Meet the MTeam: Joe Whalen
Meet MTeamer Joe Whalen, whose own incredible life story gave him the connections and motivation that led him down the path toward joining us to support Best Buddies.
Below, he talks about how a heart transplant changed the way he approaches the gift that is life, how his career and family have shown him the importance of the Best Buddies mission, and why he signed up during the after party of the 2018 Best Buddies Challenge to join us again for 2019.
MTEAM: When and why did you decide to join the MTeam?
JOE WHALEN: I joined the MTeam this past year. This was my first year with the team, but my journey to the team actually started about five years ago. Sounds strange, but it’s true. Five years ago, I was dealing with congestive heart failure and Meredith's grand aunt Ann was one of the people who was part of my care team out here in Springfield, MA. I was sent to Brigham and Women's hospital for further care and after over a year of hospital stays and procedures, I received a heart transplant. One of my care team members in Boston was another relative of Greg’s. Maureen (Ann’s niece) was one of my favorite nurses during my time at BWH. After recovery, I was back on my bike and started doing rides with a local cycling group. During one of those rides I reconnected with Ann, and after riding together a few rides, we discussed finding a charity ride or event we could do together. Soon after that, Ann presented the idea of riding in Best Buddies: Hyannis Port.
I knew a little about Best Buddies, and I have a cousin with global developmental delays due to an abnormal chromosome, so when Ann asked if I would ride with her, it was an immediate "Yes" from me to join the team. How could I pass up an opportunity to help a great family, whose family members had helped me in the past, as well as supporting a cause that I truly believe in?
MTEAM: Why is the MTeam and the Best Buddies mission important to you?
JW: The mission of MTeam and Best Buddies is important to me because I am a music teacher and every day I see how providing opportunity, support, friendship, and compassion can empower any individual to reach goals and achieve things that they may never have before. When we foster relationships that promote better quality of life, improve a skill set, or support advocacy for a cause, we are ourselves bettering our own lives as well as the lives around us. That is important to me. Not everyone has the chance to go to college and become a teacher, but we can all teach through our actions and will to help others.
MTEAM: What’s one thing you’ve learned from being part of the MTeam community?
JW: I learned that this community is so positive, kind, and so much bigger than I ever realized. I realized that we all have in our lives or know someone that may be affected by IDD.
MTEAM: What makes the MTeam special? What would inspire people to join you?
JW: For me, what makes the MTeam special is the feeling of family that seems to run through the group. I was unable to meet the team before the event since I live in western Massachusetts. It was difficult to come out for the pre-event training rides. However, when I arrived in Carver for the 50 mile ride, I was immediately greeted by other MTeam members who noticed my MTeam jersey. I had not been part of a team for any of my previous fundraising rides, and to be so warmly welcomed into the fold was awesome.
MTEAM: Did you walk, run or ride in the 2018 Best Buddies Challenge? What about 2019? Describe the atmosphere of the event for us!
JW: I chose to ride the 50 mile event this year. I signed up for 2019 before I left the party after this year's ride!! The atmosphere was great. Everyone I came in contact with was in such a positive and happy mood, even after miles on the road. It was very uplifting to ride with so many like-minded people. From the people cheering us on the side of the road, to the support staff, and being greeted at the finish line by many of the buddies, it was all just amazing.
MTEAM: Tell us about your training regime and how you prepare yourself for the physical challenge.
JW: I did not have a specific training regime per se, other than to eat as well as I could and ride my bike as much as possible. I started putting in the miles in the winter, even when it was ridiculously cold. I prefer to be outside instead of on the trainer, but this winter challenged that for sure. When I went out, I tried to go on rides that might best mirror the Hyannis Port course. I did do a mass ride (the Five Boros Bike Tour) about a month before the BBC. Setting that as a target for my fitness let me know what I needed to do with a month to go before the Hyannis Port ride. Longer miles, and more elevation helped my physical stamina leading up to June 2nd. By the time the challenge rolled around, I had put in plenty of rides (over 700 miles since January) to get myself in shape.
MTEAM: Mentally, what helps you reach the finish line and keep pushing yourself toward your goals?
JW: I personally have the motivation from receiving the gift of life four years ago when I received my new heart. I live every day understanding that I have been given a gift, and that I need to take care of that gift. I also understand that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been, which motivates me to do events like the Best Buddies Challenge. I continue to push myself to be better as a person and an athlete.
MTEAM: How did you feel when you crossed the finish line last year?
JW: I was tired; I had just ridden 53 miles as hard and as fast as I could. LOL! But, when I saw the finish line, and all the buddies, and the MTeam members and supporters, I felt great. I forgot I was tired and was thinking about my cousin Nick, and all the work I put in to get there, and most of all just how much good would come from all of this.
MTEAM: You were one of the MTeam’s top 10 fundraisers in 2018, raising over $2,000 for Best Buddies. Amazing work! Do you have any tips for new fundraisers joining us in 2019?
JW: I find the key to raising the funds is to keep asking. Use multiple outlets, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. Most people you ask for support will support you, they just may need reminding of that. Personalize the emails you send out to your audience. You may want to change some of what you say in your email if you are talking to family members as compared to say co-workers or the general public.
Use pictures of yourself from your training. Action pictures will get people to understand you are serious about what you are doing. You can also ask a local shop (bike shop, sports store) to get behind you and put up flyers about your efforts. This will bring in an even wider possible donor base.
MTEAM: Share an MTeam memory that has been the most powerful and inspiring for you so far.
JW: Meeting Merideth, Greg, and Laura at the post ride party was awesome. That was inspiring to me.