Remembering the Labor Day that Once Belonged to Jerry Lewis

There will never be another Labor Day that passes, where Jerry Lewis will not define that last unofficial weekend of Summer for me. Jerry's lifelong commitment to finding a cure for Muscular Dystrophy through his television extravaganza known as, "The Jerry Lewis Telethon," was synonymous with Labor Day for millions of Americans ... and not unlike the vanishing of vinyl, Moxie, and your favorite local department store, it will be left to the memory of those of us who really miss it.  

I think about how my life has changed in just a few short years, transitioning from abysmal weakness with a focus on preparing my will, to an astounding awakening of strength and the ability to rise from my wheelchair with virtual ease and actually walk after years and years of confinement. As I write this, I'm fighting back tears...because when you reach a certain age, finding a cure seems as unrealistic as a Unicorn...but then out of nowhere, the unexpected occurs. 

While it may not be "a cure," to a dead man wheeling it sure felt like a cure when in the early morning of September 11, 2014  (only hours after taking a trial medication) I walked for the very first time (without assistance) in over 30 years. Today I'm climbing stairs like nobody's business. As my sister reminds me every time she witnesses me jump out of my wheelchair and into her car, or watches me walk up a flight of stairs, "It never gets old!"  I agree, it never does. 

It's fair to say that without Jerry Lewis and the annual Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon (which generated billions of dollars over the years) I might never have known that ALBUTEROL would be my lifesaver. Thanks to a knowledgeable Muscular Dystrophy doctor, paid for by MDA, that "miracle" happened! For anyone who doesn't know this story, you can find it here ( Just Believe ) in detail on Huffington Post.

As the former MDA Poster Child for the State of Massachusetts (now called Youth Ambassadors), I am eternally grateful for the Jerry Lewis Telethon and more importantly for the work that Jerry Lewis did on behalf of myself and countless others who have lived their lives with one of the various Muscular Dystrophies. 

The overwhelming possibilities that I now have access to, I could never have imagined prior to 9/11/2014. Just this summer alone, I have kayaked and canoed several times, and I've navigated the kitchen lifting heavy pots and pans while preparing all kinds of home made dishes, all simple tasks that I could never do before. These accomplishments to me, are indirectly a result of the millions of people who have contributed financially to "Jerry's Telethon" and his belief that one day a cure would be found. Without those funds, I may never have met the one doctor who led me to my albuterol discovery. So for that, I thank everyone who believed in that cure. I could not be more grateful to those of you who called in over the years to make your pledge, or to those of you who held a 'Carnival for Dystrophy' in your backyard or for the Shamrocks you purchased standing in line at your local grocery store.  

The Jerry Lewis Telethon was an institution. It was a revolution, the genesis to the modern day fund raiser. And for so many of us, it was more than all of that. The Jerry Lewis Telethon was our hope to a future that we could actually experience freedom from the chains that kept us in our wheelchairs. It was a grasp at the possibility that we could fall and get up from a baseball game, just like our brothers did, or that lifting a glass of milk with two hands wasn't something that we would be embarrassed by. The Jerry Lewis Telethon essentially gave us our wings to dream that WE CAN...and that WE WILL find a cure. Sadly that era is behind us now; however, the "WE CAN and the WE WILL" mentality must continue as we forge ahead in this new era without Jerry. 

Generations forward may never know the unique experience that so many of us had staying up with Jerry all night long, but the core mission of "The Jerry Lewis Telethon" still remains ... and that is to find a cure for Muscular Dystrophy. 

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