A couple of factors were working against SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 52 Fest, an event benefiting the recovery efforts of Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed from the neck down during a game against Army last year.
For one, the venue was sort of hard to find. I drove around Woodbridge, N.J., for about 45 minutes before I stopped at a bar and was directed to a park on a peninsula next to a PSE&G plant. Though honestly, that could have been more about my admittedly horrible sense of direction than anything else.
And the fact that it was roughly 1,000 degrees outside with a chance of thunderstorms likely kept some people away who might have ordinarily shown up.
But if there was a theme to the afternoon, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not worth getting caught up in such trivialities.
The people who braved the heat, including a good amount of EricÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s friends from the Woodbridge area (and SNY commentator Chris Carlin), really did appear to have a good Ã¢â‚¬â€œ albeit overheated Ã¢â‚¬â€œ time. Many wore shirts with EricÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s name and number, and walked back and forth between two stages with a combined 18 bands playing live music.
The event was a huge undertaking for promoters Joe Geis, Marisa Mendez and my friend Elliot Solop, but they were very happy Ã¢â‚¬â€œ if not a little weary Ã¢â‚¬â€œ after seeing how things worked out.
52 Fest auctioned off donated event tickets and signed memorabilia, all pretty cool stuff except for an autographed jersey of personal nemesis Brendon Haywood. There were several vendors selling hot dogs, water and Italian ices. And they had a gazebo set up with a few tables, including one collecting donations for the Patriot Saint Foundation, created by EricÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Pop Warner coach.
The headlining performers were Hot 97 DJ Funkmaster Flex and Vinnie Caruana, lead singer of Ã¢â‚¬Å“I Am The Avalanche,Ã¢â‚¬Â a band I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t familiar with. Alliteration applies here; the charismatic Caruana gamely played a solid acoustic set in the blazing heat while expressing his support for EricÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recovery. I enjoyed his performance Ã¢â‚¬â€œ aside from being talented, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s quite funny Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and I plan to go see his reunion show with his former band, The Movielife, on Aug. 26 if work allows me.
The best part of the day was simply being around Eric, who showed up straight from another fundraiser, excited to meet Flex and take in the festivities.
It was my first time seeing Eric in person, and I was moved by his positivity in the face of such a terrible break. Watching Eric make his friends and family laugh, he carries himself with such aplomb, constantly flashing that terrific smile. It honestly makes you think about how youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d likely pale in comparison if dealt the same hand.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why Eric is such an inspiration to so many. As we get caught up in the everyday dramas and issues in our professional and personal lives that just seem so dire at the time, Eric simply keeps going, keeps working, keeps getting mentally and physically stronger.
Do I think Eric will walk again? I honestly donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know, but I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put anything past him.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s made progress in the past year to where he has sensation all over his body, and recently tweeted photos of himself standing upright in physical therapy. When doctors told him heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d never breathe without a ventilator again, he did it in a matter of months.
But his biggest asset is his sense of belief. In a situation where most might merely give up, Eric truly believes heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to walk again. In fact, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s become his mantra, and all he really asks of his supporters: Believe.
Along the way, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s become such a positive force. I was inspired just watching him make the people around him happy. Eric has said that God had a plan for him; that plan might just be to rise above and become an inspiration to everyone who comes into contact with him.
I find it funny that 52 Fest was labeled a benefit for Eric LeGrand, while meanwhile, all of us receive so many benefits just from watching how Eric lives his life.