There are people in your life who are solid. And then there are people in your life who are just plain Rock Solid (Caps intended). For me, one of the most inspirational, funny, determined, honest, hard-working and brave people I’ve ever known is Michelle Page Alswager. And today, my request of all my friends is to do a little something on behalf of Michelle. Not because today is her birthday, and not just because she’s so flipping strong. I’ll get to what I’d like to ask you to do in a minute. First, the story.
I’ve known Michelle for a long time. First, as a government relations volunteer for JDRF. She knew how to make things happen in Wisconsin, and she jumped when we asked her to do something. We bonded more when both our children – my Lauren (who was 11 at the time) and her Jesse (who was six at the time) were honored to be part of the JDRF Children’s Congress Class of 2003. Look, Children’s Congress is chock full of amazing kids and parents. When you consider the CC committee has to sift through thousands of awesome, remarkable, deserving applicants to choose 150 (well that was the only year there were 200), you have to realize every single kid there is bringing some big time “really cool person” game to the table.
But even in that sea of remarkability, (and if that’s not a word I’m making it one now) Michelle and Jesse stood out. So much that by the second day everyone knew who they were. So much that by the closing night dance party, Jesse “cutting a rug” in his already hip kind of way was drawing an audience. So much that forever after, whenever that year’s ChairDad Rik Bonness made a speech, he spoke about the CC class of 2003 in general but about Jesse specifically. It was Jesse’s words and Jesse’s way that burned forever into the ChairDad’s heart.
Michelle went on to be a lead staffer at JDRF as Executive Director of her chapter. She also was pretty much part of the birth and careful nurturing on the now successful JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes. I wasn’t much for the ride in the early years, but every time I saw Michelle at a JDRF event she went after me with – I’ll say it this way – unbridled enthusiasm. ‘We’ve got to get you to a ride, Moira! I promise you’ll love it!” She was relentless. And Jesse, growing into a hip, unique and interesting young man, was making his own mark. Jesse became the inspiration of world famous snowboarder (and person with type 1) Sean Busby to do more to help people with diabetes and to teach kids and adults they can do anything with diabetes on board. His face was so familiar at the statehouse and on Capitol Hill, he was practically like a cabinet member. Jesse might have acted cool and hip, but deep down, he was a master lobbyist who knew how to work a room of power holders.
So on Feb 3, 2010, it would have been a terrible loss in any way for a child to die young. But when Jesse lost his battle to diabetes, it broke hearts internationally. Jesse was a light. He was a boy who could deftly mix irreverence and social responsibility. He was funny as all hell. He was musical. He was needed. And he was human. Diabetes took him just like it can take anyone, any time. When I sat my daughter down to tell her Jesse had died, her face went white and she said “Mom. That could be me.” Exactly.
Which is why Michelle has turned her grief into one of the most powerful, passionate and useful voices on the diabetes front today. I know her well, and she’s told me the story of that day and many other days. I can tell you right now, I’d be curled up in a ball drooling still. Not Michelle. She’s harnessed all that tragic energy and turned it into one hell of a mission. With Jesse watching over her (ask her to share some signs), she has vowed to change the world and help find a cure for diabetes.
That’s why she created Jessepalooza, a cool music festival that embraces all Jesse loves (awesome, cutting edge music, crowds of people having a blast but under it all, a true mission to get something done). And in honor of Michelle’s birthday and of Jesse’s life, I want you to attend.
I know. You don’t even live anywhere near Wisconsin. But hear me out: there’s a way we can all do this. And it has to do with a little movement that has grown organically called “Mile 23.”
Last year at the JDRF Ride, a bunch of folks decided to dedicated Mile 23 to Jesse (he passed away on 2/3). For that mile, the rode in silence and thought of Jesse and all he did in his short life. Word of that got out and now, around the world, people Michelle barely knows are dedicating their Mile 23’s to her son. They send her photos with notes. They reach out all the time. It’s becoming as cool as Jesse to dedicate your 23 to him.
So here’s what we are going to do: We’re all going to raise a glass at 7:23 that day to Jesse, and be a part of Jessepalooza from wherever we are around the world. You can click HERE to purchase your $10 admission (it’s paypal and please, don’t let that scare you. I’m a freak about being careful with purchase on line and paypal is the real deal.) Or type in www.jessepalooza.org and look for the “pay pal” button. You purchase your armband and you’ll attend “Virtually.” (Michelle will be listing the names of virtual attendees on the event page). Then, take a picture of where you are at 7:23 that day and share it with us here. Let’s show Michelle – and Jesse – that we support his amazing spirit, her incredible heart and her rock solid determination. You can do it alone with a frosty beer. You can buy a few “virtual spots” and invite some friends. You can buy one for each of your kids and toast with a delicious diet lemonade. Find a way. And do it.
Be you a CC parent, CC alum, person who loves someone with diabetes, person with diabetes, friend without a connection who is thankful you’ve not had to deal with this, consider this your call to action.
Ten bucks. A few minutes to raise a glass. That might be all it takes to help change the world.
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