Monday, May 21, 2018

Elegance, Grace and Heroes

So where do you start after the first weekend in awhile without any Princeton events?

As you know from Friday, there were no Princeton athletic events this past weekend. The last time that was the case was mid-January, during first semester exam break. The time before that? August, before the academic year began.

So what to talk about on a Monday after that?

How about fairy tales?

You probably heard about, and quite possibly got up early to watch, the Royal wedding in England. From what TB read, there were 30 million Americans who watched, which he figures is about the same as watched the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals as well. Okay, he's kidding.

From what TigerBlog knows about the groom, he has been a real asset to his country and someone easy to admire, with his time as a military pilot and later someone who has worked with and made a real difference for wounded veterans.

TB also understands the lure of the fairy tale story. Palaces and carriages and princes and princesses and all that.

And TB will admit that he went to a party when Harry's parents got married. It was around 4:30 am or so in New Jersey, back in July of 1981. The real lure were the pre-dawn pancakes and French toast.

After all, this country was born from a rebellion against that very same monarchy. It's foundation was on the concept of equality, not that there is a all-powerful King or Queen.

Then again, TB does like the Netflix series "The Queen," which is about the early days of Queen Elizabeth's reign.

Either way, as you might guess, TB wasn't all that into the wedding coverage this weekend. No, this weekend, he preferred to find his elegance and grace - and heroes - a little closer to home. He'll start with the elegance and grace and then get to the heroes.

This past Saturday was prom night for Miss TigerBlog. It concluded a busy week that saw her high school sports career end as well.

The prom at MTB's high school is a nationally recognized big deal. It's way, way, way over the top.

One of the highlights is the way the prom-goers arrive. No, not in limos. In floats, in a parade.

The students work hard on the floats, and the parade each year is a special moment. This year's parade almost didn't happen because of the rain and the threat of thunderstorms, and even into the early afternoon the school wasn't sure whether it would happen or not.

Eventually the rain slowed enough so that the parade could happen. It was way nicer than TigerBlog thought it would be.

The theme was something along the lines of a special place. One float was Hawaiian. MTB's was Santorini, a Greek Island. There were floats decorated as places all over the world. It got TB to thinking about what he would have done, and it was pretty easy to come up with the answer: Greetings From Asbury Park.

With each float that came by, there were more and more local princes and princesses, all with their own style - their own elegance and grace. The floats pulled up to the front of the building, where there was a red carpet, and the local royalty took their turns, beaming, if a bit damp.

For TigerBlog, it was much more interesting than the Royal wedding.

Oh, and the heroes of the Tiger-free weekend? Well, they weren't quite Tiger-free.

A few hours after MTB returned post-prom, TigerBlog was on the campus of his alma mater, for the Million Dollar Bike Ride. It's an event that in its first five years has raised more than $6 million dollars for what are known as "orphan" diseases, or diseases that affect relatively few people and have little to no treatment or drug options because the cost to develop them would far outweigh the profitability.

That's understandable - unless one of those orphan diseases hits home. And that's the case of Derek DiGregorio, the nearly 21-year-old who suffers from Ataxia-telangiectasia, a brutal disease that attacks the immune system and eventually leads to all kinds of other diseases. The prognosis is grim.

This was the hand that the DiGregorio family was dealt. Steve, known to most as "Digger," was an assistant football coach at Princeton under Steve Tosches, and he has been a long time high school teacher and coach since. He and his wife Nadia have three sons - Derek, an older son named Zack who just graduated from Penn and a younger son Aaron, who will be a sophomore at Franklin & Marshall.

The family has been dealing with the A-T disease for more than 10 years now. None of them had ever heard of it before it came into their house.

So what did they do to fight this disease, one with no cure and little hope, one that afflicts so few people that the overwhelming majority of the world has never heard of it?

They counter-attacked, that's what they did. They've done anything and everything to raise money, and in doing so they've enlisted an army of supporters, most notably Howard Levy, Princeton's all-time leading in field goal percentage for men's basketball and a longtime assistant coach at Princeton before he became the head coach at Mercer County Community College, and his wife Riva and kids Lior, Mia and Noa.

TigerBlog has been amazed by their strength through this entire fight. He's told you that many times before.

And so when they said to be at Penn at 6:30 am on a Sunday, TB was there. So was Mitch Henderson, the head men's basketball coach at Princeton. And Steve Verbit, the associate head football coach. And the rest of the group that has supported the DiGregorios and Derek.

It really wouldn't have mattered what time or where. The whole group would be there. They'll do whatever they can to try to win this fight.

Derek was there, in his wheelchair. He's a Princeton High School graduate and an MCCC student. He's funny. He's got a sharp wit. Zack DiGregorio may be a bit more sarcastic, in a good way, but Derek has his moments too.

More than anything else, he just wants to be one of the group of young adults who are part of this fight, with his brothers and the Levy kids and the others who are part of all of these events. He doesn't want anyone making a fuss over him.

Neither to his parents.

They just want to keep fighting, as hard as they can, with everything they do.

TigerBlog rode for 13 miles with Digger yesterday morning. They talked about the usual stuff. Kids. People they both know. Funny stories. They were, for that entire time, just two old friends out for a ride.

But really, it was so much more than that. It was another opportunity to raise a few more dollars and to call a little more attention to this disease, because that's the hand they were dealt and all these years later they still have no other option but to keep going.

Heroic, isn't it? 

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