moments of introspection. This writing technique — taking the reader to sacred ground, and then imparting deep insights — is well worn territory, but works absolutely perfectly for this subject matter.

If I could fix two things about this book, I would make it longer, and I would want to see Jerome develop more confidence as a writer, and take us even further on the journey with him, which I expect he will do.

In the end, I had a very strong feeling that Jerome was influenced by the Tao Te Ching; it was recommended by a mutual friend of ours. I think anyone who has read that will see “Standing at the Edge” as kind of a Tao Te Ching for surviving and accepting tragedy, and living your life with deep intention and peace.

Shattered: Holy Crap, the Scarlet Letter and Josh’s H-Bomb

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. So why write it, you ask? Well, how can I call myself a real writer if I won’t tackle a hard topic?

This is a story about how your whole self-image and world-view can be shaken to its core. I haven’t even fully processed it yet. Maybe writing this will help. (Editor’s note: It did not.)

It all started with an envelope, as many stories do. It was from the power company, so I felt compelled to give it some consideration. These envelopes usually contain bills, but on rare occasions, there’s a refund! So I opened it.

The envelope contained neither a bill nor a refund. This one contained a report of how my family is doing with our energy usage. The news was not good. Very bad, in fact. According to Puget Sound Energy, our household – led by me – ranks 99th out of 100 in energy efficiency. Adding insult to injury, they indicate very clearly, “1 is most efficient, 100 is least efficient.”

If you know me, even a little, or if you’ve spent any time reading my blog, you’ll know what a blow this is. What eco-cause am I not a fan of? I use a tiny laptop. I bike instead of drive. I recycle like crazy. I live in a densely populated neighborhood, in a house that’s too small for our needs. Why? Because I have been around the world. I know the luxuries that we as Americans enjoy. I want to be mindful of my use of resources (and yours too!), and try to keep it in check so as not to become another ugly, gas-guzzling American.

But let us count the ways in which I over-consume: Four cars, three refrigerators, four flat screen TV’s, washer/dryer, air conditioning; whole-house anti-allergy air filter, heck, I even have an electric boot dryer so my cycling shoes never have to be damp or mildewy. It blows hot and cold air to the inside and outside of two pairs of shoes at one time! (And apparently uses a lot of juice….)

Maybe the report was an error? Maybe the power company was playing a rude trick on their customers by telling everyone how badly we’re doing! Yes, we all rank 99th out of 100! Or maybe my neighbor or neighbors have figured out how to pirate my juice?

First things first. I called a family meeting. Gail agreed we have a lot of stuff and suggested we put a governor on the XBOX. I have to admit that was handy. Josh (20 YO) recognized my anguish, and then poured gas on the flames by dropping an H-bomb.

H-bomb? Yes, the dreaded H-bomb: “Hypocrite”! As if paying the bill (which is honestly 30% less than we paid in our McMansion in Bellevue) isn’t enough? Now I have to deal with this scarlet letter. Is this all just an elaborate trick I play on myself to avoid the obvious? Maybe I should just get a pick-up truck like my friend, John?

I’m grateful for our first-world benefits, but honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing how much we have, and how easy it is to take it all for granted. But now I may have to come to terms with a new reality. Am I just another conspicuous consumer? Am I like the cruise ship passenger happily sipping champagne while a trail of trash fouls the ocean behind me?

There are no easy answers here. But believe me, I will think about it and get back to you. Please tell me what you think: Can an eco-friendly guy be an energy hog? Is it all just a pretense? So much liberal finger-wagging? Should I double-down and sell some of this holy crap? What to do, what to do….

2015 Fundraising Appeal – Obliteride

Today I’m kicking off my fundraising for Obliteride, my third annual ride to benefit Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), and my annual request to friends to help support my favorite charity.

I’ve written before about my work towards helping to repair the world – I feel an obligation to share what I can, and I hope you’ll join me. Many friends ask me to help with their fundraising; this is an invitation for us to be part of a “circle of giving.” If you’re interested, post back to let me know what you’re doing, and how I can help.

I’m particularly excited about Obliteride and Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center, for the following reasons:

  • Bone marrow transplant was invented at Fred Hutch.
  • Immunotherapy and Genomics – today’s research focus at FHCRC – have a very strong potential of curing most human cancers within 10 years. These therapies involve sequencing an individual’s cancer genes, and then using that individual’s own immune system to attack and eliminate the cancer.
  • FHCRC vision to treat cancer: Blood test, small surgery, vaccine. Amazing stuff, and way better than chemo!
  • FHCRC is also one of the top researchers in the world for HIV. Their research focus is “DNA editing enzymes” which has broad potential for treating HIV and other viruses, which also frequently complicate cancer patients’ recovery.
  • Obliteride money raised last year actually helped FHCRC develop new blood-testing technology. It used to cost $500 per person to get a blood test in Africa or S. America. Now, a Fred Hutch-developed paper-based carrier can be used with a splatter of blood, and mailed to a testing center for just $0.50, dramatically reducing the cost – and increasing the reach – of blood testing.

One more reason – as if that wasn’t enough to inspire you, is a very personal one for me. It was exactly ten years ago that my good friend and mentor, Marty Levin, died from Multiple Myeloma, a deadly blood cancer. Marty enriched my life, and the lives of so many people, in so many ways, that I’ve dedicated my fundraising efforts this year to try to eradicate cancer – in his memory and gratitude for our friendship.

Obliteride is August 9th. In addition to donating $250 of my own, I’ll be riding 100 or so miles with 1000+ like-minded people, and I hope you’ll support my fundraising goal of $1500, with a small donation of your own. Here’s the link to make an online donation. Do it today and help me support Fred Hutch and remember my good friend, Marty!

Backcountry Prelude

This morning, Eli and I took our last preparatory hike before next week’s backcountry trip to the Wonderland Trail (which circumnavigates Mt. Rainier). It was fun father-son 1:1 time on a trail we’ve never explored, even though combined, we’ve visited Lake Chelan over 30 times!

We were attracted to this hike, because the guidebook promised a good challenge:

A real workout! It’s only four miles to the top of Pot Peak from Snowberry Bowl campground, but it’s steep enough to make you feel it. Take plenty of water and a hiking stick.

The drive along the south side of Lake Chelan is spectacular! A lot of people stick to the main highway and never experience this gem of a road. I’d recommend it for hikers, bikers or anyone touring the area. You’ll get great views of the lake and mountains, and if you squint, you’ll almost feel like you’re in Hawaii or Big Sur!

The Pot Peak climb – as advertised – is pretty solid. The trail is narrow – quite overgrown in sections, and almost constantly up, though never super steep. We hiked up for about 2 hours and 10 minutes, and then back to the bottom in about 2 hours. We took our time on the way down and enjoyed a peaceful – passed only two other hikers all day – and picturesque descent.

Contemplation

Waiting for us not 30 steps from our car, was an incredible payoff! You gotta see it to believe it:

Rushing Waters

All in all, a great morning – door to door in under 6 hours. The highlights: The views, shade (60% or more), the drive out and back, and the ice-cold foot bath at the end! The lowlights: Over-growth (should be cut) and the pitch.

One more word, I thought I would scout the trail for future mountain-bike opportunities – I got an MTB this year, and I’m loving it. This trail was way too difficult for beginners and probably intermediates. Very long, narrow, and steep, and not a lot of flow. However, there are easier rides nearby, including Devils Backbone, which is on my list for next summer.

The trailhead was easy to find, just 18 miles west of Chelan, hug the shoreline all the way. Just before the dead-end, turn left up Shady Pass Road. About 3 miles up Shady Pass, you’ll see a sign for the Pot Peak trailhead on your left. Half a mile down a gravel road and you’re there.

Getting Outside My Comfort Zone

As my family and friends will all attest, I’m a pretty uptight guy. A control freak for sure. Schedule- and task driven. A list maker extraordinaire. I like to know where I’m going to be, when, what equipment I’ll have, and what the objectives are, at all times. (I must be a royal pain to live with!)

Last summer, I learned the value of letting go, of forgetting about paragraph one, if only for a little while, and being completely blind, surrounded by darkness, in a foreign environment. I loved it.

I was camping at Mt. St. Helens with my two younger sons and my cousin, Sander. It was our first back-country back-packing trip together, in which we’d be exploring the National Park for two days, then totally off the grid for three. Kind of scary, but the challenge of taking control of my destiny, and to a certain extent, my kids’ – the element of survival, even while being at the mercy of the elements, held a strong appeal.

We started our trip on the south side of the volcano, at place called Ape Caves. Ape Caves is a 2km cave system that was formed by underground lava flows from MSH. I’ve been in some caves before – Pismo Beach, California, for example – but never experienced anything like being underground for 2km.

As instructed by Sander, who, as a bio major and former park ranger, was our self-appointed expedition leader, we brought headlamps. Sander had mentioned that once we were safely below ground and acclimated (it’s a constant 42 degrees down there), we’d turn off the headlamps and experience what’s it’s like to be in total darkness. WHAT? TOTAL DARKNESS?

To which I responded, “No way.” My excuses were many, varied and totally rational. Why risk injury on Day 1 of our trip? Why risk the wrath of my wife if someone gets hurt? How can I hope to navigate the rocky terrain without light? And so on; for me, it was out of the question. I was dead-set against it.

But then a funny thing happened. As you would expect, Sander turned off his headlamp. My two sons happily followed him. Now I was the odd-man-out, and my headlamp was unintentionally spoiling their exploration.

I had to try it – for the kids’ sake! I shut it off, and proceeded in the dark. We were talking to each other, marching like zombies: slowly and deliberately with arms outstretched, groping in total darkness.

Then it started. The part where I liked it. I actually liked it. I felt like I could really only experience this if I also shut my eyes, because my brain was trying to imagine it was seeing things, and distracting me with ghost images.

I shut my eyes. Now I could feel really feel the cold on my face. The attention required for each step to meet the ground safely – without tripping over rocks or falling into a gap. Would I go sideways and hit the wall? Would the cave curve left and I go straight? Who knew?

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did anyone get hurt? Just the opposite.

When we came out of the cave, I felt as if I had been reborn, and was seeing everything for the first time. Going outside my comfort zone made the journey farther and deeper than any other. We hiked back above ground and the other-worldliness didn’t fade. In fact, I laughed so hard with one of my sons that we actually fell down a few times.

As I’m writing this, my plane is passing next to Mount Rainier, and I’m dreaming of our next trip… into the unknown.