By JOHN J. BURO
FREEHOLD -In the end, the Guinness world record for ‘the most people simultaneously performing push-ups’ was never really in jeopardy. But, despite the less-than-anticipated showing, JAR of Hope’s final event of its inaugural ’79 gyms in 79 weeks’ campaign -played out September 16 at iPlay America’s massive grounds- proved, once again, that Team Jamesy loyalists still believe.
After all, when JoH founder Jim Raffone and his team conceived the idea to parlay its grandest mission within the grandeur of the entertainment center’s 115,000 square foot facility, there was more than enough interest in the project.
“’79 in ’79 was the culmination of years of raising awareness,” an unusually-nervous Raffone said during the final preparation -with the significance of 79 being the total of exons in the dystrophin gene, the largest in the human body. Duchenne (or Becker) Muscular Dystrophy -which are similar in nature- results whenever there is a mutation gene present.
“Today,” Raffone stated, “we need the numbers; it’s not about talking before 20, 60, 100 people. We’re looking to do something monumental for the boys in the Duchenne community throughout the State of New Jersey and throughout the world. For me, this is larger than just one gym, or one number.”
He couldn’t have picked a better venue.
“iPlay America has been fantastic from the get-go. They’ve reached out and showed their concern for a little boy (in Manalapan) that’s terminally ill, and they’ve been relentless in their support -to make sure we feel welcome in Freehold. Between Bob (McDaid, the CEO) and Jessica (Schwartz, the Director of Marketing and Promotions), and their staff, I couldn’t be happier.”
Even a territorial glitch -securing the 2,000 or so anticipated donors within a partition fence on a tract of land abutting Route 9 South- was quickly ratified by iPlay’s management.
Add a contingent of co-sponsors, plus an electrifying rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ by Ronald Brooks, sprinkle in rays of sunshine and an overflow of good karma -highlighted by the appearance of Manalapan Mayor Susan Cohen- and the festivities appeared primed to shatter the current standard of 1,645, set this past February by the Ajman Municipality & Planning Department of the United Arab Emirates during its National Sports Day.
(Note: the 51 year-old Brooks, another triumph-over-tragedy story, was born three months premature in Philadelphia, weighing a mere 16 ounces, with two severely deformed legs. Neither limbs had tibias nor femurs and his “feet were where my knees should have been.” Soon after, he was given up for adoption and transferred to St. Edmond’s Home for Children, a safe place for physically and developmentally-challenged children and, later became the first double-amputee Eagle Scout in the world.)
Still, even a lack of the required numbers could not detract from the event.
“We first started working with JAR of Hope a little less than a year ago,” Schwartz explained, “and helped to facilitate special events that Jim was doing. He’s a very passionate, stand-up guy that is developing a following for this disease; a lot of people don’t know about Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and how it affects kids. He’s a man on a mission, not just for his own child, but for many other children who suffer this disease. His undying dedication to raising both awareness and money is nothing short of amazing.”
JAR of Hope’s latest venture featured a $20-for-20, but was later scaled down to 10 push-ups. The planned push-up count, at three second intervals, would’ve broken the record once supporters sustained a full minute of exercise.
“Today marks the 79th gym,” Raffone added, “but it doesn’t mark the finish, because we’re going to continue (raising awareness).” True to his word, he left for Utah later that day, where he was scheduled to receive keys to the cities in Clearfield and Kaysville, the direct result of proclamations declaring September 18 as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Day. In addition, there were several speaking engagements at area high schools -and, of course, even more push-ups.
For Raffone, and others on his team, there was also the sizable matter of attempting to complete the Grand2Grand Ultra, a 170-mile journey around the perimeter of the Grand Canyon, beginning on September 23.
Which is no small feat, even for a larger-than-life man.