Author: Beckman, Jack
Date published: June 18, 2010
Journal code: NDRG
Why are the first three letters in fundraiser f-u-n? Having just concluded a 10-week campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), I can tell you that trying to raise funds - there's that "fun" word again - can be anything but fun. Perhaps the term should be changed to "blood pressure-raiser," "tensionraiser," or even "this can be a hell-raiser." Before I get too far off on this tangent, here's some background on how and why I took part in this endeavor.
Having survived lymphoma - my last treatment was Oct. 25, 2004 - I have an intimate understanding of the physical and mental turmoil caused by this type of cancer. When I was 27, my mother (at 50) died of cancer, so I am deeply aware of the emotional pain that this disease causes. Surviving my chemotherapy treatments, though they certainly took their toll on my body, wasn't even remotely close to the pain of losing my mom. Knowing that my son, Jason, will never meet his grandmother is such a tragedy to me, and I still lose my breath at times thinking about how much I miss her. I survived, and she didn't.
As you may imagine, ever since my ordeal, I am in frequent contact with people whose lives have been affected by cancer. Whether in person, over the phone, or via the internet, I am introduced to several people each month with similar stories, fears, and hopes. Sadly, not all of them survive, and it's tough to deal with losing friends and many acquaintances. Though I know that it's not necessarily a case of cancer taking more and more lives, a greater percentage of the people I now know are affected by cancer, so I am exposed to more loss and the sadness that remains with the surviving family members. I survived, but many don't. It's a sobering fact of my life. My naiveté is long gone, and my eyes are wide open. As I've said in interviews, cancer didn't necessarily make me a better person, but it did make me a more useful person. I don't think that I'm special, but I know I can do some special things because of my background.
My connection with LLS started with my wife, Jenna. Due to some ironic coincidence, during my chemo treatments she received a solicitation in the mail to join Team in Training, which helps raise funds for LLS through marathons. Jenna never was a runner, but that random mailing sparked something in her. She wound up participating in three separate marathons, and we were able to raise more than $20,000. I'm proud to say that she doesn't run anymore! (Those 5 a.m. wake-ups for training sessions, and the fact that I'd have to run alongside her occasionally to keep her inspired, just weren't a whole lot of fun. There's a reason they're not called fun-athons.)
For several years our fundraising efforts were nil, and my efforts were targeted at visiting hospitals and offering hope. Then, one day last fall, I received an e-mail from Rhonda Wilson inviting me to come out to Grace Yokley Middle School in Ontario, Calif., to kick off a charity walk. I was asked to give a short speech before the students and other participants began their hike to collect their pledges. As the guest of honor, I was allowed to designate the charity to be the recipient of the $2,700 that was raised, and LLS was the beneficiary. The check was presented during the Finals in Pomona, and it was there that I met several LLS reps, which, by means of a long segue, is how I came to participate in this latest fundraiser.
LLS hosts a Man & Woman of the Year campaign (I was entered in the "Man" category), choosing candidates who they feel have the best chance of raising the most money in their areas. As part of the Orange County/Inland Empire chapter, my goal was to finish second by $1. That way I could raise a lot of funds for research and treatment without the embarrassment of receiving an award. I'm a firm believer that part of the reason I am here today is because others did a great job of raising money in years past, leading to advances in chemo drugs and ultimately saving my life. Whether you'd consider my efforts paying it back or paying it forward, it was the right thing to do.
After an emotional roller coaster that lasted 10 weeks, we actually surpassed my goal of $50,000, finishing with more than $56,000 (and I am still receiving contributions that I forward to LLS, even though my campaign is over). I used my NHRA blog, Facebook, and the NHRA events to promote this, and the response was, well, underwhelming.
Amongst the things that worked were a fantastic auction in Vegas, with many drivers contributing great items that raised nearly $4,500, and a ride-along program in which we made $2,700; fans who donated $100 or more could ride in the tow vehicle with one of the DSR teams. Virginia Motorsports Park raised almost $3,300 during their ADRL event, our signed Valvoline footballs brought in another $1,200, and Joe Morrison and John Roland helped generate another $1,000 through their individual efforts. John also helped us sell two DSR race weekend packages that totaled $3,250.
The part that didn't do nearly what I expected was total participants. There was a text option on the weekends of events that Bob Frey and Alan Reinhardt handled brilliantly, yet only 101 total texts were received through five national events. I think the confusion over having to re-text a confirmation really hurt our efforts. I figured, conservatively, that we'd be able to get 5,500 people (not counting the ADRL event) to donate, yet we barely saw one-tenth of that. I'm hearing similar stories from many people trying to raise funds for various causes, so I don't take it personally. The folks who gave were very generous, and $56,000 will make an impact on many people's lives in the future.
Perhaps the highlight of this adventure for me was all the help that I received. Don Schumacher does so much for charities and selflessly allows his drivers to use DSR for our causes. LuAnn Bishop and all of the hospitality staff were a blessing to me, along with Beth Hyatt and Vicki Aswege, who also handle the MTS Mail from Home Program, which has sent more than 300,000 postcards to our troops in the combat zones. Rodger and Karen Comstock, Roger and Barbara Burgess, Andy Montgomery, Ron Heneghan, and Cindy Crystle really helped boost our dollars with their efforts.
And my lovely wife, Jenna, who got stuck doing most of the work, also gave the acceptance speech for winning while I was away racing. To date, we have raised about $80,000, and that's a number that we can live with.
Stop by our pits, fill out a postcard for our troops, and help us put the "fun" in Funny Car. You can also follow our efforts on my NHRA.com blog.
Jack Beckman is the driver of the Valvoline/Mail Terminal Services Dodge Funny Car.