Friday, June 28, 2013

Rev3 Williamsburg and Team Nadia

I am the Volunteer Director for the Rev3 triathlon series.  Its my job to recruit and organize the volunteers we need for each race.  This year, we have 9 races in cities all over the country and I am charged with finding between 400 and 1200 volunteers to help with everything from packet pick up, bike check in, aid stations, lifeguards, kayakers, parking attendants, anything you could think of (and lots you wouldn't).  I meet ALOT of people.  Rev3 has a local charity donation program that allows groups (teams, clubs, non-profits) who provide 15 or more volunteers to receive a donation in exchange for their help.  This is a nice way to give back to the community and it really helps recruit volunteers.

In most cities, Rev3 has been there before and I have a database of volunteers and groups to start with. Last weekend, we had a race in Williamsburg, Virginia.  This was our first year and it required lots of cold calling, introducing Rev3 and our volunteer program. Some people were receptive, others not so much.

Some of the race was taking place on the campus of The College of William and Mary. I contacted the Athletic Department and asked them to spread the word amoungst the sports teams. I also called the Office of Student Organizations. I was hoping to get the word out to the fraternities and sororities as well as all the other organizations.  I spoke with a woman named Ann who asked me to email some information to her.

Later that day, Ann emailed me back. She said that a woman who worked in her office had a daughter who was just diagnosed with cancer.  She and some friends wanted to raise money for this family. I told her that if they set up a bank account/a foundation of sorts, I would be able to make the check out to that fund and it would work.  Ann told me she would see who she could round up and would be in touch.  .

The first week in June, Ann emailed me that she thought she would have 12 volunteers.  I gave her some shift options for those volunteers to start signing up.  A week or so later, I got an email from Jess with a address.  She said that she was organizing the volunteers for Team Nadia.

I worked closely with Jess over the next couple weeks to ensure that all the volunteers were signed up correctly.  As the days went by, the list grew.  Once we hit 30 volunteer slots filled, I knew something special was happening. I commented to Jess - Nadia must be pretty special - to which she replied simply "she is."

At this point, I didn't know Nadia's story or how old she was.  I just knew that people wanted to help her.  Years ago, our friends Mark and Annalee lost their daughter to a rare disease after several years of fighting. I remember how helpless I felt. I wanted to help, to do anything to ease their pain.  I saw this group of people feeling the same way and taking action.  I really wanted to help them.

Race weekend arrived.  Friday afternoon, the first shift of Team Nadia volunteers arrived.  They were AMAZING.  Everyone was so happy and energetic. They were great volunteers - hard workers with common sense.  I love all my volunteers, but let's be honest...some are better than others and these were the BEST!!!
Jess gave me a pineapple - in that area, a pineapple is a sign of welcoming.  Attached was a note that said "Thank you - love all the member of Team Nadia".  I was able to learn some more about Nadia.  She was 11 years old and had JUST been diagnosed with cancer.  11 years old....

By this time, the group had grown to over 40.  Everyone I met was so friendly.  They told me that Nadia and her mom might be coming down to the race site over the weekend and I asked that I get to meet them.

I couldn't stop feeling good about this great cause we were helping. I wanted the rest of our staff to know about it.  On Saturday night we had our meeting after dinner, where we talk about race day and go over all the final details.  At the end of the meeting I asked to say a few words.  I told some of Nadia's story.  Most of the staff wasn't aware that we do these charity donations and none of them but me knew about Nadia.  It was important that they know the impact that Rev3 was having on the life of one young girl who had nothing to do with triathlon. I knew that Sunday was going to be a rough day and when things got tough for us, I wanted everyone to know that we had a purpose bigger than ourselves for being there, a purpose bigger than that race. That purpose was Nadia.

After our meeting, we always do a little cheer, to gear up for race day.  Here's the video of our cheer that night:

Who are we?  Rev 3
Where are we? Williamsburg
Who are we here for? Nadia

Everyone made fun of me because I carried that pineapple around all weekend.

Race day came and as expected, things got hectic. Early in the day, I told Sean, our announcer, about Team Nadia.  He talked about them all day long.  It was great.

 Around 2:30, I got a text from Jess that said "Nadia is here!  We are looking for you"  I dropped what I was doing and went to find them.  They were down at the Aid Station where much of their group was working.  Nadia was already wearing a Rev3 visor. I was introduced to her and hugged her so tightly, her knees got weak.  I had just met her and I loved her already.  Then I met her mom, Angela, and gave her the same kind of hug.  We talked and laughed. Nadia asked me if we had any funnel cake. I wish.  I wanted to take Nadia over to Sean and have him introduce her, since he had been talking about her all day!

We visited a little as we walked.  Nadia was very soft spoken and shy. I could tell she was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention.  I got to talk a little with Angela and couldn't help but think about what she must be going through.  I was in the presence of true strength.  I wanted to hug them both and make it all alright.  Instead, I introduced them to Sean.  Here is part of his interview with her.

There were many tears of gratitude and the feeling was mutual.  They needed us just as much as we needed them.  Nadia and Angela went on their way and I went back to work.  That would be the last that I saw of Team Nadia for the weekend, but I couldn't get them out of my mind.

I got home late Tuesday night and on Wednesday started doing all my post race work.  I emailed my friend Melanie.  She lives in Virginia Beach and had brought her daughter and some friends to Williamsburg to volunteer at the same Aid Station as Team Nadia.  They were raising money for their soccer team and got to meet Nadia, who is about the same age as them.  Melanie told me that they wanted to give their donation money to Team Nadia.  I was very touched by this.

Charlie, the owner/creator of Rev3 was on his email and I chatted with him, telling him about my friend's kind donation to Nadia.  Charlie asked me if I could put him in touch with someone from Team Nadia so we could get more of her story and put it out on our social media.

I sent an email to Jess, introducing her to Charlie and told her that Charlie wanted to get some more info about Nadia's Story.  Jess replied with some great information.  I didn't know the whole story before.  Jess filled us in.  Nadia had just been diagnosed in May. Here's the condensed version: Nadia had symptoms of allergies for months, when doing a procedure to relieve sinus pressure, they found 6 tumors and diagnosed her with stage IV cancer.  She began chemo on May 17th (my first call to Ann was May 15th).  Nadia had been tolerating it well and was now getting ready for radiation treatment, which she wasn't going to tolerate as well - she could lose her hearing, taste and smell and not regain it.  (it made me wish I had found a funnel cake for her when she asked).  There was a local cancer facility that had another option - a different kind of radiation treatment that would be easier on little Nadia and perhaps be more effective.  The copay is $5000 per treatment and Nadia needed two.  Team Nadia's main focus was to raise the money for those treatments.  Jess said that she would be happy to talk to anyone about all this.

As I read Nadia's story, I cried.  Life is so unfair.  I tried to put myself in Nadia's mom's position - how does it feel when there is a better way to treat your baby but you can't afford it (WHO COULD??).

I started to think about all the ways I could help them raise the money.  While doing that, I went to Target to get some cat food.  As I was standing in line, I saw the email response to Jess from Charlie.  Here is what he said....

 I would really love to help you all raise the money you need for Nadia's 2nd treatment.  That's right, I said 2nd treatment. Meaning that in addition to the volunteer money we owe you, we will also donate an additional $5,000.  I will send the money via paypal using the e-mail address provided in the flyer you sent.

I didn't even make it past the first line and I started to cry because I knew where he was going....

By the time I got home, I still hadn't seen a response from Jess. I texted her and said "if you haven't checked the Team Nadia email lately, I suggest you drop what you are doing and go check it now".  Not even 5 minutes later - the response "holy crap, holy crap I need a drink".  I could only imagine the scramble going on to get ahold of Angela and I would have given anything to be there when she got that news.

In that moment...all of our lives changed forever.  Charlie's, mine, Jess's, Angela's...and Nadia's.  None of us will ever be the same again.

There are so many lessons to be learned here.  You just never know when you will meet someone who will change your life, you never know when you will need help and perhaps the most important lesson is this:  anyone can make a difference.  I work for a triathlon company.  We put on races.  And today, we changed the world.

I'll follow Nadia's story and post updates - I told her that she's never getting rid of us - 20 years from now she'll be saying "Those Rev3 people won't leave me alone".

Between the money Team Nadia raised, Melanie's girls' donation and the Rev3 donation, we are at $6120 to the $10,000 need for the treatments.  Donations can be made through paypal to the email:  If you are reading this, please make a donation.  Ever dollar counts.
How will you change the world today?

Go Team Nadia - fight fight fight.

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