Boston Marathon 2019: Runner Spotlight – Michael Palmer and the Snow Angel Challenge

Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day.  As you may know if you have read this blog before, I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.  Doctors said I may never speak.  But almost 14 years later, not only am I talking, I am a budding sports journalist who has written this blog for 5 years.

In honor of Autism Awareness Day, the Boston Herald asked me to tell my story for today’s paper!  I met Joe Sciacca, the editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald at a Red Sox game in 2015.  Since that day, I have gained multiple exciting sportscasting experiences from the Herald, including guest co-hosting a Boston Herald Radio show.

Now, I also serve as a Flutie Fellow for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism so I’d like to share a story about a Dougie’s Team Boston Marathon runner named Michael Palmer.  Leading up to the marathon, he started something inspirational within the autism community.  Below is my video about Michael alongside what I said in the video:

For Michael Palmer, running the Boston Marathon to raise funds for the Doug Flutie, Jr Foundation for Autism has personal meaning. Michael has Aspergers. He wants to spread the message that people on the autism spectrum are not alone in their daily struggles to connect with others.

Michael literally spread his wings in creating a “snow angel challenge” as part of his marathon efforts. Michael put out the challenge for people to overcome their fears and barriers and support people like him who overcome challenges daily. I can relate to Michael’s challenges and I am grateful for his efforts, as they benefit me as well. I’m Flutie Fellow Andrew Roberts, and thanks in part to Michael’s efforts, the Flutie Foundation is helping me pursue my goal of being a sports broadcaster.

Michael’s “snow angel challenge” spread through other team members and friends of the Flutie Foundation. Then, recently-retired All-Pro New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski got word of the challenge. While he didn’t jump in the snow, Gronkowski did participate in his own way. Thanks Gronk!

If you’d like to support Michael Palmer’s efforts to raise funds and awareness for autism, please check out the Flutie Foundation website at FlutieFoundation.org.

This is not the last of my Boston Marathon coverage.  I will be writing more runner spotlights this year, including one about a runner for Get Air Sports, a partner of the Flutie Foundation.  On a side note the Pats need a replacement for Rob Gronkowski who had fun in contributing the video for Michael.  Will they address the TE position in the draft?  Find out what I think in my upcoming 2019 NFL Mock Draft.

Stay tuned for more sports coverage soon.  But as the Herald headline noted, my sportswriting journey is only just getting started.

19th Annual Flutie Golf Classic Recap

Below is my video recap of the 19th Annual Flutie Golf Classic as well as the script.  I was there for my Flutie Fellowship, and I had a blast.

The 19th Annual Flutie Golf Classic took place at the Brae Burn Country Club this past Monday, September 17.  The turnout was great and the foundation raised lots of money.  Golfers arrived ready for a fun day of golfing, a buffet-style dinner, silent auctions, and more.  Golfers checked-in outside the clubhouse, then they got into their golf carts and they were off.

Tyler Lagasse, Special Olympics golf silver medalist who was sponsored by the foundation, stayed at Hole 1.  This was a team tournament, so the place where longest drive of the four team members landed is where everyone took their second shot.  Tyler would drive a ball for each group. That way, if a team didn’t like their drives, they could use Tyler’s.

This year, Doug Flutie insisted on golfing the entire course rather than staying at one hole, so he joined a team with his family members to compete.

There were many other people out golfing, including Steve Burton of WBZ, Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston, Charles Hirsch of Special Olympics, Jayme Parker, formerly of NESN, Sean MacLaughlin of APEX, David Morris of TripAdvisor, Dan Alperin and Bob Socci of 98.5, Alexa Flutie’s husband Ian Sumner, other family of Doug including Billy Flutie, Danny Fortier, Jeff Fortier, Joe Fortier, and Ryan Fortier, former Flutie dad of the year and Doug Flutie’s long-time friend Alan Seymour.

On the 15th hole, Nationwide Hole in One provided golfers with their “Golf Ball Cannon”.  They charged $20 per shot, but if all four golfers in a group made the green with the cannon, it was an automatic eagle, and the closest golfer to the pin would win a  ticket package, where they could buy 2 tickets to any sporting event, play, or concert of their choice!

We did not capture the winning shot on camera, but we know that the winner had shot the ball within 59 inches of the pin!

After the tournament, everyone returned to the clubhouse to chat, enjoy appetizers and bid in the silent auctions.  At around 6PM, they served dinner, and Nick Savarese of the Flutie Foundation as well as Doug Flutie himself gave us an update on the foundation and how Dougie is doing.  After that, Tyler Lagasse went up as a guest speaker with an inspiring speech about autism.  Tyler and I helped the foundation’s Nicole Guglielmucci hand out the awards, and we said our goodbyes.

I had a blast at the event, and I’m also looking forward to the 19th annual Flutie 5K in just two weeks!  Time has really flown by.  It feels like I just emceed the 18th annual a couple months ago, and I was invited back to emcee again this year.  Feel free to stop by and say hello at the 5K.

 

My Night to Shine

I am honored to be a recipient of the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation Shining Star Award which I received at the 2018 Night to Shine gala on Saturday, May 5th.

 

I was selected after emceeing the Flutie 5K in 2017.  For the last five years, The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism has awarded a select group of people and companies who have truly made a difference in the autism community.

My family and I arrived at the TripAdvisor headquarters right when Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie did.  Doug was carrying a huge cymbal but he and Laurie stopped to say hello and congratulations.  This was a great start to the night that would only get better.  We checked in at the desk in the lobby and I was handed a special honoree magnetic name tag to wear.

We headed down the hall and saw Milo, a robot boy built to help learners with autism learn social and behavioral skills (https://robots4autism.com/milo/).

 

We spent the first hour networking, catching up with people I knew, and meeting new people.  We talked to Nicole Gugleimucci from the Foundation who had helped me prepare for the Flutie 5K event last October and notified me about this exciting honor.  We also met the new Executive Director of the Foundation, Nick Savarese.

After meeting several more people, we looked at the many awesome sports-related silent auction items to bid on.  At our table, we met Paul Alexander, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Eastern Bank.  Shortly after, we decided to wait on bidding and get seats near the stage.

We sat in stadium-style seats in a 4-story atrium area at the center of the TripAdvisor Headquarters, which had an amazing view of all the floors.  I also noticed walls made out of live plants which looked really cool.  The ceiling had a sky with clouds which made it feel like the outside was inside.  They had a huge movie-sized video screen counting down the time to start the ceremony.

Susan Wornick, a longtime reporter and former anchor from WCVB-TV in Boston was the emcee for the event.  After Wornick introduced herself and Doug and Laurie, she passed the stage and microphone over to MUSE.

MUSE stands for Music, Unity, and Social Expansion.  They are a school that teaches independence and more skills to people with autism through music (http://www.muse-foundation.org/).  A MUSE band got on stage to play two songs and they were very impressive.  Everyone clapped to the beat for their second song as the crowd got really into the music.

After a standing ovation, Wornick returned to the stage to thank the sponsors and invite Nick Savarese to talk about his first year with the organization.  Nick asked me and a few other guests to stand up and everyone cheered which was pretty cool and I really appreciated.

Lisa Borges was called to the stage.  Lisa had worked in Nick’s position nearly as along as the Flutie Foundation had been around.  They handed her a large flower arrangement and thanked her for all she had done.  Laurie and Doug came up to the stage and thanked her as well.

A video was shown about the history of the foundation, which dates back 20 years.  The video gave an update on Doug Flutie’s son Doug Jr. and showed how the Flutie Foundation started Autism Awareness and wants to continue to build on that.  They have helped so many with autism, including me.  Thanks to the Foundation, I learned to ski with my brother in one weekend and now skiing is one of my favorite activities.  This year I was able to join my school’s ski club which has been a great social opportunity for me.

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After the video, Nick talked about how the organization has evolved and will continue to do so.  I was happy to learn that they will also add focus on the many children with autism that will be entering adulthood soon, like me, or already are adults like Doug Jr.

Wornick returned to the stage to begin announcing the Shining Stars.  I was ecstatic when my name was announced and rushed to the stage as she read my bio discussing some of my achievements including my sports blog that I started when I was 10 (https://andrewr1008.wordpress.com/).  She handed me the award, a glass star-shaped trophy with my name on it.  They took photos of me with Doug Flutie, Nick, and Susan as people continued to applaud.

Get Air Sports (a trampoline park that supports the foundation http://getairsports.com/ ), Luca and Danni jewelry (https://lucadanni.com/), John Breen, Alan Seymour (Doug Flutie’s good friend from Junior High School), Wegmans (https://www.wegmans.com/), NCGIT (https://ncgit.com/), and Amy Weinstock (http://autismhighereducationfoundation.org/amy-weinstock/) were the other Shining Stars and Get Air gave the foundation a big life-sized check for over $200,000 on the stage.

Susan then began a live auction for four very significant donated prizes.  The bidding for some of the items went over $10,000 and it was really exciting to see some of the bidders go back and forth trying to win with the final bid amount.

After the auction was over, many of the hundreds of guests came up to me to congratulate me and we exchanged contact info.  I said hello to Lisa Borges and I told her I would be back for the 2018 Flutie 5K and hoped to see her too.  I met Tyler Lagasse who Nick had asked to stand up with me.  He has autism too and plays golf competitively and wrote a book with his mom (https://www.amazon.com/What-Do-You-Say-Character/dp/1503556840).  We even caught up with Susan Wornick who wants to put me in touch with legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel to see a Red Sox game!

I did not end up winning any silent auction prizes but Jayme Parker, a longtime NESN reporter, took a picture with me and said she would keep in touch with me.  The experience of meeting her was like an auction prize that I had bid on and I went home with just as much excitement as I had at the start of the night.  The event was so much more than I could have ever imagined and I am so grateful for the experience!

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I would like to thank the Flutie Foundation for sharing this post on their own blog: http://www.flutiefoundation.org/blog/my-night-shine.

I would also like to give photo credit to Jenny Nourse Photography and thank them for the amazing pictures.

 

Waterville Valley Skiing Trip: How I Learned To Ski In One Weekend

 

Waterville Valley Logo

Last night, I got home and said, “What a day, what a weekend, what a trip!” You might be wondering, what trip?  Well, I’ll tell you all about it.

Northborough residents Barbara and Fred Kohout applied for the grant that the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation gave to the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports (WVAS) program.  This program provides one on one lessons for skiers who have developmental or physical disabilities.  It also includes a free lift ticket and access to free skiing equipment.

Waterville Valley used the grant to give several families of many applicants an all expense paid ski weekend at the resort.  Families also got a free two night stay at the Snowy Owl Inn, a hotel in a very convenient location for Waterville Valley skiers.  We applied back in January for this by sending our application to WVAS director Cynthia Powell and we won the trip!

Over the past few weeks, I had been so excited for this trip, and it was 5 times better than my expectations!  Between eight hours of one on one skiing with really nice instructors, good food and a fun all-around experience, it was an amazing weekend.

After a two hour drive up to New Hampshire on Friday, we arrived and checked in to the Snowy Owl Inn.  We wheeled our bags up to our hotel room right above the lobby.  It was a charming hotel that had a lot of nice touches.  It had a lot of interesting details that added to it.  For example, there was a collection of owl figurines at the reception desk, and a moose head in a scarf above a lobby fireplace.

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Me and my brother above the moose head.

After settling in to our room, we went down to the parlor room to play Monopoly Deal and head to dinner.  After playing, we met a couple of the ski instructors.  They gave us a warm welcome, gave us some info on the program, and even left us with a goodie bag that included resort merchandise, the schedule of events, and other helpful supplies for our stay.

It was tough finding a restaurant that my brother Ryan, who has Celiac Disease could eat gluten free at, but the ski instructors that met us told us to try Valley Pub & Grill, a restaurant at the Town Square.  The Town Square was a big hotel down the street from the Snowy Owl that additionally included a shopping center with restaurants and other stores.

The place we went to had a nice place for us to sit, and good food not just for Ryan but for me.  I had a delicious chicken tenders dish that I would have every night at dinner if I could.  We went back to the hotel and ended our night watching the start of Inside Out as a family in the parlor room before going back to the hotel room for the night.

We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a continental breakfast in the parlor room before getting our ski clothes on.  We were set to start skiing at 10:00 that morning.  We drove up to the mountain and got our helmets, boots and skis in the adaptive office.  There my brother and I met our personal instructors, Marc, Dean and Larry.

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Me, Ryan and our instructors after a Sunday morning run.

The first thing they taught us before we even knew how to put on our skis was how to stop and go down the mountain.  To stop, you make a “pizza”.  That just means you point your skis together to make a wedge shape.  To go down, you need to keep your skis straight, known as making “french fries”. They put an edgy-wedgie, which is an elastic strap that keeps our skis together to help us make better wedges.

Then we practiced skiing short distances; we didn’t even have to try the J-Bar yet.  We just went down from one of our helpers to another, and the one we skied to would help us back up part of the mountain.  When the J-Bar line became less crowded, we tried going on with our helpers, our skis going in between theirs.  For a little bit, we did the same thing up at the very top of “The Pasture”, but they wanted to find a way for us to be able to go all the way down the trail.

Dean was able to get tethers for our skis, and we went down with ease.  The tethers attached my skis to Marc’s.  I was now skiing in front of him turning left to right with Marc tethered behind me.  I began to get the hang of it on tethers as the morning went on.  After a delicious chicken tender lunch similar to the night before at one of the resort’s restaurants, we went back out.

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Skiing on tethers with our instructors.
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More tethered skiing

We did a couple more tethered runs before Marc decided that I didn’t need them anymore.  Before I was mostly controlling my turns; now I would have full control.  We continued to go up the J-Bar together but now our instructors skied in front of us while we followed their turns.  We continued to do that for most of the afternoon, but I tried riding the J-Bar alone a couple of times.  I wiped out before getting to the top, and after some struggles, we decided to hold that off till the next morning.

After the Saturday lessons, we went to a social for just the families that got free adaptive skiing through the Flutie Foundation.  There was food and drinks provided along with a ribbon ceremony for all of the skiers.  Cynthia, Marc, Dean, Barbara, Fred and the other instructors and families were there.  Making all those pizzas up on the slopes made me really crave actual pizza, and that was the perfect apres ski snack.

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Everyone at the social Saturday afternoon.
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Family picture at ribbon ceremony submitted by Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports.

We went back to the Valley Pub & Grille for dinner, and played a board game called Say Anything and finished Inside Out in the parlor room before bed.  After Ryan was asleep, the rest of us watched part of Dodgeball in our hotel room before actually going to sleep.

The next morning we loaded our stuff into the car and checked out of the Snowy Owl after I grabbed a bagel at the convenience store at the Town Square.  All our ski stuff was ready when we arrived at the Adaptive Office that morning.

I started my morning back in between Marc’s skis on the J-Bar, but we picked up where we left off when it came to going down the mountain.  Throughout the morning I was really getting the hang of the S-shaped turns we were taught to follow down the mountain.  By 11:00 I even got all the way up the J-Bar alone several times.  Part of it might have been that the snow was better in the morning, but I improved my skills too.

 

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My dad and I on a Sunday morning run at The Pasture.

By lunch, it was no more edgy-wedgies for both me and Ryan, and we were almost ready to go to the Lower Meadows, a section with our first trails that weren’t bunny trails.  The area had a two person chairlift that led to four green circle trails.  We were even beginning to learn the more advanced way to land than the pizza; it’s almost like a turning motion that would just slow you down on the slopes, but stops you at the bottom.

We ate the same meals, except it was at a nicer restaurant, the T-Bars Restaurant and Lounge.  I enjoyed some March Madness action while I ate.  In the afternoon, we took a few more runs on The Pasture J-Bar before going over to the Lower Meadows, which had a chairlift instead.  Even though I had to go on slow mode the first few runs, I got the hang of the chairlift relatively quickly; it was 5 times easier than the J-Bar!

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My mom and I riding the Lower Meadows chairlift

We went on some runs on Leroy’s Loop, the easiest course in the Lower Meadows that had lots of natural turns, enforcing what we had learned over at The Pasture.  Our parents came to visit earlier for this last lesson.  They had come for 30 minutes in the first three lessons; this time they came for the last hour.  I did the most runs of the entire trip and had the most fun that afternoon.  I went on the chairlift with my mom several times and for the first time, we were all skiing as a family!  This was the best feeling yet!

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Skiing on Leroy’s Loop with the family.  Photo Credit: Dean Haymes

 

At this point, on Leroy’s Loop at least, our instructors didn’t need to help us much anymore.  On our last run we went with our instructors; we had to take Revelation and Baseway, two tougher Lower Meadows green circle trails that led to the rental return area.  We returned our skis, and for one last time, said goodbye to Marc and Dean.  We even had a little graduation at the Adaptive Office that afternoon.  I enjoyed some Cinnamon Toast Crunch as my apres ski snack before heading home after a great weekend.

This experience was amazing for us.  My brother and I learned to ski in just one weekend and had a blast while doing it.  I’d like to thank the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation along with Barbara and Fred Kohout, Cynthia Powell, Marc Bellerose, Dean Haymes, Larry Gannon, my entire family and everyone else who supported me in this amazing trip.  I hope to return next year for more skiing at Waterville Valley.  Maybe we’ll even meet some of next year’s Flutie Foundation families.

Also, don’t miss Doug Flutie tonight on Dancing With the Stars.  I met him at an Autism Alliance of Metrowest event at Skyzone in Westborough.  I did a project on him at school last year and blogged about it.  Go team Kutie!