Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Another Early Morning Ride

TigerBlog wrote this more than two years ago about Zack DiGregorio:
In some ways, the person Zack DiGregorio most reminds TigerBlog of is, well, TigerBlog.

That was back when Zack was a Penn senior and a student worker in the athletic communications office there. He's also a Princeton High grad, and one-time, long ago, he was a Princeton basketball ball boy, along with TigerBlog Jr. and Lior Levy, the son of Princeton basketball alum Howard Levy.

Now two years later Zack is a Penn grad, just like TB. He's also got the same laid-back dry humor and sarcasm that TigerBlog finds to be one of his own most endearing qualities.

Because he knows Zack so well - literally from the day he was born - it came as no shock to him that when TB arrived on the Penn campus Saturday morning - really, really, really early Saturday morning - the first thing Zack said to him was "you're only here because it makes good summer blog content, right?"

If anything, TB would have probably said the same thing to Zack if he'd given him a chance. Yeah, they're alike in a lot of ways.

There is a reality that Zack has lived with for much of his life, though, that TB has not had to face directly. And that reality is why the two of them, and a bunch of others with connections to Princeton Athletics and the DiGregorio family, were at Penn Saturday morning around 6:30.

The occasion was "The Million Dollar Bike Ride," an annual event that raises money to combat any number of rare diseases. And if there are any people out there who know all about rare diseases and fighting to combat them, it's the DiGregorio family.

They have been at this a long time, ever since Zack's brother Derek, the middle of the three boys, was diagnosed with Ataxia-Telangiectasia, a disease that affects about three out of every one million children in this country. The disease, which TB doesn't quite understand, attacks the muscular development of young children, often being mistaken for diseases like cerebral palsey, and then ultimately breaks down the immune system. The mortality rate is nearly 100%, and life expectancy beyond 20 is rare.

And this is what the DiGregorios were thrown into.

TigerBlog has seen a lot of people deal with a lot of things, but he's never seen anything that rivals what the DiGregorios have done. Startling from pretty much zero as far as A-T was concerned, they have attacked their situation through education and fund-raising in ways that have marveled TigerBlog from the start.

Steve DiGregorio, Derek's father, is a former Princeton assistant football coach who has been a high school teacher and coach for nearly 20 years now. He is still one of the most-liked people who has ever worked in Jadwin Gym, though, and the Princeton community has never neglected him or his family.

Steve and his wife Nadia have balanced it all, along with Zack and the youngest brother Aaron, now a track athlete at Franklin & Marshall. And through it all there has been Derek, who has been the biggest marvel of them all, the one who fights it the hardest, who made it through Princeton High School, who won national championships in martial arts, who has never been at a loss for a laugh or a joke and a handshake and a smile.

The bike ride in Philadelphia was the latest effort to make a difference.

Howard Levy was there, along with Lior. So was Ted Deutsch, a Princeton alum and baseball player, as well as his wife Jess, now the Associate Director of Athletics for Student-Athlete Services, two people who also been there every step of the way with this.

Charlie Thompson, the head athletic trainer, and his wife Sandy were also riding. 

The ride itself features team after team of groups who are like the DiGregorios, fighting their own fights against diseases very few people have ever heard of, diseases like A-T, which affects three of every one million children in the country.

There were three different distances - 13 miles, 34 miles or 73 miles. This is where the morning turned into middle school a bit - "well, how far are you going?" "I don't know, how about you?" "Well, I'll go as far as you go."

As it turned out, Howard made the suggestion at the 6.5-mile turnaround for the 13-mile loop that perhaps it would be good to go a little further up Kelly Drive and then came back. TB was okay with that, and he set out, only to find the rest of the group had gone back except for the under-25 crowd. Then he went to the top of this huge hill and came back. 

As for Digger (that's what everyone calls Steve), his bike lost its chain at the start, and before TB could figure anything out, he was riding along alone. Then he found most of the group, and eventually spent a few miles riding with Ted and then a few more with Zack.

These days, Zack is working in the political world. There might be law school in his future. Maybe he and TBJ will one day either 1) start their own law firm or 2) run against each other for something. Or maybe both.

It was fun to ride with him. He's a great kid, well, not a kid anymore, but still, he's a great whatever he is now. With a great future.

Surrounded by a great family. And it's that family that inspires people like TigerBlog to try to help however they can.

Yes, it's good summer blog content. That part is funny.

It's also about the best cause TB knows. That part is very serious.

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